When it came to goods and services sent out of the United States last year – from cell phones to pork rinds – the numbers that came in were very good. Foreign sales for the Hispanic Business Top 50 Exporters grew 6.2 percent to $1.8 billion. That increase is better than the hike in total U.S. exports for the year, which rose 3.9 percent to $714 billion.
Cellular telephone wholesaler Brightstar Corp. of Miami leads the Top 50 directory by a wide margin. The company's sales abroad last year reached $1.2 billion, more than double the year before, with exports representing almost three-quarters of its sales.
After Brightstar's cellular phones, food figures as a major product category for the Top 50 Exporters. For example, second-ranked Quirch Foods of Miami shipped $80 million worth of meat, seafood, and poultry to Puerto Rico last year.
Geographically, more than half (27 companies) of the Top 50 Exporters come from Florida. Texas and California have five each on the list, and no other state has more than two. The Florida skew derives from the fact that with only a handful of exceptions, the Top 50 Exporters concentrate on trade with Latin America and the Caribbean. While Texas has a geographical advantage for Mexican trade, and California for the Pacific Rim, Florida offers the best transportation and communication infrastructure for the whole of Latin America. Total U.S. exports reached a record $1.9 trillion in FY2004.
Privately held Brightstar operates in 18 countries, employs more than 900 people, and continues to expand globally. Earlier this year, the company announced a new distribution pact with Kyocera Wireless to distribute product lines in India; a logistics and services deal with Hawaiian Telecom; and an alliance with Firefly Mobile to handle its mobile phones and line of accessories in North and South America and the Caribbean.
But it is the company's finances that recently have attracted the most attention. In early 2004, the company raised $61 million in gross proceeds through a private placement of securities using investors including Falcon Investment Advisors, Prudential Capital Group, Grandview Capital Management, and Ramius Capital Group. But plans for an initial public offering, announced in August 2004 and co-managed by Citigroup and Lehman Brothers, were shelved two months later with the company citing only "market conditions and certain other factors."
Sally Lange, a Brightstar vice-president, declined to elaborate on the withdrawal.
Brightstar's borrowing costs may have been so low that a loan was preferable to going public at that moment, suggests Philip Remek, an analyst with Guzman & Co. of Miami. It is also possible that the costs of an IPO may have been prohibitive at the time. "This is a field with lots of changes and consolidating going on," Mr. Remek says. "In an unstable marketplace, there can be any number of reasons not to go through with an IPO."
Some exporters on the list are cashing in on the increasing foreign appetites for meat and dairy products from the United States. Miami-based Northwestern Meat saw sales of $19.7 million to Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador as its exports rose 4.4 percent, representing more than 10 percent of its total sales. "We have been dealing with Australia, New Zealand, Uruguay, and countries throughout Central America," says Elpidio Nuñez, president. "If you stick by your commitments and ride out the short-term problems, business inevitably increases."
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