Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The Race Goes To The Swift

In the heyday of the Union Stockyards in Chicago, Gustavus 'Stave' Swift was a legend. He invented the refrigerated rail car, cooled by blocks of ice, which allowed for a central slaughtering house and improved efficiency. Granted, his abattoir in Chicago became fodder for The Jungle, but the man did revolutionize the industry.

Soon, the Swift meatpacking business will cease being an American concern, in spite of its origins as a uniquely American development. JBS-Friboi of Brazil is going to buy the whole company for $225 million in cash, taking on $1.2 billion of debt held by Swift., in a deal that has caught analysts off-guard. The wise men of the markets expected Swift to get bought up piecemeal by other American meatpackers, but JBS-Friboi saw an opportunity and grabbed it. That's it then. Stave Swift's creation is about to be transformed.

JBS-Friboi wanted to get into the American market, which is closely regulated, and not particularly open to foreign imports. The biggest beef producer in South America wanted to be the biggest beef producer in the world, and they will be all that once Swift is taken under their wing. From their origins as cattle buyers in the 1950's, the Sobrinho brothers have grown a company that now slaughters 22,000 cattle. Per day. And they'll soon be adding to that number.

Buy American, the local businessman trumpets. Buy Swift Premium meats, and you'll support an American rancher. But the profits are heading for Sao Paolo. What's a consumer to do?

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