Shares of Arcos Dorados Holdings Inc. jumped 25 percent Thursday, the first day as a public company for the world's largest McDonald's franchisee.
The shares priced at $17 on Wednesday night, above the $13 to $15 the company originally expected. The stock started trading Thursday morning and closed at $21.20.
In a news conference at the New York Stock Exchange, where the company is trading under the ticker "ARCO," CEO Woods Staton called the transition "one of our proudest accomplishments."
Staton, 61, has been at the company's helm since it was formed in 2007, when it bought the McDonald's operations in most of Latin America and the Caribbean. Before that, Staton worked for McDonald's Corp. as president of its South Latin America division.
Arcos Dorados _ "Golden Arches" in Spanish _ has 1,755 restaurants in 19 countries and territories, accounting for about 5 percent of the money spent at McDonald's restaurants globally.
Staton is his company's majority shareholder and always will be, according to Arcos' agreement with McDonald's. He controls about 76 percent of the company's voting rights, which will make it nearly impossible for any other shareholders to oppose his wishes. Still, that didn't seem to dampen investor interest.
Staton said Thursday that his controlling stake should be viewed positively.
"It's always going to be the same shareholder, and that offers stability," said Staton, who is also a member of the family that founded Latin American Coca-Cola bottler Panamerican Beverages Inc., acquired by Coca-Cola FEMSA S.A. de C.V. in 2003.
Staton, who switched between English, Spanish and Portuguese during the news conference, also addressed a concern that is haunting the entire restaurant industry: rising food prices.
He declined to predict where prices might swing, but said Argentina-based Arcos has negotiated with its suppliers so it can tamp down on price increases for customers. He said Arcos doesn't have dedicated suppliers like the U.S. restaurants do.
At $17 a share, Arcos' IPO was worth nearly $1.25 billion, a 43 percent increase over the company's original predictions of about $874 million. That makes it the fourth-biggest public offering of 2011, behind HCA Holdings Inc., Kinder Morgan Inc., and Nielsen Holdings, according to data compiled by IPOscoop.com
However, most of the Arcos money goes to private-equity firms and other investors selling their shares, not the company itself. Arcos sold just 9.5 million of the 73.5 million shares offered.
The investment groups, which include Gavea Investment in the Cayman Islands and Capital International Private Equity Fund in Irvine, Calif., had originally planned to sell about 50 million shares. After seeing the stock's success, they decided to sell about 64 million.
Arcos Dorados plans to use its portion of the IPO money to open new restaurants and remodel old ones, in line with its agreement with McDonald's. Staton said that was "the best use of that capital" and that the company did not intend to use the money to pay down debt.