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Supervalu Investors Hungry For Change Under New CEO

Date : 07/23/2009 @ 4:11PM
Source : Dow Jones News
Stock : SUPERVALU Inc. (SVU)
Quote : 6.9701  0.2101 (3.11%) @ 11:45AM
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Supervalu Investors Hungry For Change Under New CEO

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After a shake-up in Supervalu Inc.'s (SVU) executive ranks, investors hope to see a glimpse of the struggling grocery chain's future when it reports fiscal first-quarter earnings Tuesday.

Analysts are speculating Supervalu may try to sell one of its supermarket banners or other assets or make further management changes as Chief Executive Craig Herkert settles into his new role. Herkert, who brings a deep retail and merchandising background from Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT), assumed his new role in late May, replacing Jeff Noddle, who had led the company since 2002 and came out of its supply-chain business.

"They're hungry for change here," says Jefferies & Co. supermarket analyst Scott Mushkin of investor attitude. Any early signs of a turnaround, he said, could be a near-term catalyst for shares, which are down almost 47% over the last year. In recent trading, shares rose 27 cents, or 2%, to $13.84.

Selling assets could be difficult with a tight credit market, but analysts think it could focus management's attention on fixing its core supermarket banners. Proceeds from such moves could also help retire a portion of a $8.5 billion debt load. Analysts have tabbed Supervalu's discount chain Save-A-Lot, which has thrived in the downturn, Shaw's and some West Coast stores as candidates for sales.

"The better assets that Supervalu owns will clearly get more money for them, but do they want to part with some of their better assets?" Cannaccord Adams analyst Simeon Gutman said.

For his part, Herkert said in June that he will fully review all company businesses and support functions, and will lay out his plan for the company over the next several months.

A Supervalu spokeswoman declined to comment ahead of the company's earnings.

In late June, Supervalu warned investors that its fiscal first-quarter results would likely fall well-below analysts' then-estimates and that identical store-sales would likely be down 3%. The chain has been aggressively lowering prices at its stores to provide a better value for cash-strapped customers.

Thursday, two other supermarket operators, Safeway Inc. (SWY) and Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co. (GAP), reported second-quarter results showing identical-store sales suffering as a result of price cuts to woo customers. Safeway lowered its full-year earnings target once again, sending shares down 7.5% to $18.44 in recent trading, while shares of Great Atlantic, which operates A&P and Pathmark, rose 14% to $5.30, as it announced a $115 million investment from Yucaipa Cos.

Supervalu's price cuts come as its stores, which operate under Acme, Shaw's and Shop 'N Save names, lose share to chains like Kroger Co. (KR) and Wal-Mart that offer lower prices, said Mushkin.

The losses in market share are "rapid enough that if you continue down this path, you're not going to have a company left," Mushkin said. Chicago figures to be a key market, he said, as Supervalu's Jewel-Osco banner has cut prices up to 20% on thousands of items, hoping to slow years of losing share to the likes of Wal-Mart and Meijer Inc.

Analysts project Supervalu will report first-quarter earnings of 53 cents a share, according to Thomson Reuters estimates, down from 76 cents a year earlier. Revenue is projected to fall to $12.8 billion in the first quarter from $13.3 billion a year ago.

-By Paul Ziobro, Dow Jones Newswires; 212-416-2194; paul.ziobro@dowjones.com

 
 


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