Supervalu Shares Dive as Co. Weighs Sale, Suspends Dividend

Supervalu’s stock price plummeted as the company announced poor first-quarter results and said it has hired financial advisors to help it review “strategic alternatives.”

Struggling grocery retailer Supervalu, Inc.—which has been closing stores, cutting jobs, selling off some businesses, and lowering its debts in a major turnaround effort—on Wednesday announced dismal first-quarter results and said it is angling for a buyer.

In addition, the Eden Prairie-based company is suspending its quarterly dividend, as well as its same-store sales and earnings guidance, and embarking on another round of significant cost cutting.

Supervalu tapped financial advisors at Goldman Sachs and Greenhill & Company for “a review of strategic alternatives,” which typically indicates that a company is exploring a sale.

The company said, however: “There can be no assurance that such a review will result in any transaction or any change in the company’s overall structure or its business model.”

CEO Craig Herkert said in an e-mail to employees that the review will include the possible sale of all or parts of the company. He told investors, meanwhile, that bankruptcy is not among the alternatives being considered.

While Supervalu explores a possible sale, it plans to accelerate its restructuring plans by slashing costs by an additional $250 million over the next two years. (The company had previously planned $75 million in cost reductions for this fiscal year.)

Supervalu will also aggressively lower its prices—a move designed to regain market share from Walmart, Target, and other competitors.

“We intend to do this while remaining profitable, continuing to pay down debt, and investing the capital to maintain and enhance our stores and related assets,” Herkert said in a statement. “Accordingly, we will be pursuing deeper and more structural cost-savings initiatives. Also, we are adopting more flexible financing facilities, reducing our near-term capital expenditures, and suspending our dividend.”

Supervalu spokesman Mike Siemienas said Thursday that the company has paid dividends since 1936.

Herkert acknowledged that Supervalu’s operating profit margin may be negatively affected in the near- and mid-term by the price reductions at stores, but the company expects the move to result in “improved longer-term performance and market share growth.”

Supervalu, which reportedly has been saddled with major debt since its $12 billion acquisition of Albertsons in 2006, said it will reduce its debt by $450 million to $500 million during this fiscal year and pay down at least $400 million annually going forward. The company also aims to reduce capital expenditures by $175 million to $225 million this year.

Supervalu, which operates supermarkets under a variety of brands, including Cub Foods in the Twin Cities, announced its updated restructuring plans in conjunction with a dismal first-quarter earnings report.

The company earned $41 million, or 19 cents per share, for the quarter that ended June 16—a year-over-year drop of about 45 percent and well shy of the 38 cents per share that analysts polled by Thomson Reuters were expecting.

Revenue totaled $10.6 billion, down 4.7 percent from the same period a year ago and less than the $10.8 billion that analysts expected.

Supervalu’s stock plummeted following the company’s announcement, trading down nearly 44 percent at $2.97 Thursday morning.

Some analysts have speculated that Supervalu’s low stock price makes it a cheap leveraged buyout target, but a Wednesday report by The Wall Street Journal indicated that the company may have difficulty finding a buyer, as private-equity firms look for companies that can improve through obvious cost-cutting measures or other quick fixes.

Supervalu’s Wednesday announcement is the latest of many cost-cutting efforts. In February, the company announced plans to cut about 800 positions from its corporate and regional offices, including roughly 200 jobs in Minnesota. In June, it said it would cut between 2,200 and 2,500 jobs at its Albertsons supermarkets in California and Nevada. And last week, the company said it plans to eliminate 39 marketing positions across the country.

Supervalu is among Minnesota’s five largest public companies based on revenue. It serves customers through a network of approximately 4,400 stores and has about 130,000 employees. The company reported a net loss of $1 billion on net sales of $36.1 billion in its most recently completed fiscal year.