UPDATE 3-Supervalu sees profit shortfall, stock plunges

Wed Jun 24, 2009 11:54am EDT

* Warns Q1 profit will be far below Street view

* Cites tighter spending by consumers

* Shares down 10.8 percent; Kroger, Safeway fall (Adds analyst comment, background, byline; updates share activity; previous dateline CHICAGO)

By Lisa Baertlein

LOS ANGELES, June 24 (Reuters) - Supervalu Inc (SVU.N) warned on Wednesday that quarterly profit will be "substantially below" analysts' expectation after it cut prices and boosted promotions to lure shoppers amid a deep recession.

The grocer's stock fell 10.8 percent and dragged down shares in rivals Kroger Co (KR.N) and Safeway Inc (SWY.N).

The operator of about 2,500 Albertsons, Jewel-Osco, Shaw's and Save-A-Lot stores also cited an intensely competitive environment, which led it to lower prices on thousands of everyday items and to increase spending on advertising and other efforts designed to bring in consumers

Analysts polled by Reuters Estimates were expecting a profit of 65 cents a share for the first quarter ended on June 20.

"Consumers have become more value-focused and cautious in their spending, which has pressured sales and margins greater than anticipated," Chief Executive Craig Herkert said in a statement.

Herkert was named CEO in May, joining the Minneapolis-based company from Wal-Mart Stores Inc (WMT.N), where he was CEO of the Americas region. He said on Wednesday that he was engaged in a full review of Supervalu's operations.

Faced with competition from lower-priced retailers like Wal-Mart, grocers like Supervalu and Safeway have taken steps to bring down prices as consumers grapple with the highest level of unemployment in nearly three decades.

In some markets, Supervalu has cut prices up to 20 percent on thousands of staple products. [ID:nN12326481].

Supervalu expects identical-store sales in the first quarter to be down about 3 percent.

The company's identical-store sales include results from outlets operating for four full quarters, including store expansions and excluding fuel sales.

The profit warning "will place an overhang on the entire sector as investors begin to speculate on how Supervalu will reinvigorate sales and stem the decline," Pali Capital analyst Robert Summers said. "Competition could dramatically escalate over the near-term, particularly given the weak overall consumer environment."

Kroger, the No. 1 supermarket chain, on Tuesday posted a higher-than-expected quarterly profit, but did not raise its full-year forecast. Kroger is widely viewed as having lower prices than Supervalu and Safeway, but it also is working to cut prices.

Jefferies analyst Scott Mushkin said Safeway could again trim expectations, but noted that the California-based supermarket company's business is in better shape than Supervalu's. [ID:nN30294944]

Supervalu has more debt than many of its rivals due to its purchase of more than 1,100 Albertsons stores in 2006. In January it unveiled plans to close dozens of stores, cut expenses and pay down debt.

The grocer said it would update its annual outlook on July 28, when it plans to report first-quarter results. Analysts expect a full-year profit of $2.50 a share.

Shares of Supervalu slid were down $1.70 at $13.99 in morning trading. Shares in Safeway were down 2.5 percent, while Kroger's were down 1.8 percent. (Reporting by Ben Klayman and Lisa Baertlein, editing by Lisa Von Ahn and Derek Caney)

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