Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Paperstand (SVU, MDU)

The WSJ’s “Heard on the Street” column out saying that investors have been bingeing on shares of Supervalu (SVU). They may soon lose their appetite. The stock is up nearly 80% since early August b/c investors believe that Supervalu has done a better job than Wall St. expected in digesting the 1,100 Albertson's stores it acquired last June. Supervalu's net income more than doubled in the FY ended Feb. 24. The 4Q was particularly rosy, thanks in part to Chicago Bears fans scooping up munchies at newly acquired Jewel-Osco stores during a rare Super Bowl season. But there are challenges ahead. The co took on a substantial amount of debt to complete the Albertson's transaction, its SSS pace trails that of its biggest rivals and competition is mounting. "It's now a 'show-me' story," says Herb Achey, of US Trust. "Prove to us now that you can be a good operator." The co hasn't tinkered much with its new stores. Instead, CEO Jeff Noddle has worked on lifting morale, in part by giving local managers more autonomy. "We focused first on the ppl," he says. But much of the gains from the Albertson's deal may already be priced into the stock of the co. Growth at stores open at least a year remains tepid, and the savage competition that Supervalu already faces is about to get more intense. Analysts note that several co insiders have sold shares in recent mo’s as the price has moved higher. Since March, execs sold about 100K shares for $5m, marking the 2nd-highest level of sales by value at the co for a 3-mo stretch in the past 5 years.

Barron’s Online “Inside Scoop” section reports that a director at MDU Resources (MDU) has been on a selling binge of late, taking advantage of MDU's stock as it trades near an all-time high. Thomas Everist, an MDU board member since ‘95, has sold a total of 742K shares for a total of $22.6m since May 2.

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