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After a long road back to the public markets, Albertsons has found a cool reception from Wall Street.
Albertsons, the second largest U.S. grocery store company after Kroger, priced shares on Thursday evening in its initial public offering at $16 each, well below the $18 to $20 range it estimated they would fetch last week. What’s more, the company only sold 50 million shares in the IPO, rather than the 65.8 million it and its private equity owners had hoped to sell. And so the IPO raised $800 million rather than $1.3 billion.
The grocer’s shares were set to debut on the New York Stock Market on Friday morning under the ticker “ACI.”
The path back to the public markets has been circuitous for Albertsons, which operates 2,250 stores under its own banner and names such as Safeway, Vons, Jewel-Osco, and Shaw’s. Albertsons filed to go public most recently in early 2020, but it had attempted to do so in 2015 before aborting the effort because of market concerns about its debt levels. More recently, in 2018, it tried something novel: simply merging with Rite-Aid and instantly becoming part of a publicly listed company.
The IPO allows its long-time private equity owner Cerberus to start a long awaited exit from an investment made in 2006.
While Albertsons’ financial performance has greatly improved since its previous attempts to list on the stock exchange, including a big surge it and other grocers saw during the coronavirus pandemic, it remains heavily indebted, as is common with private equity owned companies, with a debt load of $8.7 billion.
Moreover, none of the IPO proceeds are going to the company itself to help it invest or lower its debt. According to Bloomberg, Albertsons’ debt levels are higher than those of U.S. market chains like Sprouts Farmers Market and Grocery Outlet.
To be sure, Albertsons was profitable in its last three fiscal years, while sales have increased modestly, hitting $62.5 billion. Under new CEO Vivek Sankaran, who came from PepsiCo last year, Albertsons’ performance has continued to improve, and the company has invested in remodeling stores, improving technology, and updating some store brands.
At the same time, competition has been formidable, especially on the e-commerce front: Walmart, the largest U.S. grocer with annual sales of $190 billion last year, offers curbside pickup at more than 3,000 of its stores, compared to 650 of the 2,252 grocery stores run by Albertsons and its various divisions. On top of that, Amazon continues to expand grocery delivery and Target has been successful in rebuilding its food business, making the grocery sector even busier.
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