It didn’t get the price they wanted. But it still made a lot of money for investors who bet big and patiently on the low-profit supermarket business. And they’ll get more chances.
On Thursday, the initial public offering of the company that owns Acme Markets and a string of other food chains sold out at $16 a share — $2 to $4 under the investors’ target. On Friday, the stock’s price fell another 49 cents in its first day of trading on the New York Stock Exchange.
The skid would seem to confirm that the big banks judged rightly when they cut the initial sale price of Albertsons Companies Inc. from the $18 to $20 range floated in its public offering proposal.
The $16 paid broke a national string of more than 50 IPOs over the last three months in which the stock sold for at least the target price.
Still, the hedge funds and real estate investors behind Albertsons sold 50 million shares on Thursday, raising $800 million. Among those owners were Philadelphia’s Lubert-Adler Partners LP, cofounded by Ira Lubert and Dean Adler. Others were big investment firms from New York City and Chicago and a family investment enterprise from Columbus, Ohio.
The sale size was also smaller than forecast. The owners had hoped to sell up to 75 million shares at the $20 price in the IPO, which would have grossed $1.5 billion.
The stock’s lower price was a blow to Apollo Global Management, the New York City investment firm whose partners include Joshua Harris, owner of the 76ers. Just last month, Apollo had paid the equivalent of $17.50 a share for a 10% stake in Albertsons, betting the value would rise. It still could do so in the future.
Both Apollo and Lubert-Adler invest money on behalf of the massive Pennsylvania pension plans for state workers and teachers.
Besides Malvern-based Acme, which traces its roots to a South Philly grocery founded in 1891, Albertsons’ holdings include Safeway stores in several states, Vonn’s in California, Jewel-Osco in Chicago, and Shaw’s in Boston.
Under chief executive Vivek Sankaran, who was paid $29 million in cash and stock last year, Albertsons marked record grocery sales this spring as consumers locked out of restaurants by the coronavirus surged into its nearly 2,300 stores.
The supermarket operation, the second biggest in America after Kroger, netted $466 million in profits last year on $62.5 billion in sales, according to the SEC IPO filing. That’s a thin, 0.7% return. The enterprise is headquartered in Boise, Idaho, home of its late founder, Joe Albertson.
Since the pandemic came in March, Albertsons used the revenue surge to hire 40,000 more workers and to temporarily raise pay as it imposed social distancing and cleaning guidelines. Last Saturday, it cut wages back to pre-virus levels.
The company, which now employs more than 300,000, also has been paying down its debt and boosting its cash position, making it more attractive to investors.
Matt Kennedy, who reviews IPOs as a fund manager for Renaissance Capital in Greenwich, Conn., said investors do not expect Albertsons’ virus-related advantages to last.
And, he added, some remembered Albertsons’ unimpressive record at boosting profits since the controlling investors pumped $100 million into the chain’s predecessor company.
With U.S. birth rates at record lows and immigration stalling, the grocery business is expected to grow slowly.
Sankaran has said he hopes labor-reducing self-checkout and shipping systems and mobile ordering will boost future earnings.
Kennedy, the Renaissance fund manager, said he didn’t see Albertsons’ relatively weak showing as a sign of trouble in the stock market. President Donald Trump, Congress, the U.S. Treasury, and the Federal Reserve have marshaled trillions of dollars to subsidize businesses, consumers, and unemployed workers in an unprecedented effort to prop up the economy.
Despite Albertsons’ weak initial performance, Renaissance data shows that newly launched stocks — mostly biotech and other small, fast-growing enterprises — have outperformed overall U.S. stocks in recent months.