Is It Time to Back Up the Truck on SUPERVALU?

So what exactly has changed since my last purchase of SUPERVALU (NYS: SVU) for my Special Situations portfolio in late January? Well, the stock is nearly 30% cheaper, and it's paid off nearly $360 million in debt. Make any sense? Not to me. That's why I'm back to buy more of the shares for my portfolio and to tell you exactly why I'm doing it.

As before, the special situation at SUPERVALU remains the deleveraging. The company has nearly $5.2 billion in debt, but it's committed to paying off as much as $450 million more this year, and free cash flow for the next few years should comfortably cover maturities. You can see the debt market's comfort with SUPERVALU 's situation in bonds that trade near or above par. Even the 2016 maturity of $1 billion, which the company will not be able to pay off before it's due, trades above par. So why is the stock market all roiled?

And you want cheap? In its fourth-quarter conference call, the company predicted earnings per share of $1.27 to $1.42 for the upcoming year. The 18 analysts covering the stock came in at the low end, $1.29. That's less than four times earnings. Meanwhile, peers Kroger (NYS: KR) and Safeway (NYS: SWY) trade at 9.5 and nine times forward earnings, respectively. And Whole Foods (NAS: WFM) -- admittedly something of a different beast given its focus on higher-end consumers and products -- trades at 39 times.

SUPERVALU even looks to grow earnings, from an adjusted EPS of $1.25 in the past year to at least a few cents more this year. It's small, but I'll take it. And CEO Craig Herkert predicts an improvement in same-store sales to negative 1%-2%. And we still have another growth engine in the Save-A-Lot franchise.

Also nice is that Herkert expects margins to hold firm, as SUPERVALU funds lower prices with its other cost-saving initiatives. SUPERVALU's operating margin is about in line with Safeway's at 2.6% and somewhat higher than Kroger's at 2.5%.

Some speculation of a private equity buyout has taken shares off the recent bottom of about $4 per share. That may or may not happen. But I'm refusing to anchor to price here. At $5, shares are still a great deal. That's why my Special Situations portfolio will be buying $1,000 on the next business day.

Interested in SUPERVALU or think I'm nuts to buy it? Let me know (or let me have it) on my discussion board and follow me on Twitter (@TMFRoyal).

At the time thisarticle was published Jim Royal, Ph.D., owns shares of SUPERVALU. The Motley Fool owns shares of SUPERVALU and Whole Foods Market.Motley Fool newsletter serviceshave recommended buying shares of Whole Foods Market and buying calls on SUPERVALU. Try any of our Foolish newsletter servicesfree for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe thatconsidering a diverse range of insightsmakes us better investors. The Motley Fool has adisclosure policy.

Copyright © 1995 - 2012 The Motley Fool, LLC. All rights reserved. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.