There are one-hit wonders, and then there are those stocks for which the initial big move is only a preview for even bigger and better gains to come.

For supermarket retailer SUPERVALU (NYSE:SVU), let's call it the beginning of the end. The owner of Albertsons, Sav-a-Lot, Acme, Cub, and other chains is enjoying a 44% jump in value over the past month as private equity realizes the value of its parts may be worth more than the whole, and a bidding war may turn it from scullery maid to belle of the ball.

While its stock may be enjoying a Cinderella story at the moment, midnight is fast approaching.

SUPERVALU snapshot

Market Cap

$585 million

Revenues (TTM)

$35.2 billion

1-Year Stock Return


Return on Investment


Estimated 5-Year EPS Growth


Dividend and Yield


Recent Price


CAPS Rating (out of 5)


Source: TTM = trailing 12 months. N/A = not applicable; SUPERVALU doesn't pay a dividend.

A mighty temblor
While private equity firms like KKR and TPG Capital have expressed interested in various parts of the grocery store retailer, it's been Cerberus Capital Management that's long been in the lead because it wants to buy up the whole thing and merge it with the 650 or so Albertsons it already owns. Cerberus has been trying to arrange financing through JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America  to make the deal work, and SUPERVALU is being patient and giving the P/E firm till the middle of the month to conduct its due diligence. Obviously, that means the deadline is drawing near.

The third-largest supermarket chain behind Kroger (NYSE:KR) and Safeway (NYSE: SWY), SUPERVALU has been on a sharp decline, losing billions over the past few years as more nimble competitors, without the drag of the heavy debt load it carries, have expanded sales. And that doesn't include the mass marketers like Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) and Target (NYSE:TGT) that have expanded their grocery selections and pressured margins everywhere.

Clean-Up on Aisle 6
According to a study by the CDFI Fund, the supermarket industry is highly fragmented, with the top 10 retailers accounting for just 35% of the total number of stores and 68% of sales. When you add Wal-Mart's impact, you find it has 28% of the market share, distantly followed in second place by Kroger with 11%. Some feel Safeway may even be the next SUPERVALU.

SUPERVALU has lost more than $2.5 billion over the past two years, and trailing losses have widened to $1.2 billion from a meager $27 million profit a year ago. Earlier this year it surprised everyone with better-than-expected results, though I cautioned that as it had lost Target as a major outlet since it was going to self-manage its distribution, investors should shy away from jumping in.

That was just one of the reasons the chain realized that the writing was on the wall and ultimately engaged Goldman Sachs to help sell the company.

Distressing news
Cerberus, because of its relationship with Albertsons, was always a leading contender as a buyer. As an investor in distressed properties, it acquired 655 stores in 2006 when SUPERVALU took over the rest of the chain that included some 1,100 stores under its various brands.

With the end in sight, however, there's little reason for investors to get excited, as it's also always possible Cerberus is able to get the $5 billion in financing it's looking for. Even if it does come through, the upside has likely mostly been figured into its share price, and it's also possible that due diligence will turn up something Cerberus doesn't like. At that point, SUPERVALU will be left trying to sell itself off piecemeal.

I'll pass on making a CAPScall on the grocery store, but share your view in the comments box below on whether SUPERVALU is a super value at these prices.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.