Albertsons said yesterday it was considering putting itself up for sale as well as other alternatives as the nation's second-largest supermarket...

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BOISE, Idaho — Albertsons said yesterday it was considering putting itself up for sale as well as other alternatives as the nation’s second-largest supermarket chain contends with sales that have lagged many of its rivals. Its shares surged 11 percent.

The company — which operates about 2,500 stores including Albertsons, Acme, Shaw’s, Jewel-Osco and Sav-on Drugs — said it is interested in pursuing “strategic alternatives” to increase shareholder value. Albertsons’ board retained Goldman Sachs and Blackstone Group as financial advisers.

“We don’t expect to disclose any further developments until the board of directors has approved a definitive transaction,” said company spokesman David Parker.

Analysts said they were skeptical that Albertsons could find a buyer for the entire company, the nation’s second-largest supermarket chain after Cincinnati-based Kroger.

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The company, with a market value of $8.49 billion and debt of $5.66 billion, may sell for as much as $20 billion, analysts said.

Shares of Albertson’s surged $2.32 yesterday to close at $23.05 on speculation private-equity firms may bid for the company.

In a note to investors released yesterday, Prudential Equity Group retail-food-industry analysts Robert Campagnino and J. Michael Sesko wrote that “Albertsons was our least favorite name among the conventional grocers and we see this decision by the company as an admission that the business isn’t performing particularly well and that the company lacks a clearly defined competitive advantage.”

Albertson’s profit has fallen in three of the past four years as Wal-Mart has expanded in the grocery business, adding more than 1,000 U.S. supercenters that sell food since 2000.

In June, Albertsons reported first-quarter earnings nearly tripled due to an acquisition and the continued recovery of the Southern California market after a major labor dispute. However, analysts said the company’s underlying sales with or without the Southern California stores are still not as good as its main competitors.

Albertsons Chairman, President and CEO Lawrence Johnston was the No. 3 highest paid Pacific Northwest executive in a Seattle Times survey published July 10, with total direct compensation of $13,419,312 for 2004.

Information from Bloomberg News and Seattle Times staff is included in this report.