An investment group of Cerberus Capital, Kimco Realty and Minnesota supermarket chain Supervalu is likely to buy Albertsons, the second-largest...

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BOISE, Idaho — An investment group of Cerberus Capital, Kimco Realty and Minnesota supermarket chain Supervalu is likely to buy Albertsons, the second-largest U.S. grocer, for about $9.6 billion, The Wall Street Journal reported Friday.

The transaction, valued at $26 a share, would put an end to a three-month auction for Boise-based Albertsons that company officials announced Sept. 2. Albertsons has suffered from lagging results, a stagnant share price and competition from lower-cost rivals including Wal-Mart Stores.

The Journal did not cite a source for the pending purchase. It reported that in addition to the sale, Albertsons is continuing separate talks to sell its pharmacy business to CVS, for as much as $4 billion of the overall purchase price.

“Beyond the Sept. 2 announcement, I have no comment,” said Shannon Bennett, an Albertsons spokeswoman, who also refused to confirm the report that board members were meeting in Boise this weekend to discuss the offer for the grocery business.

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Albertson’s shares rose 34 cents, or 1.4 percent, to close at $24.33 Friday on the New York Stock Exchange. The Journal said the transaction could be announced after the board meeting. According to the report, the sale of Albertsons to the Cerberus group would include $6.4 billion in debt.

Spokesmen for Cerberus, based in New York, Stamford, Conn.-based Kimco, and Eden Prairie, Minn.-based Supervalu did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment.

Albertsons was founded in 1939 in Boise by entrepreneur Joe Albertson, who was among the first American grocery retailers to combine supermarkets with drugstores.

Once, Albertsons trailed only Kroger, based in Cincinnati, though revenue from Wal-Mart’s food business has eclipsed the size of both companies in recent years. Albertsons now has about 2,500 stores in 37 states, with about 240,000 workers.

Suitors may be interested in the company because of its real estate and cash flow, according to Gary Giblen, director of research at Brean Murray & Co. in New York. The company owns the land and buildings occupied by 60 percent of its stores, most of which are in California, Illinois and Texas.

In the three months ended Nov. 3, Albertsons missed analyst expectations for a second quarter in a row and reduced its full-year profit outlook, adding to pressure on the grocer to find a buyer to help it turn around a slumping business.

In the period, its profit declined 30 percent to $77 million, from $110 million in the third quarter of 2004.

Chief Executive Officer Larry Johnston told investors on a Nov. 22 conference call that he was still exploring “strategic options.”

Giblen’s comments were reported by Bloomberg News