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Cerberus Capital to buy Safeway for about $9.4 billion

Safeway Inc. (SWY), the second-largest U.S. mainstream grocery store operator, said private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management would acquire the company in a deal valued at about $9.4 billion.

The offer price of $40 per share represents a premium of 1.3 percent to Safeway's Thursday closing stock price of $39.47 on the New York Stock Exchange.

The deal combines Safeway with Cerberus' Albertsons chain, creating a dominant grocery franchise on the West Coast. It also creates a grocery network of more than 2,400 stores and 250,000 employees.

No store closures are expected, according to the company.

Safeway shareholders will receive $32.50 per share in cash plus other distributions with a value of $3.65 per share.

Cerberus is a seasoned investor in the supermarket sector. Last March, a Cerberus-led investor group acquired a group of grocery chains from Supervalu, including Albertsons and Jewel-Osco, for $3.3 billion.

Cerberus previously owned 650 Albertsons locations as a result of a 2006 deal under which the chain was acquired and its stores broken up between the private equity investor, Supervalu (SVU) and CVS Caremark (CVS).

Safeway has been in the hands of private equity before. KKR took Safeway private in 1986, and then sold its stake in 1999.

Safeway has been trying to streamline its business by selling off noncore units. Last year, it spun off its gift card provider, Blackhawk Network Holdings (HAWK), into a separate publicly traded company.

It also sold off its Canadian business to the operator of Canadian retailer Sobeys for $5.8 billion in cash.

More recently, Safeway has revealed plans to leave the Chicago market by early this year. That announcement came after activist investor Jana Partners pressured the company to review strategic alternatives, including exiting weak markets.

Reuters first reported that Cerberus was exploring a buyout of Safeway last October.

Goldman Sachs Group (GS) and Greenhill & Co. (GHL) advised Safeway on the transaction. Latham & Watkins LLP served as outside counsel.

Citigroup (C), Bank of America (BAC) and Credit Suisse advised Albertsons, Cerberus and its investor group.

Safeway shares fell about 3.3 percent to $38.14 in after-hours trading on the news.

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