Contrary to market expectations. Citibank beat out Bankers Trust Co. to lead a $1.3 billion credit backing SuperValu Inc.'s planned purchase of rival food wholesaler Wetterau Inc.
Until this week, Bankers Trust had been the presumptive lead, mainly because it heads up an existing $300 million commercial paper backup line for SuperValu. In addition, its securities subsidiary is the dealer for the company's commercial paper program.
The Citicorp subsidiary, though, also has an extensive relationship wit SuperValu and apparently submitted an aggressively priced bid.
Morgan Guaranty Trust Co., a unit of J.P. Morgan & Co., is also said to have bid on the credit, though Morgan's ties to SuperValu are not as strong as those of Citibank or Bankers Trust.
Presumed Fee Called |Thin'
The new backup line is said to carry a facility fee of 15 basis points. That pricing was characterized by several bankers as "thin." Moreover, the pricing could look even more aggressive if SuperValu were downgraded by the rating agencies.
Right now, the company's senior debt is rated A-plus, and its commercial paper A1 by Standard & Poor's Corp. But S&P put those ratings on CreditWatch for possible downgrading last month, immediately after SuperValu and Wetterau announced their merger plan.
While S&P did not specify the extent of the possible downgrading, it is possible that SuperValu's ratings could fall as low as BBB-plus and A-2 - the same as Wetterau's senior debt and commercial paper ratings.
Wetterau's ratings, though, are being studied for possible upgrading by S&P, so it is unlikely that SuperValu's rating would fall out of the "A" category.
Citibank officials were unavailable for comment on the new SuperValu credit.
Banks Meeting Today
David Cairns, treasurer of SuperValu, confirmed the selection of Citibank but declined to comment further. A bank meeting was scheduled today in Minneapolis, where SuperValu is based.
Meanwhile, SuperValu and Wetterau are still negotiating a definitive acquisition agreement.
A spokesman for St. Louis-based Wetterau said the talks are on track and that a deal could be wrapped up in days.