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Ron Burkle Buys 7% Stake in Whole Foods

BY CSA STAFF

Los Angeles billionaire and supermarket mogul Ron Burkle on Thursday disclosed in a regulatory filing that he had purchased a 7% stake in Whole Foods Market.

It was just last week that Burkle revealed in another filing he had acquired an 8.3% stake in Barnes & Noble Inc. In both cases, Burkle said he believed the shares of the companies were undervalued.

Burkle amassed his fortune, estimated at about $3 billion before the recent financial meltdown, buying and selling supermarket chains such as Ralphs, Alpha Beta, Fred Meyer Inc. and Food4Less, the Los Angeles Times reported. 

In the Securities and Exchange Commission filing related to Whole Foods Market, Burkle said he believed “there are substantial opportunities for the company to improve operations and its pricing image while maintaining its high-quality product offering.”

Burkle said in the filing that for now, he will keep the Whole Foods Market shares as an investment.

However, he said he would “closely monitor the company’s performance” and could modify his plans depending on his investment company’s evaluation of the grocer’s “business prospects and financial position, other developments” and “opportunities.”

Whole Foods Market jumped $2.26, or almost 23%, to $12.27 on news of the investment by Burkle and various entities controlled by his Yucaipa Cos. investment arm. The supermarket chain’s stock had plunged 77% in 2008.

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Home Depot ends Olympic sponsorship

BY CSA STAFF

ATLANTA Home Depot has announced it is ending its multimillion-dollar sponsorship deal with the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) and discontinuing a program that offered jobs and benefits to American athletes, the Associated Press reported.

The partnership began in 1992 and was worth between $15 million and $20 million during the four-year period ending in 2008.

The 86 athletes currently in the program — who worked flexible schedules depending on their Olympic training — will be offered traditional jobs at the Home Depot stores they now work in. After March 2, however, they will no longer receive full-time pay and benefits for part-time work.

“It’s been an outstanding relationship and we greatly appreciate everything Home Depot has done,” USOC spokesman Darryl Seibel told the A.P. “We’re sorry to see them go. At the same time, we appreciate their continued support of America’s athletes.”

At the height of the program, Home Depot employed more than 200 athletes. To make up for the financial loss, the USOC plans to provide stipends to winter athletes in the program through January 2010 and a one-time, $5,000 stipend to summer athletes. It will also provide health insurance these athletes might lose if they scale back or quit their Home Depot jobs.

Home Depot, which recently reported a 31 percent drop in third-quarter earnings for 2008, would not confirm that this decision was directly associated with the economy, according to the A.P.

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Sears Domestic comps take toll on Sears Holdings Dec. results

BY CSA STAFF

HOFFMAN ESTATES, Ill. Sears Holdings announced that total comparable-store sales for the month of December declined 7.3%. Comparable-stores at Kmart fell 1.1%, and Sears Domestic comps fell 12.8%.

Kmart’s December comparable-store sales benefited from a year-over-year increase in sales through the retailers’ layaway program, Sears Holdings reported, while Sears Domestic December comps suffered from reduced sales across most hardlines and apparel categories.

For the full year ending Jan. 31, the company expects net income to be between $163 million and $243 million, or between $1.27 and $1.90 per fully diluted share.

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