Harris Teeter confirms it's considering possible sale

Posted February 14, 2013 6:13 a.m. EST
Updated February 14, 2013 8:41 p.m. EST

— That Harris Teeter in your neighborhood might be changing owners.

The Matthews-based company, which operates more than 20 stores in the Triangle and 136 in the state, confirmed Wednesday that it has been approached by two private equity firms that want to buy the chain. The company has retained financial services firm JP Morgan to help mull what it calls "strategic alternatives."

Harris Teeter is the 11th largest employer in Wake County, behind Progress Energy, according to state data.

In an announcement posted on its website, the supermarket chain also said it would continue its plan to expand the number of stores it operates and to maintain its current distribution and manufacturing operations.

The discussions do not mean the chain will be sold.

"There can be no assurance that these discussions will result in any transaction," Harris Teeter said in a statement. "If a transaction were entered into, there can be no assurance as to the price, timing or other terms of such transaction. The company does not plan to provide any additional information until such discussions are concluded."

Possible buyers, according to Reuters, include larger grocery chains such as Kroger and Publix.

Both The Wall Street Journal and Reuters news service reported a possible sale Tuesday, sending Harris Teeter shares on the New York Stock Exchange up 6.6 percent in value to $39.50. On Wednesday, shares climbed as high as $41.67. They closed at $40.72.

Mike Walden, an economist at North Carolina State University, says the news is a positive overall for the economy.

"I think it is a sign of better economic times," he said. "Usually, you see mergers and acquisitions tail off when the economy is sour, and everyone is on edge and not really knowing what the economic future holds."

Walden said he doesn't expect shoppers will see much of a difference other than the possibility of losing the Harris Teeter brand.