Boise, Idaho-based Albertsons Inc., the No. 2 U.S. grocer, reported sharply lower earnings, and The Kroger Co., Cincinnati, the nation’s largest supermarket chain, announced a loss for the fourth-quarter, which ended Jan. 31.

Both cited the labor dispute for poor financial performance.

Kroger said the California strike and a shorter work stoppage in West Virginia reduced its fourth-quarter earnings by $156.4 million. The chain also took a $444.2 million goodwill impairment charge for its Smith’s food and drug stores, as well as a $75 million asset write-down on 74 under-performing stores. The result was a net loss of $337.4 million for the quarter, or 45 cents per share, compared to a $381 million profit, or 50 cents a share, the year before.

Albertsons estimates the California labor stoppage shaved its quarterly earnings about $90 million, or 24 cents per share, resulting in a 37% decrease from the same period a year ago.

The dispute involved more than 60,000 workers who were either locked out or on strike at Albertsons, Kroger and Safeway Inc., grocery stores. It was resolved after a federal mediator helped both sides reach a settlement.

Larry Johnson, chief executive officer for Albertsons, said he expects the company to rebound in Southern California — one of the most competitive U.S. food markets — by lowering prices and launching “a very aggressive plan” to regain lost customers.

Dave Simonson, president of Albertsons’ Southern California division, said the start of the company’s new Sav-on Preferred Savings Card is one of the tools that will be used.

“We are thrilled to welcome back our associates,” Simonson said. “Albertsons has been a market leader in Southern California for many years and we will be working very hard to win back customer loyalty and make life easier for these customers when they resume shopping in their neighborhood Albertsons store.”

Kroger, which posted a profit of 44 cents per share for the quarter excluding the charges, said sales for the 12-week period were actually up 4.5% to $13 billion, including stores affected by the work stoppage.

The company did not estimate 2004 earnings because of questions on how long it will take to rebuild its Southern California customer base.