FTC pressed to decide on WBA-Rite Aid deal

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Walgreens Boots Alliance has gone ahead and set a deadline for the Federal Trade Commission to approve its deal to acquire Rite Aid Corp.

According to the New York Post, WBA has “certified compliance” in its application, meaning that it has provided the FTC with the information needed to determine if the Walgreens-Rite Aid merger is antitrust-compliant.

That gives the FTC about three months to decide whether to clear the WBA-Rite Aid deal or stop it, the Post reported late Thursday, citing two anonymous sources. Earlier this month, the Post reported that WBA was considering such a move.

Politics could be a factor in WBA’s push for a decision from the FTC, which currently has three vacancies. In his first week in office, President Donald Trump tabbed commissioner Maureen Ohlhausen, a Republican, as the five-member FTC’s acting chairman. She succeeded Edith Ramirez, a Democrat. The other current commissioner is Democrat Terrell Mc­Sweeny.

Ohlhausen is reportedly in the running to be appointed as the permanent FTC chairman, as is Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes. Both are viewed as favorable to the WBA-Rite Aid combination, whereas the FTC under Ramirez had blocked large merger deals such as Staples-Office Depot and Sysco-U.S. Foods.

It’s now been over 17 months since WBA and Rite Aid announced their merger deal.

On Jan. 30, WBA and Rite Aid had extended the end date for the agreement to July 31, as well as lowered the purchase price and raised the number of stores that could be divested from up to 1,000 to as much as 1,200. The companies previously had extended the end date for the deal to Jan. 27, 2017, from Oct. 27, 2016, and projected that the transaction would close in early calendar-year 2017. They originally said they expected to wrap up the merger by the end of calendar 2016.

Fred’s Inc. has agreed to buy 865 or more Rite Aid stores in connection with the merger. However, published reports have said the FTC is iffy about the deal, given that Fred’s has reported poor financial results and would be acquiring at least 200 more stores than it currently operates.



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