Wednesday, April 23, 2008

FTC digging in vs. Whole Foods

The Federal Trade Commission is not giving up on their opposition to the Whole Foods / Wild Oats merger.

Oh, you thought that was a done deal, completed last year?

So did everybody else, everybody except the FTC.
The U.S. government, in an unusual move, will ask an appeals court Wednesday to stop Whole Foods' takeover of Wild Oats, even though the deal closed last year.

The Federal Trade Commission tried to block Whole Foods' acquisition of Boulder, Colo.-based Wild Oats after the transaction was announced last February, arguing that it would stifle competition and harm consumers.

But a federal judge rejected the agency's request in August and Whole Foods and Wild Oats closed the deal later that month. Antitrust regulators usually throw in the towel after the courts allow a deal to go forward, because acquisitions can be difficult to unwind.

In this case, however, the FTC is continuing the fight. The agency argues that the companies haven't yet finished combining their operations and Whole Foods hasn't closed all the Wild Oats stores it plans to close. The entire process could take up to two years, the agency said in court papers ...
It's tough to figure what the FTC is going to say now that would cause the court to stop a half-completed merger when the same court rejected their arguments pre-merger.

But the really curious thing is why the FTC is getting so tough on this particular merger, which is pretty small potatoes (organic potatoes, no doubt), when there have been much larger mergers passed with little comment. Perhaps they're tired of the criticism from many quarters (including here) that they are sometimes a bit toothless.

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