FTC Close to Unveiling Merger Remedy Study: Ramirez

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By Alexei Alexis

The Federal Trade Commission is close to unveiling a major study on the agency’s use of divestitures and other remedies to resolve competition concerns around merger deals, outgoing Chairwoman Edith Ramirez told Bloomberg BNA.

The FTC has been reviewing a number of merger orders issued between 2006 and 2012.

The long-awaited study, initiated in 2015, will likely be released in coming days, according to Ramirez, who recently announced her resignation.

“I think the approach that we use with regard to merger remedies is effective, but at the same time, are there going to be ways to refine and approve on that? Absolutely,” she said.

Ramirez, a Democrat, is stepping down effective Feb. 10, leaving the agency with only two commissioners: Maureen Ohlhausen, a Republican, and Terrell McSweeny, another Democrat. Ohlhausen has been named the agency’s acting chairwoman.

Ramirez said she hasn’t yet decided what her next steps will be.

Under the leadership of Ramirez, the FTC successfully challenged the mergers of Sysco Corp. and U.S. Foods Inc., as well as Staples Inc. and Office Depot Inc.

But competition activists say the agency should have blocked more deals instead of trying to fix them with remedies.

“My work shows that remedies have not been effective,” John Kwoka, an economics professor at Northeastern University, told Bloomberg BNA. “That’s why this FTC study could be really valuable, if it focuses on the outcomes for all their cases, which is something not publicly available.”

The FTC’s 2015 order clearing a deal between Albertsons Companies Inc. and Safeway Inc. is among high-profile cases where the agency’s remedies ultimately failed.

Two major deals are still pending agency review: Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc.’s $9.4 billion deal for rival Rite Aid Corp. and Sherwin-Williams Co.’s $9.3 billion agreement to buy Valspar Corp.

To contact the reporter on this story: Alexei Alexis in Washington at aalexis@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Tiffany Friesen Milone at tmilone@bna.com

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