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The Federal Trade Commission said late Thursday that it would not raise an antitrust challenge to Wal-Mart Stores Inc.’s acquisition of the Amigos supermarket chain after the company agreed to divest four stores in Puerto Rico. The decision marks the first time the agency has included club stores in the same product market as supermarkets. The agency concluded that Wal-Mart and Amigos were competitors because consumers in Puerto Rico use full-service supermarkets, club stores and supercenters interchangeably. Amigos is a supermarket chain while Wal-Mart operates eight Sam’s Club club stores and one supercenter. “While this is the first supermarket investigation in which the commission has included club stores in the market definition, it does not indicate a change in policy,” FTC competition bureau director Joe Simons said in a statement. “Instead, it underscores the fact that the commission conducts merger reviews on a case-by-case basis, considers all relevant facts and makes an informed decision based on those facts.” Club stores typically require consumers to become members, and they carry fewer items and larger sizes than traditional supermarkets. Because of these differences, the FTC historically has excluded them from the category when evaluating grocery mergers. Independent grocers in Puerto Rico have rallied against the deal and are challenging the transaction in the Puerto Rican court system. The deal has been held up at the FTC for months as Wal-Mart tried to find a buyer acceptable to the agency for the four stores it must sell. The FTC said Supermercados Maximo agreed to acquire the stores, which are located in the Puerto Rican cities of Cidra, Ponce, Manati and Vega Baja. The agency did not disclose how much Hato Rey, Puerto Rico-based Maximo would pay. Wal-Mart must complete the divestiture within 10 days of acquiring Amigos. The agency said Maximo includes as its founders and management two longtime board members of Amigo, and it is expected to retain the managers at the four divested stores. Wal-Mart is barred from acquiring other grocery stores in several Puerto Rican markets without first notifying the FTC, and it must file annual compliance reports with the agency for the next decade. Bentonville, Ark.-based Wal-Mart agreed Feb. 5 to acquire San Juan-based Amigo. Terms of the deal were not disclosed. A Wal-Mart spokesman in Puerto Rico was unavailable for comment. Copyright ©2002 TDD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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