Analysis of the Complaint and Proposed Decision and Order to Aid Public Comment

Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., and Supermercados Amigo Inc., File No. 021 0090


I. Introduction

The Federal Trade Commission ("Commission") has accepted for public comment from Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. ("Wal-Mart") and Supermercados Amigo, Inc. ("Amigo") (collectively, "the Proposed Respondents") an Agreement Containing Consent Orders ("the proposed consent order"). The Proposed Respondents have also reviewed the complaint issued by the Commission. The proposed consent order is designed to remedy likely anticompetitive effects arising from Wal-Mart's proposed acquisition of all of the outstanding voting stock of Amigo.

II. Description of the Parties and the Proposed Acquisition

Wal-Mart is a global food and general merchandise retailer headquartered in Arkansas. The company operates or services approximately 4,200 stores in the United States, Europe, Latin America, and Asia and had sales of over $191 billion in 2001. In the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, Wal-Mart, through its subsidiary Wal-Mart Puerto Rico, Inc., operates nine traditional Wal-Mart Stores, one Wal-Mart Supercenter, and eight SAM's Clubs.

Amigo, headquartered in San Juan, Puerto Rico, is the largest supermarket chain in Puerto Rico in terms of dollar sales. With annual sales in 2001 of approximately $542 million, Amigo operates 36 supermarkets under the Amigo trade name in Puerto Rico.

On February 5, 2002, Wal-Mart and Amigo signed an agreement whereby Wal-Mart will purchase all of the outstanding voting securities of Amigo through the merger of W-M Puerto Rico Acquisition Corp., an indirect wholly owned subsidiary of Wal-Mart, with and into Amigo. Amigo will continue as the surviving corporation. As a result of the merger, Wal-Mart will hold 100% of the voting securities of Amigo.

III. The Complaint

The complaint alleges that the relevant line of commerce (i.e., the product market) in which to analyze the acquisition is the retail sale of food and grocery products in stores that carry a wide selection and deep inventory of food and grocery products in a variety of brands and sizes, enabling consumers to purchase substantially all of their weekly food and grocery shopping requirements in a single shopping visit. Thus, stores in the relevant line of commerce have substantial offerings in each of the following product categories: bread and dairy products; refrigerated and frozen food and beverage products; fresh and prepared meats and poultry; produce, including fresh fruits and vegetables; shelf-stable food and beverage products, including canned and other types of packaged products; staple foodstuffs, which may include salt, sugar, flour, sauces, spices, coffee, and tea; and other grocery products, including nonfood items such as soaps, detergents, paper goods, other household products, and health and beauty aids.

Unlike prior supermarket investigations by the Commission, this investigation involves geographic markets in Puerto Rico. The evidence obtained in our investigation indicated that the markets at issue here have characteristics that support a broader relevant product market than those identified in past supermarket investigations by the Commission. There are approximately 250 supermarkets across Puerto Rico, with the majority located in the San Juan metropolitan area. There are numerous small and mid-sized supermarket chains throughout the island, and in general, competition appears robust. In Puerto Rico, full-service supermarkets, "supercenters" (which are co-located full-service supermarkets and mass merchandise outlets), and "club stores" (which are stores that offer a wide selection and deep inventory of food and grocery products and general merchandise-often in large-sized packages or in packages of two or more conventional-sized items-to businesses and individuals that have purchased club memberships) offer a distinct set of products and services that enables them to compete in the relevant line of commerce described above. Information provided by several club store and supermarket operators in Puerto Rico indicates that many Puerto Rico consumers regard club stores as apt substitutes for supermarkets. A substantial portion of retail purchasers in Puerto Rico regard full-service supermarkets, supercenters, and club stores as reasonably interchangeable for the purpose of purchasing substantially all of their weekly food and grocery shopping requirements in a single shopping visit.

In Puerto Rico, full-service supermarkets, supercenters, and club stores compete primarily with each other. Supermarkets in Puerto Rico compete with club stores in a variety of ways. Operators of Puerto Rico full-service supermarkets, supercenters, and club stores often price-check and modify the prices of their food and grocery products based on the prices of food and grocery products at nearby full-service supermarkets, supercenters, and club stores. They do not often price-check and modify the prices of food and grocery products based on the prices at other types of stores, such as limited assortment stores, convenience stores, specialty food stores (e.g., seafood markets, bakeries, etc.), military commissaries, and mass merchandise outlets (including those with pantries not offering a wide selection and deep inventory of food and grocery products). In Puerto Rico, most consumers shopping for food and grocery products at full-service supermarkets, supercenters, and club stores are not likely to shop at other types of stores in response to a small price increase by full-service supermarkets, supercenters, and club stores.

Many supermarket operators lose substantial sales when club stores open near to their own stores, and some engage in aggressive promotions in the weeks before and following the opening of a club store to blunt that sales loss. Some have remodeled stores in advance of their plans so as to ward off defections to club stores. Some have reacted to competition from club stores by adding additional multi-packs to their product offering and enhancing customer service. At the same time, club stores in Puerto Rico have introduced increased numbers of conventional package configurations. Ordinary-course-of-business documents of supermarket operators often refer to club stores as substantial competitors.

Studies also provide support for the inclusion of club stores in the relevant product market. For example, a 2001 study, based on "extensive in-home interviews among female heads of household . . . throughout the island," found that 37% of the subjects spontaneously mentioned SAM's Club when asked to identify a supermarket or food retailer that operates in Puerto Rico. The "brand awareness" of the four leading supermarket operators (and especially Amigo (with 72%) and Pueblo (with 58%)), was substantially greater than that of SAM's Club (with 37%), but the smaller Puerto Rico supermarket chains such as Ralph's (with 6%), Supermercado Del Este (5%), and Plaza Gigante (5%) had significantly less brand awareness among Puerto Rico consumers. That same study found that 5% of interviewees reported that SAM's Club was their "regular store" for their "large grocery shopping of the month." That is comparable to or greater than the numbers reported for Mr. Special (6%), Supermercado Del Este (3%), and Ralph's (4%). These findings are consistent with those of a recurring consumer survey conducted by the Puerto Rico food retailing trade association. The 2001 study found that 13% of consumers identified club stores as the place where they make their main food purchases.

In Puerto Rico, retail stores other than full-service supermarkets, supercenters, and club stores, such as limited assortment stores, convenience stores, specialty food stores (e.g., seafood markets, bakeries, etc.), military commissaries, and mass merchandise outlets (including those with pantries not offering a wide selection and deep inventory of food and grocery products), do not effectively constrain prices in the relevant line of commerce as described above. In Puerto Rico, none of these stores offers a full-service supermarket's, supercenter's, or club store's distinct set of products and services that enables a retail customer to engage in one-stop shopping for food and grocery products.

Ample testimonial and documentary evidence indicates that a significant portion of Puerto Rico consumers use full-service supermarkets and club stores interchangeably. Accordingly, the relevant product market within which to assess the effects in Puerto Rico of the proposed transaction is a market consisting of full-service supermarkets, supercenters, and retail sales of supermarket-type items at club stores, or in general, stores that carry and offer at retail a wide selection and deep inventory of food and grocery products in a variety of brands and sizes, enabling consumers to purchase substantially all of their weekly food and grocery shopping requirements in a single shopping visit. The determination that club stores are included in the relevant product market in this proceeding does not, of course, determine what the relevant product market will be in future supermarket investigations by the Commission.

The complaint alleges that the relevant sections of the United States (i.e., the geographic markets) in which there are competitive problems related to the acquisition are the areas of Puerto Rico in and near Cayey and Cidra (the "Cayey" market), Ponce and Juana Diaz (the "Ponce" market), and Barceloneta, Manati, and Vega Baja (the "Manati" market). The Cayey, Ponce, and Manati markets are highly concentrated, whether measured by the Herfindahl-Hirschman Index (commonly referred to as the "HHI") or by two-firm and four-firm concentration ratios.(1) The post-acquisition HHI in the Cayey market would increase 1,056 points, from 2,500 to 3,556; in the Ponce market it would increase 603 points, from 1,912 to 2,515; and in the Manati market, taking into account a Wal-Mart supercenter that will open shortly, it would increase 1,782 points, from 2,173 to 3,955. In the Cayey market, Wal-Mart and Amigo would have a combined market share greater than 47%; in the Ponce market, the parties' combined market share would exceed 38%; and in the Manati market, the combined market share would be greater than 59%.

The complaint further alleges that entry would not be timely, likely, or sufficient to prevent anticompetitive effects in the relevant geographic markets.

The complaint also alleges that Wal-Mart's acquisition of all of the outstanding voting securities of Amigo, if consummated, may substantially lessen competition in the relevant line of commerce in the relevant markets in violation of Section 7 of the Clayton Act, as amended, 15 U.S.C. 18, and Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act, as amended, 15 U.S.C. 45, by eliminating direct competition between supercenters and club stores owned or controlled by Wal-Mart and supermarkets owned and controlled by Amigo; by increasing the likelihood that Wal-Mart will unilaterally exercise market power; and by increasing the likelihood of, or facilitating, collusion or coordinated interaction, each of which increases the likelihood that the prices of food, groceries, or services will increase, and that the quality and selection of food, groceries or services will decrease, in the relevant geographic markets of Puerto Rico.

IV. The Terms of the Agreement Containing Consent Orders

The proposed consent order will remedy the Commission's competitive concerns about the proposed acquisition. Under the terms of the proposed consent order, Proposed Respondents must divest four Amigo supermarkets, in Cidra, Ponce, Manati, and Vega Baja, Puerto Rico. In each region, Wal-Mart owns or plans to open at least one supercenter or club store. The divestitures are to an up-front newly-formed entity founded by experienced supermarket owners which would be a new entrant in the relevant geographic markets and which the Commission has evaluated for competitive and financial viability. The Commission's evaluation process consisted of analyzing the financial condition of the proposed acquirer to determine that it is well qualified to operate the divested stores.

Proposed Respondents will sell the four Amigo stores to Supermercados Maximo, Inc. ("Purchaser"), which is headquartered in Hato Rey, Puerto Rico. Purchaser includes as its founders and management two former long-time members of Amigo's board of directors. All of the managers at the four stores are expected to remain in place (and each store is headed by management teams that have worked together for over three years).

The proposed consent order requires that the divestitures occur no later than ten business days after the acquisition is consummated. However, if Proposed Respondents consummate the divestitures to Purchaser during the public comment period, and if, at the time the Commission decides to make the order final, the Commission notifies Proposed Respondents that Purchaser is not an acceptable acquirer or that the asset purchase agreement with Purchaser is not an acceptable manner of divestiture, then Proposed Respondents must immediately rescind the transaction in question and divest those assets to another buyer within three months of the date the order becomes final. At that time, Proposed Respondents must divest those assets only to an acquirer that receives the prior approval of the Commission and only in a manner that receives the prior approval of the Commission.

The proposed consent order also enables the Commission to appoint a trustee to divest any supermarkets or sites identified in the order that Proposed Respondents have not divested to satisfy the requirements of the order. In addition, the order enables the Commission to seek civil penalties against Proposed Respondents for non-compliance with the order.

The proposed consent order further requires Proposed Respondents to maintain the viability of the supermarkets identified for divestitures. Among other requirements related to maintaining operations at these supermarkets, the proposed consent order specifically requires Proposed Respondents to: (1) maintain the viability, competitiveness, and marketability of the assets to be divested; (2) not cause the wasting or deterioration of the assets to be divested; (3) not sell, transfer, encumber, or otherwise impair the supermarkets' marketability or viability; (4) maintain the supermarkets consistent with past practices; (5) use best efforts to preserve the supermarkets' existing relationships with suppliers, customers, and employees; and (6) keep the supermarkets open for business and maintain the inventory at levels consistent with past practices.

The proposed consent order prohibits Proposed Respondents from acquiring, without providing the Commission with prior notice, any supermarket, supercenter, or club store, or any interest in any supermarket, supercenter, or club store located in the municipalities that include Cayey, Cidra, Ponce, Juana Diaz, Barceloneta, Manati, and Vega Baja for ten years. These are the areas from which the supermarkets to be divested draw customers. The provisions regarding prior notice are consistent with the terms used in prior Orders. The proposed consent order does not restrict the Proposed Respondents from constructing new supermarkets, supercenters, or club stores in the above areas; nor does it restrict the Proposed Respondents from leasing facilities not operated as supermarkets, supercenters, or club stores within the previous six months.

The proposed consent order further prohibits Proposed Respondents, for a period of ten years, from entering into or enforcing any agreement that restricts the ability of any person acquiring any location or interest in any location used as a supermarket, supercenter, or club store in Puerto Rico, to operate a supermarket, supercenter, or club store at that site, if that site is or was formerly owned or operated by Proposed Respondents in any of the above areas.

The Proposed Respondents are required to file compliance reports with the Commission, the first of which is due within thirty days of the date on which Proposed Respondents signed the proposed consent order, and every thirty days thereafter until the divestitures are completed, and annually for ten years.

V. Opportunity for Public Comment

The proposed consent order has been placed on the public record for thirty days for receipt of comments by interested persons. Comments received during this period will become part of the public record. After thirty days, the Commission will again review the proposed consent order and the comments received and will decide whether it should withdraw from the agreement or make the proposed consent order final.

By accepting the proposed consent order subject to final approval, the Commission anticipates that the competitive problems alleged in the complaint will be resolved. The purpose of this analysis is to invite public comment on the proposed consent order, including the proposed sale of the supermarkets to Purchaser, in order to aid the Commission in its determination of whether to make the proposed consent order final. This analysis is not intended to constitute an official interpretation of the proposed consent order nor is it intended to modify the terms of the proposed consent order in any way.

Endnotes

1. The HHI is a measurement of market concentration calculated by summing the squares of the individual market shares of all the participants.