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METZENBAUM TO FTC: MACY MERGER NOT GOOD FOR CONSUMERS, RETAILING

Byline: JOYCE BARRETT

WASHINGTON — Senate Antitrust Subcommittee chairman Howard Metzenbaum (D., Ohio) said Friday he is drafting a letter to Federal Trade Commission chairman Janet D. Steiger to convey his “major concerns” about the merger agreement between R.H. Macy & Co. and Federated Department Stores.
“This merger would not be good for consumers and it would not be good for retailing,” Metzenbaum said in an interview. “These two retailers often are the anchors in shopping centers, and if they are owned by the same people, consumers are bound to get the short end of the stick in higher prices.
“Retailing works best when there is competition. They improve their service and quality. When there is no competition, they tend to become less attentive to the needs of their customers.”
Carol Sanger, a Federated spokeswoman, said Friday, “Senator Metzenbaum might be better advised to take a deep breath and wait until the facts of the situation are known, unless he’s not concerned with the facts.”
Metzenbaum, who is retiring from the Senate at the end of this year, said he planned no legislation to attempt to stop the deal, announced last Thursday.
He noted, however, he is still considering whether to hold hearings in his subcommittee on the matter. He expressed confidence in the Clinton administration to thoroughly probe whether antitrust charges should be levied. “They’ll do what is necessary,” he said. “So far, antitrust and Justice have done a good job.”
Asked if it made a difference to him that Federated was based in Cincinnati, Metzenbaum, who has represented Ohio in the Senate for 18 years, said, “I don’t play that political game. I’m glad they’re in Ohio, but it wouldn’t deter me from complaining about this.”
He added he has not spoken to any of the company officials. In January, when Federated announced its aim to take over Macy’s, Metzenbaum wrote to Steiger and Anne K. Bingaman, assistant attorney general in the antitrust division of the Justice Department, to complain about the merger effort.
“It is my view that this deal raises serious competitive concerns because it would allow Federated to dominate the department store industry,” he wrote at that time. “I urge you to scrutinize this deal closely and to challenge it if it is appropriate to do so.”
Metzenbaum has used his subcommittee to help enact antitrust bills, and in 1990 helped advance a bill to ensure that retailers could take legal action against vertical price-fixing, which occurs when a manufacturer conspires with a retailer to force a rival dealer to charge at least a certain price for the manufacturer’s goods.
— Fairchild News Service