Amazon's $13.7bn Whole Foods buy just got FTC approval

Amazon's controversial move to acquire Whole Foods Market has been given the go-ahead by the US Federal Trade Commission. The decision was confirmed today by the FTC, with its Acting Director of the Bureau of Competition, Bruce Hoffman, issuing a statement that the Commission would not be beginning an investigation into the deal. The scale of the agreement had led some industry watchers to predict the FTC would weigh in with the idea that a merger could be anti-competitive.

Not so, says Hoffman. "The FTC conducted an investigation of this proposed acquisition to determine whether it substantially lessened competition under Section 7 of the Clayton Act," he said in a statement today, "or constituted an unfair method of competition under Section 5 of the FTC Act. Based on our investigation we have decided not to pursue this matter further."

Amazon's announcement that it intended to buy Whole Foods came as a huge surprise back in June. The deal, worth a hefty $13.7 billion, would see the brick & mortar retailer continuing to operate much as it already had been, with CEO John Mackey continuing to serve as chief exec. However, while Whole Foods was in agreement, there were still some hurdles to face.

For instance, Amazon's own shareholders needed to approve the acquisition, something which happened earlier this week. The FTC's attitude was the lingering question, and not only because large scale purchases of this sort generally come under increased scrutiny. Amazon also found itself facing potential political push-back.

That involved Jeff Bezos' side-project, his ownership of The Washington Post, and that newspaper's tumultuous relationship with the Trump Administration. US President Trump has repeatedly accused Amazon of avoiding taxes, and drawn connections between that and the coverage he's received in The Washington Post. That's despite Amazon and the newspaper having no connection bar Bezos himself, since the online retailer doesn't itself own the news organization.

It led some to expect Trump to apply pressure to the FTC's decision, and make trouble for the Whole Foods deal. That, it seems, has not been the case – or, if it was, the FTC opted not to take Trump's concerns onboard.

Still, Hoffman did leave the door open for returning to the topic in future. "Of course, the FTC always has the ability to investigate anticompetitive conduct should such action be warranted," the acting director pointed out.