Staples Forges Deal to Sell Wholesale Business If Merger Clears

Staples Inc. agreed to sell wholesale contracts to Essendant Inc., aiming to ease antitrust concerns about its plan to merge with Office Depot Inc. and create a dominant office-supply chain in the U.S.

Essendant would pay about $22.5 million for the business, which supplies products to resellers owned by women and minorities, along with their customers. The operation represents sales of more than $550 million a year, Essendant said in a statement Tuesday. The transaction is contingent on the Office Depot takeover closing.

Staples and Office Depot have been struggling to persuade regulators to approve their merger, which was first announced in February of last year. The Federal Trade Commission sued to block the transaction in December, saying the combination would squelch competition and raise prices for customers. Staples previously tried to buy Office Depot in the 1990s and was thwarted by the FTC.

In March, a U.S. district court will review the FTC’s petition for a preliminary injunction, which would block the merger until the conclusion of a trial before an FTC administrative law judge.

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