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The Wall Street Journal reports that Albertsons may pay to its shareholders a $4 billion dividend that it announced at the same time as its acquisition by Kroger was revealed, though both companies have maintained that it was planned before they even entered into merger talks.

However, Judge Ken Schubert for the King County Superior Court in Washington State "also extended a temporary restraining order blocking the dividend until Dec. 19.

"Without the extension, he said, Albertsons would immediately issue the special dividend without recourse from the state. The state filed a notice of appeal to the Washington Supreme Court."

The story notes that "the state of Washington has said the dividend would hurt Albertsons’ ability to compete with Kroger and other retailers especially if the merger didn’t go through.

"Albertsons has said the dividend isn’t conditioned on the merger and that it would still have $3 billion of liquidity after the payment."

KC's View:

The bet here is that Albertsons shareholders are likely to get a very nice Christmas present this year.

Ho. Ho. Ho.

In fact, if forced to make a bet, I'd guess that the odds are slightly better that the dividend gets paid out than that Kroger and Albertsons are allowed to merge.  (Though I still that seems likely, too.)

The problem with guessing all this is that the landscape seems to be shifting.

For example, just last week ther Federal Trade Commission (FTC) sued to block Microsoft's proposed $69 billion acquisition of video game company Activision Blizzard.  The New York Times writes that "the move is meant to prevent Microsoft from consolidating power in the video-game industry, but it also represents something bigger. The F.T.C. under Lina Khan wants to rewrite the nation’s antitrust approach to Big Tech and mergers … It’s the biggest test yet of Ms. Khan’s effort to overhaul antitrust law. In recent decades, courts have tended to approve so-called vertical mergers, like the Activision deal, that unite two related companies in an industry, rather than putting together direct competitors.

"But Ms. Khan, the F.T.C.’s chair, has argued that approach ignores the effects of vertical mergers on issues like innovation, particularly as big companies get even bigger."

While the proposed Kroger-Albertsons deal certainly isn't a vertical merger, it would seem to be in the sweet spot that Khan feels needs to be addressed - big companies getting even bigger, restricting choice for consumers.