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Gathering of the Office Depot Inc (ODP) Supply Stores

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So Office Depot Inc (NYSE:ODP) is buying out OfficeMax Incorporated (NYSE:OMX). The larger firm will take over the smaller one in a $976 million all-stock swap and the two will be combined. Simple enough. The real news here is that this is one more sign of consolidation in the retail industry.

A major reason for this is the spread of low cost alternatives and big box stores. Both Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (NYSE:WMT) and Costco Wholesale Corporation (NASDAQ:COST) sell a lot of the same things as both Office Depot and Office Max. That’s got to be disquieting for two retailers who look like pretty big boxes themselves. But that’s the way it is and no two ways about it.

Office Depot Inc (NYSE:ODP)Still, it’s possible that the larger firm can better compete with its more generalized rivals. By specializing in office supplies and hardware there’s space for them to become a stronger presence in the industry, provided the sales team can lock up some long-term discounted contracts with bigger buyers. I wish them luck.

Office Depot Inc (NYSE:ODP)

It’s interesting that the newsies are considering Office Depot to be the dominant partner in this merger. While the firm is bigger than Office Max the fact is that it’s hardly a bastion of profitability. November’s earnings last year weren’t exactly lighting up the boards in a positive way. Still, the news is good for the firm as it now has an easy way to expand. As recently as last September the stock was below $2, and during its recent run it’s been as high as $5. Be cautiously optimistic about how it’s going to go.

OfficeMax Incorporated (NYSE:OMX)

Everyone keeps saying that this will be a merger of equals. But not all equals are, well, equal. Office Max is the smaller of the two firms, and it wouldn’t surprise me if it’s the one going away after the dust has settled. Still, Max has a better margin than Depot even if its overall sales are smaller. Maybe that’s what it’s bringing to the table. Watch to see if the CEO for the combined firm comes from the Max side. That’ll tell a lot of the ‘merger of equals’ tale. The stock, like its soon-to-be partner, has been on a good run, likely caused by the merger rumors. Still, it’s worth watching, though the likely gain in value is already factored in.

Staples, Inc. (NASDAQ:SPLS)

Staples is well thought of right now, and it got a lot of name checks during last year’s election season with Mitt Romney being involved with it at one time. Still, overall it had a good 2012 with an operating margin at 6.51% (even if Q4 was rough). It seems to be far overbought with a P/E of 543.13, and I can’t imagine that’s any form of irrational exuberance. The stock has been in a trough most of the last year. Last March it was at $16.84 before dropping to $10.66 in August and now sitting at $13.60. It’s yet to be seen how Staples will react to a merger of two of its rivals. It had best lock in some of those long-term supply contracts before the merger gets approved.

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