RR Donnelley Eyes Bankrupt Quebecor World

CHICAGO—The proposed acquisition of North America’s second-largest printer by the biggest of them all would create a giant of unparalleled proportions. The question is, would such a deal be a violation of this nation’s antitrust laws? In a sense, would it also be the best thing to happen to the printing industry in years?
The mid-May shocker saw RR Donnelley (RRD) submitting a written indication of interest to acquire the assets and properties of Montreal-based Quebecor World for $1.35 billion in cash and stock. Such a deal, should it become reality, would transform RRD into a roughly $16 billion-a-year concern. The next largest printer would be Cenveo Inc., at about $2.6 billion.

Such a deal would essentially give RR Donnelley a stranglehold in the book and publication segments, and a strong presence in the more fragmented direct mail printing sector. The main question, though, is whether the deal would pass the Hart Scott Rodino antitrust litmus test.

“About 20 years ago, Donnelley had big-time trouble with Hart Scott Rodino when it tried to buy Meredith,” notes Harris DeWese, CEO of Compass Capital Partners, one of the industry’s top M&A advisory firms. “It ended up costing them a lot of time and money. But, I’m sure they’ve researched this carefully and have strong reason to believe they’ll pass Hart Scott Rodino.”

Bob Cronin, managing partner of boutique consultancy The Open Approach, notes that the combined companies would only represent 10 percent of industry sales, by his estimates. The true hurdle, he feels, is proving that the resulting stronghold in magazines and books would not constitute a monopoly. In the end, he sees a marriage taking place.

“Having lived through takeover attempts in a prior career, I can say it’s very difficult to wiggle out of the net, even when you’re posting phenomenal results,” Cronin says. “Unless there’s an antitrust issue, it will probably be completed, with Donnelley finalizing the deal.”

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