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Retail sector eyes midterm outcomes

Illustration of a cash register surrounded by ballot shapes.

Illustration: Gabriella Turrisi/Axios

Inflation and antitrust stand at top of mind in the retail sector, ahead of next Tuesday's midterm elections, sources tell Axios.

Why it matters: Voters are going to the polls with their wallets in mind, and today’s state of affairs — inflation, volatile markets, supply chain disruptions and high mortgage rates — have made that ever more prevalent.

Here’s what to expect:

On antitrust, there will only be a "marginal, atmospheric" change in the regulatory landscape following the midterms, given that Congress doesn't appoint the Federal Trade Commission commissioners, says one consumer-retail-focused antitrust lawyer.

  • However, "it is obvious that a more Republican Congress affects antitrust.”
  • “Clearly there are going to be more sympathetic ears in Congress than we have currently on retail mergers," says the lawyer, who requested anonymity due to active cases.
  • That said, the current FTC commissioners are mostly "very enforcement minded" and advocate for "lots of investigation into big retail mergers," he adds.

💭 Our thought bubble: All eyes are on Albertsons-Kroger, which has already caught the ire of the Senate and is facing challenges at the state level. U.S. regulators haven't had the greatest track record winning antitrust cases of late — but this may be their slam dunk.

Meanwhile, on the inflation equation, “there’s not a whole lot that Congress can do,” says Lawrence White, a professor of economics at the NYU Stern School of Business.

  • The direct addressing of inflation is primarily the role of the Federal Reserve, and the leaders in place have secure positions, he says.
  • If Congress lands in Republican control, “they're going to be huffing and puffing and not really pushing in any particular direction.”

💭 Our thought bubble: Either way, the midterms set the stage for how most consumers will view the government's ability to provide financial relief.

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