July 31, 2015 4:00 PM, EDT

FedEx Faces In-Depth EU Probe Into Bid to Take Over TNT

FedEx Corp. faces an in-depth probe into its bid to take over TNT Express NV just 2 1/2 years after European Union regulators thwarted UPS Inc.’s attempt to buy the Dutch company.

The FedEx-TNT tie-up may cut competition in the market for small packages and lead to higher prices, the European Commission in Brussels said July 31.

The EU “said all along they were going to leave no stone unturned. How could they not do an in-depth review when they rejected the UPS-TNT merger?” said Kevin Sterling, an analyst with BB&T Capital Markets, who recommends to hold FedEx shares. “Think of the scrutiny they gave UPS-TNT. They have to do this. They absolutely have to.”

The agreement to acquire the Dutch company for $4.8 billion, would allow Memphis, Tennessee-based FedEx, currently No. 4 in the European market, to add vehicles, staff and customers. Those assets may help FedEx cut costs and expand its reach to take on Deutsche Post AG’s DHL and UPS.

The commission said the deal may leave DHL and UPS as the only rival “integrators” that control a large air and road delivery network in Europe.

UPS aborted its bid for TNT in January 2013 after the EU signaled it would block the deal. Regulators argued it would limit some shipping customers’ choices for next-day deliveries to just UPS and DHL. UPS failed to find a suitable buyer for parts of TNT to ensure that competition for delivery services wouldn’t be squelched.

“We will continue to work together with TNT Express to meet the European Commission’s need for additional due diligence and are confident that the combination of both companies will increase competition and create benefits for customers,” Patrick Fitzgerald, FedEx senior vice president of integrated marketing and communications, said in a statement. “We continue to make progress on all of the necessary regulatory steps around the world that would allow us to complete the transaction in the first half of 2016 and unite two great teams that share a passion for customer service.”

FedEx and TNT said earlier this year they are “confident that antitrust concerns, if any, can be addressed adequately in a timely fashion.” TNT didn’t immediately comment on the July 31 decision.

“Many businesses, and in particular e-commerce, rely heavily on affordable and reliable small package delivery services,” Margrethe Vestager, the EU antitrust commissioner, said in an e-mailed statement. Regulators need to “make sure that FedEx’s takeover of TNT would not impede effective competition and would not lead to higher prices for consumers.”

The commission set a Dec. 8 deadline to rule on the FedEx-TNT deal.