THE URGE TO MERGE

Nineteen ninety-six rumbled to a close with a bustle of merger and acquisition activity, capping off a year rife with blockbuster deals and more industry consolidation.Two huge deals were unveiled in the last week of October alone. First, Safeway, Pleasanton, Calif., proposed a merger with Vons Cos., Arcadia, Calif. If Vons agrees to the $1.65 billion offer (it had not responded as of early this month),

Nineteen ninety-six rumbled to a close with a bustle of merger and acquisition activity, capping off a year rife with blockbuster deals and more industry consolidation.

Two huge deals were unveiled in the last week of October alone. First, Safeway, Pleasanton, Calif., proposed a merger with Vons Cos., Arcadia, Calif. If Vons agrees to the $1.65 billion offer (it had not responded as of early this month), Safeway would become the second-largest U.S. supermarket operator, with volume of

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