Antitrust regulators in the United States and Europe were very active in the final quarter of 2019. The FTC and DOJ continue to investigate and challenge M&A transactions in a variety of industries. Events of this quarter highlight the importance of states in merger enforcement. As well, recent FTC activity highlights the regulators’ focus on preventing monopolists from buying nascent competitors.
In Europe, the UK CMA continues to expand its role as a key jurisdiction in the merger clearance process, which will only accelerate with Brexit. The EC agreed to clear, subject to conditions, acquisitions in the aluminum production and battery industries as well as in the wholesale supply and retail distribution of TV channels after conducting Phase II reviews. Moreover, the EC opened new in-depth investigations into transactions in the copper refining and engineering sectors.
There was significant antitrust activity in the third quarter of 2019. In the United States, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Department of Justice (DOJ) continued an active docket challenging M&A transactions. DOJ is resolving antitrust reviews significantly faster than the FTC, following DOJ’s 2018 policy establishing a six-month target. The DOJ also made use, for the first time, of its authority to arbitrate a market definition dispute, potentially opening the door for a new tool the DOJ could employ to resolve challenges more rapidly.
In the European Union, the European Commission (EC) agreed to clear, subject to conditions, the acquisition of broadband and energy networks following lengthy Phase 2 investigations. Meanwhile, the national European regulators opened new in-depth investigations into commercial radio advertising, software as a service for airlines, autonomous sea surface vehicles and the promotion of live music events (all in the UK) and prohibited the merger of two recyclers (Germany).
The European Commission (EC) has found, on a prima facie basis, that Broadcom abused its dominant position. In order to avert the risk of serious and irreparable damage to competition, Broadcom has been ordered to cease its prima facie abusive conduct with almost immediate effect. This is the first time in 18 years that the EC has made use of such measure and could signal the re-awakening of a once-dormant tool.
The second quarter of 2019 proved to be a busy season for antitrust matters. In the United States, agencies continued to be aggressive and blocked transactions or required significant remedies. They cleared three mergers where divestitures were required; and in the face of FTC or DOJ opposition, companies abandoned several transactions, including between Republic National Distribution Company and Breakthru Beverage Group. Regarding vertical transactions, we continued to see a split between the FTC Republican and Democratic Commissioners regarding whether enforcement is required and the appropriate remedies.
In the European Union, the EC published a report on competition policy for the digital era, which deals with, among other things, acquisitions of nascent competitors. The EC also closed two merger control proceedings subject to divestitures, blocked a proposed joint venture, and showed that it will seek large fines for companies violating EU competition rules for merger notifications.
The first quarter of 2019 proved to be as active as ever for antitrust regulators in both the United States and Europe. In the United States, vertical merger enforcement was the focus of a few high-profile matters. The US DOJ has been working on an update to the Non-Horizontal Merger Guidelines, possibly providing clarification for merging parties.
Meanwhile in Europe, although the European Commission cleared a number of merger control proceedings with remedies, the European Commission also blocked two transactions during the first quarter of 2019.
Antitrust regulators in the United States and Europe were very active in the final quarter of 2018 closing a large number of cases requiring in-depth investigations. In the United States, regulators continue their focus on the potential need to update their methods of reviewing high-tech transactions with public hearings on the future of antitrust enforcement.
In Europe, recent reviews of Takeda’s acquisition of Shire and the creation of a joint venture between Daimler and BMW show a focus on how transactions will impact innovation for new products.
The second quarter of 2018 proved to be an active one with a number of US Department of Justice (DOJ) investigations resulting in criminal charges against individual executives. However, the DOJ’s total criminal fines still fall below the highs reached in 2014 and 2015. In this period, the European Commission made one notable cartel decision, imposing fines on eight Japanese manufacturers of capacitors.
McDermott’s Cartel Snapshot presents the latest information about active antitrust investigations to inform defense representatives, in-house counsel and agency regulators of the latest compliance risks and private actions. Our highly rated team of competition lawyers has selected the most relevant US and EU cartel matters to support risk management assessments for international cartel defense and to provide insights for legal and business planning.
McDermott’s Antitrust M&A Snapshot is a resource for in-house counsel and others who deal with antitrust M&A issues but are not faced with these issues on a daily basis. In each quarterly issue, we will provide concise summaries of Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Department of Justice (DOJ) and European Commission (EC) news and events related to M&A, including significant ongoing investigations, trials and consent orders, as well as analysis on the trends we see developing in the antitrust review process.
On 6 December 2016, the European Commission cleared the acquisition of LinkedIn by Microsoft, subject to Microsoft granting LinkedIn’s competitors access to certain LinkedIn tools.
“BIG DATA” CONCERNS ANALYSED AND DISMISSED
The acquisition of LinkedIn’s “data” was one of the most anticipated issues in the case. Following Facebook/WhatsApp and Google/Doubleclick, Competition Commissioner Vestager highlighted the problem of “big data” in a 2016 speech, noting that “The problem for competition isn’t just that one company holds a lot of data. The problem comes if that data is really unique, and can’t be duplicated by anyone else.” As an overall matter, Microsoft’s and LinkedIn’s activities only overlapped in the provision of non-search online advertising services.
The Commission considered two ways in which combining the parties’ respective datasets relating to online advertising could harm competition. First, combining datasets can increase the parties’ market power in the supply of data, or increase barriers to entry for actual or potential competitors that need the data to compete, thus reducing competition. Second, even if the parties do not intend to combine their datasets post-merger, concerns can still arise if the datasets were the basis for competition between them pre-merger, and the transaction removed this competitive dynamic. The Commission dismissed these concerns, noting that Microsoft and LinkedIn had a limited presence in online advertising, did not compete closely and did not make their data available to third parties for advertising purposes. (more…)
Rolls-Royce, together with ITP, MTU and Safran, are members of a military engine consortium–Europrop International (EPI)–that supplies the engine to the Airbus’ A400M, the primary competitor to the Lockheed Martin C-130J.
The European Commission (EC) had concerns that Rolls-Royce’s full ownership of ITP would increase its influence in EPI such that Rolls-Royce could undercut the competitiveness of the EPI engine, and consequently subvert Airbus’ competitiveness vis-à-vis Lockheed Martin.
The EC and Rolls-Royce agreed to a behavioral remedy focused on EPI’s governance rules that would eliminate the potential conflict of interest and maintain EPI’s competitiveness. While the EC press release does not provide details, the agreement likely allows MTU and Safran to control the consortium’s decision making.
WHAT THIS MEANS:
Antitrust enforcers continue to investigate competitive impacts from vertical transactions.
While antitrust enforcers have a strong preference for structural remedies, when addressing vertical competition issues, there is greater potential that enforcers will accept a behavioral fix.
Antitrust enforcers continue to focus on antitrust impacts in narrow markets. Here, the remedy is designed to maintain competition between the Airbus A400M and Lockheed Martin’s C-130J – military turboprop transport aircraft.