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Antitrust M&A Snapshot | Q4 2020

In the United States, despite initial obstacles because of the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 rounded out to be the busiest year for mergers and acquisitions (M&A) enforcement in nearly two decades. In the fourth quarter, US agencies challenged five transactions. November 2020 saw the most premerger filings in any month since 2001. Mergers and filings in the United States are predicted to remain at high levels into the new year in light of the current economic climate. The antitrust agencies have continued to maintain that their evaluation and investigation of anticompetitive harm will remain rigorous despite the uncertain times.

In Europe, the European Commission (EC) and the UK Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) had a busy last quarter of 2020. The EC completed several in-depth investigations, including the Fiat Chrysler/Peugeot merger. The EC approved this transaction with behavioural remedies. With respect to policy and legislative developments, the EC published the much-anticipated draft of the Digital Markets Act, which is intended to regulate the market behaviour of large online platforms which act as “gatekeepers” in digital markets. Given the end of the transition period for the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union, the CMA published a guidance paper explaining how it will conduct its work following Brexit.

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Antitrust M&A Snapshot | Q3 2020

In the United States, mergers and acquisitions appear to be bouncing back after a muted start to the year due to COVID-19. Hart-Scott-Rodino (HSR) filings in Q3 2020 were up significantly over Q2, but still down from the mergers & acquisitions (M&A) boom we saw in Q3 and Q4 of 2019. Against the backdrop of a pandemic, we also saw significant developments in the approaches taken by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Department of Justice (DOJ) in reviewing proposed acquisitions. The FTC has recently announced an intention to expand its retrospective analysis of consummated mergers; DOJ has restructured its merger review operations to reflect changes in how the economy operates and to allow the regulator to further specialize its review efforts; and the regulators jointly proposed amendments to the HSR premerger notification regulations that are likely to increase the number of filings required for private equity organizations.

In Europe, as a result of the ongoing pandemic, the European Commission (EC) received a lower number of notifications (78) compared to the same period in 2018 and 2019 (106 and 116 respectively). In August, however, the number of notifications made to the EC returned to a level that has been seen in previous years (30). That being said, in September, the number of notifications fell again (24). In terms of key cases, the EC approved the acquisition of Bombardier Transportation by Alstom. With respect to policy and legislative developments, the EC announced a new policy of accepting referrals from national competition authorities in cases where the national thresholds for notification have not been met. This new policy is expected to be implemented by mid-2021. The EC also plans to introduce changes to the merger control procedural rules with a view to bringing more deals within the ambit of the EC’s simplified procedure, and to reduce the amount of information that parties are required to provide.

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Antitrust M&A Snapshot | Q2 2020

In the United States, despite requesting additional time to review pending mergers, the US antitrust agencies have continued their work through the COVID-19 pandemic. The Department of Justice (DOJ) and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reached settlements with a number of merging parties during Q2 2020, and the FTC is proceeding to trial in several merger cases. Both the FTC and the DOJ are conducting investigational hearings and depositions via remote videoconferencing technology such as Zoom. The FTC also announced it prevented 12 deals from closing in 2020 despite the COVID-19 pandemic. Five of the transactions were blocked and another seven were abandoned due to antitrust concerns, putting the FTC on pace for one of its busiest years for merger enforcement in the past 20 years.

In Europe, in light of the COVID-19 outbreak, the European Commission (EC) warned that merger control filings would likely not be processed as swiftly as usual. The EC encouraged parties to postpone merger notifications because the EC envisaged difficulties, within the statutory deadlines imposed by the EU Merger Regulation, to elicit relevant information from third parties, such as customers, competitors and suppliers. In addition, the EC foresaw limitations in accessing information on a remote basis. This period thus saw a drop in merger notifications to the EC; however, notifications increased in June and July.

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Antitrust M&A Snapshot | Quarter 1 2020

In the United States, The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Department of Justice (DOJ) faced new issues this quarter with the unprecedented challenges brought about by the COVID-19 global pandemic. In March, the agencies made certain changes to the merger review process to accommodate businesses and counsel working remotely. However, merger reviews, challenges, trials and consents have continued as usual at both agencies despite the additional obstacles.

In Europe, the European Commission (EC) also put in place special measures to ensure business continuity in the enforcement of merger control during the COVID-19 crisis. The first quarter of 2020 also saw the United Kingdom’s official departure from the European Union, which has consequences on the enforcement of EU competition law in the United Kingdom.

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Has Antitrust Enforcement Been ‘Reinvigorated’ Under Obama?

In the 2008 presidential election campaign, then-candidate Barack Obama promised to “reinvigorate” antitrust enforcement. Over the last few years, several observers have concluded that the Obama administration’s antitrust record is not substantially different from that of his predecessor. Conventional wisdom suggests that antitrust enforcement is non-partisan. Some key statistics bear out this conclusion, but a comparative review of the data in Hart-Scott-Rodino (HSR) Annual Reports published jointly by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), including the recently issued fiscal year 2014 report, reveals some significant differences in antitrust enforcement during the Obama administration.

Analyzing the first six years of each administration reveals some superficial differences, but also significant continuity. Between 2001 and 2006, the agencies received a total of 9080 HSR filings; in 2009–2014 they received only 7530 filings. The total number of filings reviewed by the agencies also declined in absolute terms in the Obama years (Bush: 1537; Obama: 1251). Yet the percentage of filings reviewed has been remarkably consistent at slightly less than 17 percent of filings received in each period (Bush: 16.9 percent; Obama: 16.6 percent). The same consistency applies to Second Requests issued. The agencies actually issued a higher number of Second Requests in the first six years of the Bush administration compared to the same period in the Obama administration (Bush: 284; Obama 275). Given the lower number of filings in 2009–2014, the number of Second Requests as a percentage of all filings reviewed was higher in the Obama years, but only slightly (Bush: 3.1 percent; Obama: 3.7 percent).

If the analysis stopped there, we might conclude that antitrust review and enforcement has changed little during the Obama years. But data for the individual agencies reveals a different picture. In the Bush years, the FTC issued 142 Second Requests compared to 134 during the Obama years. Once again, given the different volume of transactions, this difference in absolute numbers results in no meaningful change in the Second Requests issued as a percentage of the transactions reviewed (Bush: 15.3 percent; Obama: 15.4 percent). For the DOJ, however, the numbers reveal a different story. Although the DOJ issued an almost equal number of second requests in each administration (Bush: 142; Obama: 141), as a percentage of all transactions reviewed by the DOJ, this steady rate results in a significant increase in the total as a percentage of the transactions reviewed; 23.4 percent during the Bush administration, compared to 37.1 during the Obama administration.

The number of enforcement actions pursued by each agency also reveals significant differences. The FTC launched nine more actions under Obama than it did under Bush (Bush: 113; Obama: 124). These totals translate to a modest two percent increase when measured as a percentage of the transactions reviewed by the agency (Bush: 12.1 percent; Obama: 14.2 percent). At the DOJ, the total number of enforcement actions also increased, from 86 under Bush to 101 under Obama. Given the different number of transactions reviewed, however, this change almost doubled [...]

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