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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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FTC Consent Agreement with Par Petroleum Demonstrates Increased Agency Focus on Competitive Effects

On March 18, 2015, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) ordered Par Petroleum Corporation to terminate its storage and throughput rights at a key gasoline terminal in Hawaii. This action will settle FTC charges seeking to prevent Par’s acquisition of Koko’oha Investments, Inc. Notably, the market structure created as a result of this remedy mirrors a market structure that was deemed anticompetitive in a 2005 FTC action. The two differing approaches to the same market highlight a key trend in the FTC’s merger enforcement: the focus on competitive effects of a transaction, as opposed to the resulting market structure.

The Market for Hawaii-Grade Gasoline Blendstock

The allegedly anticompetitive transaction affects the market for Hawaii-grade gasoline blendstock. Gasoline blendstock is produced by refining crude oil and is later combined with ethanol to make finished gasoline. The finished gasoline is sold to Hawaiian consumers.

Prior to the transaction, there were four competitors in the market for Hawaii-grade gasoline blendstock. Par and another oil company competed by operating refineries and producing the blendstock on the Hawaiian Islands. The other two competitors, Mid Pac Petroleum, LLC, and Aloha Petroleum, Ltd., competed by sharing access to the only commercial gasoline terminal on the Islands not owned by a refinery and capable of receiving full waterborne shipments of gasoline blendstock. This terminal, the Barbers Point Terminal, was owned by Aloha, but Mid Pac shared access through a long-term storage and throughput agreement.

The two oil refiners produced more gasoline than was consumed in Hawaii. As a result, importing gasoline blendstock was unnecessary. However, Mid Pac and Aloha were able to constrain the price of gasoline blendstock purchased from the Hawaiian refiners by maintaining their ability to import gasoline blendstock through the Barbers Point Terminal.

The Proposed Transaction and the FTC Challenge

On June 2, 2014, Par agreed to acquire Koko’oha for $107 million. As part of this transaction, Par would acquire Koko’oha’s 100 percent membership interest in Mid Pac and, therefore, Mid Pac’s rights to access the Barbers Point Terminal. The FTC filed a complaint alleging this transaction was likely to substantially lessen competition in the bulk supply of Hawaii-grade gasoline blendstock.

The basis of the FTC’s action was that “[t]he Acquisition would weaken the threat of imports as a constraint on local refiners’ [gasoline blendstock] prices.” By acquiring Mid Pac’s throughput and storage rights at Barbers Point Terminal, Par would have an incentive to use those rights strategically to weaken Aloha’s ability to constrain the price of gasoline blendstock. The specific competitive concern the FTC cited was that Par would store substantial amounts of gasoline in the Barbers Point Terminal for extended periods of time. By doing so, Par would tie up the capacity at the terminal and thereby reduce the size of import shipment that Aloha could receive at the terminal. “This would force Aloha to spread substantial fixed freight costs over a smaller number of barrels of gasoline, which would significantly increase its cost-per-barrel of importing.”

On March 18, 2015, the FTC and Par [...]

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FTC and DOJ Release FY 2013 HSR Annual Report

On May 21, 2014, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Department of Justice (DOJ) released the Hart-Scott-Rodino Annual Report covering Fiscal Year (FY) 2013 (October 1, 2012 – September 30, 2013).  The report describes key merger enforcement actions over the past year and provides interesting data regarding the agencies’ antitrust enforcement activity.

Specifically, the report indicates that in FY 2013, 1,326 transactions were reported under the Hart-Scott-Rodino (HSR) Act, representing an approximate 7 percent decline in reported transactions from FY 2012.  The FTC was granted clearance to investigate 145 of these transactions, while the DOJ was granted clearance to investigate 72 transactions.  Of the 145 transactions the FTC investigated in FY 2013, it only issued 25 second requests.  In other words, the FTC only issued second requests in 17.2 percent of its investigations in FY 2013.  The DOJ’s Antitrust Division, on the other hand, issued second requests in 22 of the 72 transactions it was granted clearance to investigate (i.e., 30.6 percent of its investigations).

However, of the FTC’s 25 second requests in FY 2013, it brought 23 merger enforcement actions.  That is, the FTC brought enforcement actions in more than 90 percent of the transactions for which it issued a second request in FY 2013.  The DOJ’s Antitrust Division brought only 15 merger enforcement actions in FY 2013, or just under 70 percent of the transactions for which it issued a second request (15 out of 22).

This information can be a helpful tool to assist clients in evaluating their chances before the merger enforcement agencies at various stages of the HSR notification process.  While the FTC and DOJ together only investigated 217 transactions in FY 2013, most of those investigations were brought by the FTC.  Furthermore, the agencies’ decisions to issue second requests made it increasingly likely that they would bring enforcement actions to block or unwind the transactions, particularly with respect to the FTC.




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