The DOJ Antitrust Division’s recent challenge to the United Technologies/Raytheon merger highlights a few key considerations for antitrust reviews of aerospace and defense industry transactions. The case is a useful illustration of important principles applicable to this unique industry.
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.
United States: January – June Update
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and US Department of Justice (DOJ) have been actively challenging mergers and acquisitions in the first half of 2016. In some instances, the parties abandoned their deal once the FTC or DOJ issued a complaint, in others, the parties entered into consent agreements with the agencies. In matters where a divestiture is an acceptable remedy, the FTC and DOJ have required robust divestitures with financially and competitively viable buyers. There is increasing pressure for broad divestitures and for upfront buyers in industries where the agencies do not have ample experience and where there may not be multiple competitive buyers willing to acquire the assets.
In merger challenges, the agencies have been successful in obtaining preliminary injunctions in Washington, DC, but have been less successful outside of their home court. The agencies have successfully argued price discrimination markets, where sales of products to a narrow group of customers were the market, and courts are accepting the agencies’ narrow market definition. We also see a trend in challenges due to innovation, where the merging parties are the market leaders in new developments and research and development in particular areas. Investigations continue to take many months, with many approaching or exceeding a year.
EU: January – June Update
In the EU, there has been a noticeable increase in the number of notified transactions to the European Commission (from 277 notifications in 2013 to 337 in 2015). Most of these transactions have been cleared by the EU regulator in Phase I without any commitments. However, there have still been a number of antitrust interventions requiring the merging parties to offer, often far-reaching, remedies. One industry has recently seen a particularly high ratio of antitrust intervention is the telecoms sector. For example, in the merger between the mobile operators Telenor and TeliaSonera, the parties abandoned the transaction due to European Commission opposition to the transaction. The European Commission publicly announced that the transaction would not have been cleared, and that the remedies offered by the companies were not convincing. A prohibition decision was also issued, despite the offered remedies, in the failed combination of Telefónica UK’s “O2” and Hutchison 3G UK’s “Three”. This transaction involved the longest merger control review by the European Commission to end up in a prohibition decision (243 calendar days, compared to the average of 157 calendar days to block a deal).
With regard to current trends in merger control remedies at the level of the European Commission, there continues to be [...]
Top Antitrust Watchdog to Merging Firms: DOJ Not Interested in Remedies that Require Ongoing Regulatory Oversight
Head U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) antitrust enforcer, Bill Baer, believes the Federal Trade Commission and DOJ are law enforcement agencies, not regulators. In his recent speech at the Global Competition Review Fourth Annual Antitrust Leaders Forum, Baer stressed that antitrust regulation “is not what we do. And it is not how we ought to think about what we do.” He added that the antitrust agencies “do not aspire to be regulators or to pick winners and losers. Instead antitrust enforcement, done right, focuses on removing impediments to competitive markets and protecting market structures that facilitate competition.” Baer’s enforcement-minded approach likely explains one reason why the federal antitrust agencies do not typically accept conduct remedies to resolve antitrust concerns. Conduct remedies require an entity to take, or refrain from, certain business conduct (e.g., price maintenance commitments). The federal antitrust agencies disfavor conduct remedies in part because they often require significant monitoring (i.e., regulation) to fully protect competition. As enforcers, Baer believes the agencies should use the antitrust laws to preserve competition with little regulatory involvement. He noted in his recent speech that effective antitrust remedies “minimize the need for ongoing regulatory involvement in decisions better left to the market.”
As litigation expenses continue to rise, it is often prudent for parties under antitrust investigation to resolve the antitrust agencies’ concerns through a consent agreement. The nature of the parties’ proposed remedy is highly important. With federal antitrust agencies unlikely to accept conduct remedies to resolve antitrust concerns, parties must be ready to present structural remedies—i.e., asset divestitures to ready, willing and able buyers—that fully preserve competition. The antitrust agencies will carefully scrutinize any proposed remedy. If the reviewing agency believes the remedy falls short of fully preserving competition, then it likely will be rejected. Indeed, Baer messaged in his speech that “[s]ound antitrust enforcement requires careful attention to remedies.” He praised DOJ’s recent efforts to reject inadequate remedy proposals in favor of pursuing law enforcement actions to obtain the relief DOJ deemed necessary to preserve competition. In short, parties must be ready to fully address the antitrust agencies concerns or do battle in court.