Antitrust Division of the Department of Justice

What Happened:

  • The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), along with the Antitrust Division of the Department of Justice (DOJ), approved amendments to the Hart-Scott-Rodino (HSR) Rules and the instructions for completing the HSR Form.
  • After the amendments take effect on September 25, 2019, HSR filers will be required to use new 10-digit North American Product Classification

Today, Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim announced a series of reforms with the express goal to resolve most merger investigations within six months of filing. The reforms seek to place the burden of faster reviews not only on the Antitrust Division of the Department of Justice (DOJ), but also on the merging parties.

The DOJ will require fewer custodians, take fewer depositions, and commit to shorter time-periods in exchange for merging parties providing detailed information to the DOJ early in the investigation in some cases before a Hart-Scott-Rodino (HSR) filing is made. AAG Delrahim believes that merging parties need to avoid “hid[ing] the eight ball” and work with the DOJ in good faith to remedy transactions that raise competitive concerns.

By announcing these reforms, the DOJ acknowledges that merger reviews are taking longer in recent years. AAG Delrahim cited a recent report noting that the length of merger reviews has increased 65 percent since 2013 and that the average length of a significant merger review is now roughly 11 months. AAG Delrahim believes an assortment of factors contribute to the increasing length of reviews including larger quantities of documents produced during a Second Request, increasing numbers of transactions with international implications, and the DOJ’s insistence on an upfront buyer for most consent orders.
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WHAT HAPPENED

  • The Wall Street Journal has reported that the Antitrust Division of the Department of Justice (DOJ) is currently investigating whether advertising sales teams for competing television station owners engaged in anticompetitive conduct regarding communications on performance levels. Per the Journal’s reporting:
  • DOJ is investigating whether the purported communications led to higher rates for television commercials.
  • DOJ’s industry-wide investigation developed from its review of Sinclair Broadcast Group’s (Sinclair) proposed acquisition of Tribune Media (Tribune).
  • As part of the DOJ’s merger review, Sinclair and Tribune received a “Second Request.” Responding to a Second Request typically involves the production of a wide range of company documents regarding competition in the industry under investigation.
  • Many times in the past, merging parties’ Second Request responses have led to separate anticompetitive conduct cases. A few notable examples are provided below:
  • In April 2018, DOJ brought a civil complaint alleging that three rail equipment companies had no-poaching agreements that depressed salaries and competition for their employees. The agreements were discovered during the review of an acquisition involving two of the three companies.
  • In 2003, DOJ filed a civil antitrust lawsuit to block the acquisition of Morgan Adhesives Company by UPM-Kymmene and, at the same time, opened a criminal investigation into price-fixing conduct in the labelstock industry.


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The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Antitrust Division of the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced several antitrust enforcement actions in advance of the inauguration of President Trump, including settlements for failures to file under the Hart-Scott-Rodino Antitrust Improvements Act of 1976 (HSR Act), a challenge to an unreportable deal and a settlement of a “gun-jumping”

At a recent panel discussion during George Mason Law Review’s annual antitrust symposium, Deborah Feinstein, director of the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) Bureau of Competition, was asked what levels of gross upwards pricing pressure index (GUPPI) could raise concern in the FTC’s merger review process.  Feinstein declined to provide a specific level that would raise concern, thereby rejecting movement towards a safe harbor for merging parties in markets where the GUPPI is particularly low.

The FTC’s policy regarding a GUPPI safe harbor has a substantial impact on its investigations of mergers with potential unilateral price effects.  Generally unilateral price effects exist where the merged entity has the incentive to raise the price of the products of one or both firms.  One way to conceptualize the potential unilateral effects of a merger is to consider the opposing forces of downwards and upwards pricing pressures.  The elimination of competition between merging firms creates upwards pricing pressure.  The benefits gained from efficiencies generate downward pricing pressure.  GUPPI is an economic measure that attempts to estimate the upwards pricing pressure for a particular product resulting from a merger.  Three market conditions lead to a higher GUPPI: 1) a high diversion ratio to the merging partner’s product; 2) a higher margin for the merging partner’s product; and 3) a higher price for the merging partner’s product (Moresi 2010).
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