Cento Veljanovski on ‘Pricing Algorithms as Collusive Devices’ (2020)

This paper, available here, undertakes a critical review of the prospect that self-learning pricing algorithms will lead to widespread collusion independently of the intervention and participation of humans. It reviews the arguments and evidence that self-learning pricing algorithms pose a new and significant threat to competition and antitrust enforcement. It argues that there is no concrete evidence, no example yet, and no antitrust case that self-learning pricing algorithms have colluded, let alone increased the prospect of collusion across the economy. Part I explains why algorithmic collusion may be a problem. Academic lawyers, who argued that algorithmic pricing poses a real threat to competition which cannot be dealt with by existing antitrust provisions, initiated a debate over the threat posed by algorithmic pricing. The prospect that pricing algorithms can facilitate collusion by firms is not the principal worry of this academic literature. Rather, the concern is with a class of machine-based algorithms that can collude without human involvement. Through self-learning and…

Emmanuel Combe and Constance Monnier ‘Why Managers Engage in Price Fixing? An Analytical Framework’ (2020) World Competition 43(1) 35

With the exception of the United States, individual cartelists are rarely subject to criminal proceedings. However, it cannot be ruled out that a managers may obtain private gains from their cartel participation, and therefore that they might have a personal incentive to set them up. This article, available here, analyses the incentives for a manager to engage in a cartel by mobilising the theoretical framework of the ‘economics of crime’. It also examines the various solutions – both at company and public authority level – to limit individual incentives to engage in this type of practice. Section II looks at the costs and benefits for a manager of participating in a cartel. In most detected cartels, individuals who participated in the practice held relatively high positions within their company: they were often commercial directors, and sometimes even general managers or CEOs. This means that, typically, a cartelists’ remuneration includes a large variable part linked to the achievement of short-term objectives….

Keith N. Hylton ‘Oligopoly Pricing and Richard Posner’ (2018) Antitrust Source

Oligopoly pricing cases are sometimes called “circumstantial-evidence conspiracies”, because they typically involve a charge of conspiracy and an absence of direct evidence of agreement.  What makes these cases special, however, is the type of circumstantial evidence brought to court, such as that of parallel behaviour, and the difficulty of determining whether the evidence justifies a finding of conspiracy. Over nearly 50 years, Richard Posner’s ideas have loomed large over the subject of oligopoly pricing and antitrust. However, by 2015 his approach seemed to have little to do with his ideas in 1969. This paper, , available here, explores this evolution, and how it reflects changes in how we think about oligopoly and collusion. Section I discusses the text messaging litigation and the reasoning behind Posner’s changing approach to oligopoly pricing. In 2015, judge Posner wrote the opinion In re Text Messaging. The case arose from the consolidation of several class actions accusing major wireless network providers (T-Mobile USA Inc., Sprint…

Stefan Thomas ‘Harmful Signals: Cartel Prohibition and Oligopoly Theory in the Age of Machine Learning’ (2019) Journal of Competition Law & Economics 15 (2-3) 159

Information can be used by competitors to collude or to compete, and the challenge for competition law is to spot the differences. Signalling and any other type of informational exchange outside the scope of cartels are an emanation of tacit collusion. Tacit collusion, however, is generally considered unobjectionable, because firms are deemed to have the right to adapt intelligently to their rivals’ conduct. The law puts different labels on what is ultimately the same economic phenomenon, that is, conduct that leads to supra-competitive outcomes. The traditional legal approach for distinguishing between illicit collusion and legitimate oligopoly conduct is to rely on criteria that relate to the means and form of how rivals interact, such as elements of “practical cooperation” or findings of anticompetitive intent. This article, available here, contends that, outside the scope of classic cartel agreements, it is not possible to properly distinguish between illicit collusion and legitimate independent conduct by relying on proxies such as elements of practical…

Niamh Dunne ‘Dispensing with Indispensability’ (2020) Journal of Competition Law & Economics 16(1) 74

‘Indispensability’ is the central concept underpinning the treatment of refusal to deal claims under EU competition law. Firms can normally refuse to share their infrastructure with would-be competitors, to supply an input, or to licence their intellectual property. Where the requested access is, however, deemed indispensable to effective competition in an adjacent market—an exceptional circumstance—dominant undertakings may find their default market freedom constrained, the rationale being that control of such an essential facility renders any refusal to deal disproportionately harmful. However, the conventional wisdom that instances of refusal to deal constitute an abuse only in the presence of indispensability has been challenged from multiple directions. This article, available here, surveys the departures from the orthodoxy that can be found in the jurisprudence. Section II introduces refusal to supply as an antitrust theory of harm. It has long been acknowledged that Article 102 TFEU may, in certain instances, proscribe refusals to contract with rivals by dominant undertakings. Yet refusal to deal…

Einer Elhauge ‘How Horizontal Shareholding Harms Our Economy—And Why Antitrust Law Can Fix It’ (2020) 10 Harvard Business Law Review 10(2) 207

This article, available here, argues that new economic proofs and empirical evidence show that horizontal shareholding in concentrated markets often has anticompetitive effect. The piece also develops new legal theories for tackling the problem of horizontal shareholding. When horizontal shareholding has anticompetitive effects, it is illegal not only under Clayton Act §7, but also under Sherman Act §1. Anticompetitive horizontal shareholding also constitutes an illegal agreement or concerted practice under EU Treaty Article 101, as well as an abuse of collective dominance under Article 102. Part I describes how new proofs and empirical evidence have confirmed that high levels of horizontal shareholding in concentrated product markets can have anticompetitive effects, even when each individual horizontal shareholder has a minority stake. The last few years have seen a deluge of studies – involving economic modelling and empirical research – demonstrating how overlapping horizontal shareholding can lead to anticompetitive effect, even when each individual horizontal shareholder has a minority stake and without…

Frank Maier-Rigaud and Benjamin Loertscher ‘Structural v Behavioural Remedies’ (2020) CPI Chronicle April

Both antitrust and merger investigations at the EU level regularly conclude with the European Commission (“Commission”) accepting or imposing remedies. Despite the theories of harm underlying antitrust and merger investigations often being similar, if not identical, remedies in these two areas of competition law vary substantially. The predominance of behavioural remedies in antitrust cases stands in contrast to structural remedies relied upon in most merger investigations. This is surprising and begs the question of what are the factors driving the Commission’s remedies practice – which is the question that this paper, available here, seeks to address. Section II provides some background on the application of remedies under EU law. Under merger control, commitments accepted by the Commission “should be proportionate to the competition problem and entirely eliminate it.” Similarly, in antitrust enforcement the Commission can “impose any […] remedies which are proportionate to the infringement committed and necessary to bring the infringement effectively to an end”. The broadest classification for…

Julian Nowag and Liisa Tarkkila on ‘How much effectiveness for the EU Damages Directive? Contractual clauses and antitrust damages’ (2020) Common Market Law Review 57 433

Market actors often include clauses in contracts which determine the jurisdiction, and/or forum in which any claim arising from the contract may be heard; or clauses which prohibit reassigning a claim or joining a class action. In some situations, these clauses may make it more difficult to obtain full compensation for a competition law infringement. Antitrust victims can be forced to bring damages actions in jurisdictions or before arbitrational tribunals that have less favourable cost and evidential rules; they may also encounter language-related problems. Similarly, preventing forms of collective redress has obvious benefits for defendants whenever a large number of victims only suffered very small individual harm. This paper, available here, explores the extent to which the aims of the Damages Directive and development of a strong EU private enforcement system in Member States’ courts might be undercut by such contractual arrangements. It argues that EU law protects consumers against clauses that could hinder the full effectiveness of the right to compensation…

Jean-François Laborde ‘Cartel damages actions in Europe: How courts have assessed cartel overcharges’ (2019) Concurrences

The primary objective of this study, available here, is to analyse how national European courts have assessed cartel overcharges. In addition, it also provides figures on the development of cartel damages actions in Europe (how many cases were decided, in which countries, with which outcomes, etc.). It was completed with the help of lawyers, law professors, economists, national competition authorities and national judges from 30 European countries.   Now in its fourth edition, this study shows that national courts in Europe have handed down judgments in at least 239 cartel damages actions in 13 countries, relating to more than 63 cartels. In these judgments, courts have given many insights into how to assess cartel overcharges. Section I describes the methodology followed. The process employed for this research involved four steps. The cases were identified; copies of judgments were gathered; using a recent automatic translation service, judgments were translated into English; their content was then analysed. To identify cases, contributors were asked whether they…

Miguel Sousa Ferro ‘Antitrust private enforcement and the binding effect of public enforcement decisions’ (2019) Market and Competition Law Review 3(2) 51

This paper, available here, provides an overview of the binding effect of public enforcement decisions in follow-on competition law cases in Europe. It discusses the material, subjective and temporal scope of this binding effect. It also tackles other issues, such as the obligations of national courts vis-a-vis non-infringement decisions and ongoing investigations. Finally, it looks into some arguments put forward by litigants before national courts to avoid or circumvent the binding effect of public enforcement decisions. Sections II and III explain the basis for EU and national competition infringement decisions being binding in subsequent damages claims. It follows from Article 16(1) of Regulation /2003, which mainly codified preceding case law, that European Commission decisions identifying infringements of EU competition law which have become final (res judicata) are binding upon national courts in follow-on private enforcement actions. A national court can only escape this binding effect if it believes that the Commission’s infringement decision is invalid and the CJEU declares it to be…