Francisco Beneke and Mark-Oliver Mackenrodt on ‘Remedies for algorithmic tacit collusion’ (2021) Journal of Antitrust Enforcement 9 152

There is growing evidence that tacit collusion can be autonomously achieved by machine learning technology. However, outlawing such conduct is pointless unless there are suitable remedies to address them. This article, available here, explores how fines, and structural and behavioural remedies, can serve to discourage collusive outcomes while preserving incentives to use efficiency-enhancing algorithms. Section II provides a brief overview of the properties of deep learning methods and their applications to pricing decisions. Different machine learning methods can be usefully deployed to make pricing decisions. Reflecting statistical analysis, machine learning has the ability to automate pricing decisions by using hundreds or thousands of variables in ways that would be otherwise unavailable to market participants. Reinforcement learning may allow firms to automate pricing strategies according to variables such as reactions by competitors and the impact this has on profits or market share. As an algorithm’s problem-solving capabilities improve, market prices will tend to become more stable and converge to a price…

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…

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…

Andrew Leitch ‘Skanska: are jurisdiction challenges now an impossible undertaking?’ (2019) Competition Law Journal 18(3) 97

This paper is available here. Damages claims which follow on from European Commission (“Commission”) cartel decisions are, by their very nature, multinational in scope, with addressees of a Commission decision often domiciled across various EU Member States and even further afield. As multiple national markets are often affected by the anticompetitive conduct, potential claimants are also often domiciled across the EU and beyond. This can present potential claimants with a choice as to the jurisdiction in which they wish to pursue their damages claims, with the United Kingdom, Germany and the Netherlands emerging as the most popular jurisdictions. However, seising jurisdiction in the national court of a desired Member State can require the claim to be pursued against an anchor defendant that is not an addressee of a Commission decision. The ECJ’s Skanska judgment relieves claimants from the burden of having to establish that the non-addressee defendant participated in, or implemented, the cartel in order to sustain a claim against…

Felipe Irarrázabal ‘Competition and the plague’ (‘La libre competencia y la peste)

This piece is available here, but only in Spanish. The summary below reflects my own translation of the piece. Emergencies – such as wars and natural disasters – undermine the assumptions underpinning competition law and policy. Competition enforcement against cartels builds on the premise that fierce competition is highly beneficial for society, whereas firm cooperation will only create benefits in much more restricted situations. Competition enforcement also relies on legal procedures, which are by nature slow and lend themselves to sophisticated disputes. Covid-19 has forced authorities to enact exceptional regimes and pressured them to take urgent and even drastic measures. The coming economic recession will likely require similar measures. The main competition agencies in the world have started to react to this negative scenario. Several of them have declared that they will be alert to any possible violation of competition law. Others have specified that they will not accept excessive prices as a result of the crisis (although this legal…

Frederic Jenny ‘Economic Resilience, Globalization and Market Governance: Facing the Covid-19 Test’

Globalisation contributed to the rapid spread of COVID to all corners of the globe. The economic cost of fighting the virus froze a number of economies and disrupted global value chains, and is likely to be followed by several years of an economic depression that will dwarf the cost of the 2008 financial and economic crisis. The dramatic events of the first quarter of 2020 challenge some of the implicit assumptions underlying the design of our economic systems, and should make us think about some of the dilemmas and trade-offs that this crisis has foisted upon us. This piece, available as a working paper here,  is not mainly about competition – instead, it is a piece that thinks widely about the implications of this pandemic for the economic architecture underpinning globalisation, which also touches on competition. This is because, in the grand scheme of things, competition law and policy plays a relatively limited role when markets are not in equilibrium,…

Francisco Costa-Cabral, Leigh Hancher, Giorgio Monti and Alexandre Ruiz Feases ‘EU Competition Law and Covid-10’

This paper, which is from the whole of Tilburg’s competition department, as far as I can tell, is available here. It explores how EU competition enforcement might be affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The authors recommend that competition authorities should be watchful of excessive prices and price discrimination, and rely on interim measures if necessary. Collusion should remain an enforcement priority, but a procedural pathway to review agreements that may be in the public interest should be adopted. In merger control, the Commission’s strict interpretation of the failing firm defence is appropriate but, in general, a more sceptical attitude towards mergers may be warranted during this period. Advocacy will play a key role: competition agencies can both point to existing regulations that limit competition and monitor proposed emergency legislation that would harm competition for no good reason. A first section provides an overview of the nature of competition law in the midst of a crisis. Competition law is a political enterprise,…