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….

Christian Kersting ‘Liability of sister companies and subsidiaries in European competition law’ (2020) European Competition Law Review 41 125

Traditionally, tort liability – which governs private competition enforcement – attaches to specific legal entities. However, liability for a competition infringement under European law attaches to undertakings, i.e. economic units that may comprise multiple legal entities. Increasingly, jurisdictions have relied on this latter approach also for assigning private liability for competition damages, and a similar approach even seems to have been endorsed by the European Court of Justice in Skanska. As a result, questions regarding which legal entities are liable for competition damages are increasingly coming to the fore, particularly as the answer is often crucial to determine whether certain courts (and countries) have jurisdiction over the claim. Under EU competition law, an undertaking encompasses every entity engaged in an economic activity. An undertaking may consist of several legally independent entities, provided that together they form an economic unit. Within the scope of this economic unit, an innocent parent company is generally liable for the competition infringements of its subsidiaries….

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…

Carsten Koenig ‘Comparing Parent Company Liability in EU and US Competition Law’ (2018) World Competition 41(1) 69

This paper, available here , contrasts how law parent companies can be fined for antitrust infringements by their subsidiaries under EU competition law, while courts in the US are reluctant to hold parent companies directly or indirectly liable in private damages suits. The author argues that one of the main reasons why EU competition law holds parent companies liable is to solve an under-deterrence problem that occurs when subsidiaries lack sufficient assets to pay fines or damages. US antitrust law uses other enforcement instruments to address under-deterrence by, in particular the individual liability of managers and employees. The article consists of four substantive parts: In section 2, the paper reviews the case law and literature on parent company liability for antitrust infringements by subsidiaries in the European Union and the United States. In the EU, the single economic entity doctrine is deeply ingrained in competition law. The European court interprets the concept of ‘undertaking’ in a functional way: it is the economic entity…

Eric Barbier de La Serre and Eileen Lagathu ‘The Law on Fines Imposed in EU Competition Proceedings’ (2018) Journal of European Competition Law & Practice 9(7) 459

This paper, available here, provides a brief overview of a number of important issues regarding fining in Europe up to 2018. There is no specific argument being made, just an overview of the state of play at the time this paper was published. Section I discusses how the statute of limitations affects fine amounts. The Commission’s power to impose fines for substantive infringements is subject to a 5-year limitation period from the date the infringement was committed – or, in the case of a continuing or repeated infringement, from the date when the infringement ceased – unless formal steps to investigate or prosecute the infringement have been taken by a competition authority during that period. Each interruption produces effects erga omnes, in so far as the limitation period starts running afresh in respect of all undertakings that participated in the infringement. Furthermore, the fact that the conduct of subsidiaries falls outside the scope of the statute of limitation does not preclude proceedings from…

Javier Garcia-Verdugo, Carlos Merino Troncoso and Lorena Gomez Cruz ‘An Economic Assessment of Antitrust Fines in Spain’ (2018) World Competition Law and Economics Review 41(3) 335

This article, available here, tries to quantify the deterrent power of fines imposed by the Spanish competition authority from 2011 to 2015. Despite being authored by senior staff at the Spanish competition authority, the paper concludes that most of the fines imposed by the Spanish competition authority during this period were under deterrent. The argument is structured as follows: Section II sets out how to quantify cartel gains. A deterrent optimal fine can be defined as a fine that deters a company from participating in a cartel. Such an outcome is achieved when there is no expected net gain from participating in the cartel in the first place, i.e. when the expected illicit gain of entering into a cartel is lower than the expected loss from being sanctioned for cartel participation. Therefore, the reference value for an optimal fine should be determined by reference to an estimate of the illicit gain (also known as excess profit) flowing from cartel membership. This illicit…

Douglas Ginsburg and Cecilia (Yixi) Cheng  ‘The Decline in U.S. Criminal Antitrust Cases’ George Mason University Law & Economics Research Paper Series 19-31 (Forthcoming in Liber Amicorum Albert A. Foer (2020) Nicolas Charbit et al. (eds)

Criminal cartel prosecutions are at modern lows in the U.S. The authors of this paper, available here, offer three non-exclusive hypotheses for this decline: (1) increasingly large fines in multiple jurisdictions have lessened the incentive to apply for leniency in any one jurisdiction; (2) technology has caused the substitution of lawful tacit for unlawful express collusion; and (3) competition policy has succeeded in deterring cartel formation – at least among U.S. companies. Copyright: FT While the available data is too limited to reach a definite conclusion, it seems to support the third hypothesis: since 2008, investigations have focused predominantly on foreign companies, while both the number and share of investigated U.S. companies have decreased. This is consistent with the hypothesis that U.S. competition policy has been effective in deterring anti-competitive conduct by US companies. Section II describes the recent downward trend in cartel prosecutions. The number of criminal cases filed annually by the DoJ decreased from 90 in 2011 to 18 in…

William E. Kovacic, Robert C. Marshall and Michael J. Meurer on ‘Serial collusion by multi-product firms’ (2018) Journal of Antitrust Enforcement 6 96

This paper, available here, is long and so, I am afraid, is the review. In short, the authors of this paper take issue with the assumption that each cartel in which a given firm participates is a single instance of conduct that is independent of other cartel conduct by the firm. Evidence of serial collusion by major multi-product firms is readily observable from the public record in a number of sectors, such as chemicals, electronics, car-parts, financial products or graphite. Further, collusion persists in at least three of these industries, with new investigations having recently been opened into collusion in the chemical, auto parts, and financial products markets. The paper provides empirical evidence that many multi-product firms have each participated in several cartels over the past 50 years. It argues that traditional assumptions regarding how cartelists operate, and consequent enforcement strategies, are deficient in many aspects. Reflecting this, the authors make policy recommendations to reign in serial collusion. The article is structured as…

John Connor and Dan Werner  ‘Variation in Bid-Rigging Cartels’ Overcharges: An Exploratory Study’

This working paper  is available here. A summary version, called ‘New Research on the Effectiveness of Bidding Rings: Implications for Competition Policies’ (2019) CPI Antitrust Chronicle April,  can be found here but I have to say I found this shorter version to be slightly confusing, so I would advise you to read the longer paper. There seems to be a consensus that bid rigging is more harmful and deserving of higher penalties than ordinary price fixing violations. Reflecting this, there is empirical evidence that antitrust penalties are more severe for rings than for classic price-fixing cartels. A number of jurisdictions, such as Germany and Italy, impose criminal liability only for bid rigging infringements, but not for other types of cartel. Multilateral organisations, such as the OECD and the International Competition Network, have given special attention to the problems of enforcement against bid rigging. Yet, this antipathy toward bid rigging relative to the more common form of collusive conduct (classic price…