Elena Argentesi, Paolo Buccirossi, Emilio Calvano, Tomaso Duso, Alessia Marrazzo and Salvatore Nava ‘Merger Policy in Digital Markets: An Ex Post Assessment’ (2021) Journal of Competition Law & Economics 17(1) 95

This paper, available here, presents a broad retrospective evaluation of mergers and merger decisions in markets dominated by multisided digital platforms. It identifies almost 300 acquisitions carried out by three major tech companies— Amazon, Facebook, and Google—between 2008 and 2018, looks at the business logic behind these transactions, and explores the theories of harm that have been used or, alternatively, could have been formulated by authorities. The paper then retrospectively examines two important merger cases, Facebook/Instagram and Google/Waze, providing a systematic assessment of the theories of harm considered by the UK competition authority, as well as evidence on the evolution of the market after the transactions were approved. Section II looks at the wealth of mergers and acquisitions (M&A) carried out by key digital platforms between 2008 and 2018. Companies active in digital markets are remarkably active in M&A, constantly seeking out interesting start-ups and purchasing them. Between 2008 and 2018, Google acquired 168 companies, Facebook acquired 71 companies, and…

Andrew P McLean ‘A Financial Capitalism Perspective on Start-Up Acquisitions: Introducing the Economic Goodwill Test’ (2021) Journal of Competition Law & Economics 17(1) 141

In recent decades, major technology firms have acquired hundreds of nascent companies. Between 1987 and 2019, Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft (GAFAM) acquired over 700 companies. There have been over 430 acquisitions in the last ten years alone. The acquisition of start-ups by major technology firms poses a significant anticompetitive threat, yet such transactions often escape competition scrutiny because they fail to trigger merger notification thresholds. This paper, available here, provides a financial analysis of historic acquisitions by Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft. Acquisitions in the digital economy are typically characterised by astronomical transaction values relative to the stature of the acquired firm—targets are typically young, lacking in tangible assets and yet to earn significant revenues. Given this, the paper introduces a new merger notification threshold — the economic goodwill test. The economic goodwill test is a concerned with the value of a target’s net tangible assets as a proportion of total transaction value. The difference between these…

Herbert Hovenkamp ‘Antitrust and Platform Monopoly’ (2021) 130 Yale L.J

Should antitrust policy do more to promote competition in digital platform markets? Is antitrust law sufficient to address competition problems in digital platforms, or are those problems so common and widespread that they require more pervasive public control? This article, available here, argues that sustainable competition in platform markets is possible, and that the individualised approach of the antitrust laws is better for consumers and most other affected interest groups than more intrusive regulation. Antitrust intervention will be less likely to reduce product or service quality, limit innovation, or reduce output than other regulatory alternatives. To achieve these outcomes, antitrust law needs to treat digital platform markets for what they are: markets that have some unique characteristics, but markets nonetheless. As a result, for the most part competition problems in them can be controlled with the antitrust tools we have. Section I considers digital platform monopoly. Antitrust policy is concerned with exercises of market power. The power question for digital…

Roman Inderst and Stefan Thomas ‘Common Ownership and Mergers between Portfolio Companies’ (2019) World Competition 42(4) 551

The debate on the competitive risks of common ownership has focused on whether passive index investments soften competition among portfolio companies. If this were the case, it would raise the question how it would impact the analysis of horizontal mergers between portfolio companies. The European Commission has, in Dow/DuPont and in Bayer/Monsanto, allowed the possibility that the mere existence of common ownership can contribute to a competitive impediment emerging from a horizontal merger between portfolio companies. This paper, available here, argues that it should not be presumed that common ownership in itself increases anticompetitive effects of a merger between portfolio companies. Instead, this would depend on the facts of the case – from both a price and innovation perspective. Even if it were to be assumed that common ownership has an inherent propensity to impede competition, it cannot be concluded from this that a merger between commonly owned portfolio companies has a larger detrimental effect on prices or innovation activity…

Alec Burnside and Adam Kidane ‘Common Ownership: A EU Perspective’ (2020) Journal of Antitrust Enforcement 8 456

This article, available here, examines common ownership through a European lens. The article considers whether the theory of harm flowing from common ownership is sufficiently robust to provide a basis for enforcement, and (if so) whether current European Union competition law tools could be used to that end. The authors argue that it is premature to draw any conclusions as to whether common ownership concerns justify competition enforcement. In any event, levels of common ownership seem to be lower in Europe than in the US, so it is unclear whether intervention would be justified in the EU even if it were in the US. Until a better understanding of the underlying facts and a broad academic consensus emerge, reform prescriptions that have been advanced will remain a solution in search of a problem. Section II describes the common ownership theory of harm. The authors begin by distinguishing between cross-shareholding and common ownership. Cross-ownership arises where one firm acquires a non-controlling…

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…

Anna Tzanaki ‘Varieties and Mechanisms of Common Ownership: A Calibration Exercise for Competition Policy’ (forthcoming)

Minority shareholdings have been on the regulatory agenda of competition authorities for some time. Recent empirical studies, however, draw attention to a new, thought provoking theory of harm: common ownership by institutional investors holding small, parallel equity positions in several competing firms within concentrated industries. The European Commission has already made use of the common ownership theory in its merger enforcement practice, while the US antitrust agencies have proposed amending their merger control reporting thresholds to account for aggregate institutional holdings. This paper, available here, reviews common ownership from the perspective of merger control. It starts with a novel distinction between two types of common ownership – ‘concentrated’, which broadly fits within existing concepts in merger control; and ‘diffuse’, which broadly encompasses the instances of common ownership that avoid merger scrutiny in jurisdictions that rely on control-based thresholds. It is this latter form of common ownership that preoccupies the contemporary debate, and falls through the gaps of competition law. The…

Karen Geurts and Johannes Van Biesebroeck ‘Employment Growth following Takeovers’ (2019) The Rand Journal of Economics 50(4) 916

This paper, available here, takes a sample of takeovers in Belgium over five years, and estimates their impact on employment growth. It finds that the average merger temporarily reduces employment of the combined entity by −1.4%. However, long-term effects are markedly different. Mergers likely to be motivated by acquiring or defending market power show a stronger and permanent employment reduction of −14%, whereas those motivated by efficiency gains lead to employment expansions of +10%. Section I sets the scene. Existing research provides a range of estimates for the employment effects of mergers, with no consensus having emerged about the predominant effect of mergers on employment. Studies that find a negative effect outnumber those that find a positive effect, but all come with caveats. At the same time, the literature has long noted the potential for efficiency gains from mergers. Acquirers often argue that reduced variable costs can offset market power and lead to lower prices, which in turn can raise…

Massimo Motta and Martin Peitz ‘Removal of Potential Competitors – A Blind Spot of Merger Policy?’ (2020) Competition Law and Policy Debate (6)2 19

Mergers that may look conglomerate or vertical at first glance may in essence be horizontal, inasmuch as they involve the removal of a potential competitor. Indeed, many conglomerate and vertical mergers can be addressed from the perspective of potential competition. Economists have started to look into vertical and conglomerate mergers which can be analysed from this perspective in the pharma and digital sectors; however, the issue is not restricted to these sectors. Merger policy must deal with two issues as regards such mergers: (1) how to make sure that potentially problematic mergers are notified and investigated; and (2) how to assess the social costs and benefits of such mergers. This paper, available here, looks at both these issues. Second II looks at the theory and evidence of mergers to remove potential competitors. Large firms have been taking over dozens of small technology firms which have not yet marketed their products, or that were at an initial phase of rollout. Such…

Nicholas Levy ‘Judicial review of merger decisions: An overview of EU and national case law’ (2019) Concurrences Special Issue Mergers Judicial Review

When the European Merger Control Regulation (EMCR) was adopted, there was uncertainty about whether the EU Courts would act as an effective check on the Commission’s enforcement, and exert discipline on its decisions in the same way as U.S. courts discipline the U.S. federal agencies’ determinations of whether mergers should be allowed to proceed. There was also uncertainty as to the scope for timely judicial review. History has proven the sceptics wrong. The EU Courts have played a highly significant role in shaping the law and holding the Commission to account. Although the EU Courts have recognised that judicial deference is embedded in the EU system of merger control, they have nevertheless been ready to subject Commission decisions to careful and comprehensive review. The courts have also protected merging companies’ rights of defence, striking down decisions that have been insufficiently substantiated or based on findings inadequately presented to the merging parties during the administrative process. The EU Courts have also…