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…

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…

Mario Todino, Geoffroy van de Walle and Lucia Stoican on ‘EU Merger Control and Harm to Innovation—A Long Walk to Freedom (from the Chains of Causation)’ (2019) Antitrust Bulletin 64(1) 1

In a string of recent merger decisions, culminating in the Dow/DuPont case, the European Commission has profoundly revisited its traditional analysis of innovation. Under this new approach, the Commission does not look at harm to innovation on a specific product market in which parties are developing similar pipeline products, but adopts a general assessment of harm to innovation, unrelated to a specific product market and without considering potential anticompetitive effects on this basis. This article – available here – shows that, over the last few years, the European Commission has been progressively departing from a “traditional” theory of harm in its assessment of mergers affecting innovation, and altered the analytical framework applicable to traditional cases affecting pipeline products/potential competitors. Sector I describes the factors that led innovation to become central to the Commission’s merger interventions. The rise of tech giants is associated with market developments that have led to competition in the market being progressively replaced by competition for the…

Volker Nocke and Michael D. Whinston on ‘Concentration Screens for Horizontal Mergers’ (2020) NBER Working Papers no 27533

Concentration measures play a central role in merger analysis. Existing guidelines identify various presumptions – both safe harbours and presumptions of anticompetitive effects – based on the level of the post-merger Herfindahl index and of the change that the merger induces in that index. These presumptions have a significant impact on agency decisions, especially in screening mergers for further review. However, the basis for these screens, in both form and level, remains unclear. The authors of this paper, available here, show that there is both a theoretical and an empirical basis for focusing solely on changes in the Herfindahl index, and ignoring its level, in screening mergers for whether their unilateral effects will harm consumers. The authors also argue that the levels at which the presumptions currently are set may allow mergers to proceed that cause consumer harm. Section 2 reviews concentration screens in various versions of the US Horizontal Merger Guidelines. The first version of the Merger Guidelines –…

Michal Gal ‘The Case for Limiting Private Litigation of Excessive Pricing’ (2020) Journal of Competition Law and Economics 15(2-3) 298

Excessive pricing raises strong concerns for private competition litigation, for three reasons: (1) the inherent difficulty of defining what constitutes an unfair price; (2) additional challenges inherent to private excessive pricing litigation, such as the need to pinpoint when exactly a price becomes unfair in order to calculate damages; and (3) the institutional features of general courts in EU member states. Given that private litigation of competition law violations is only beginning to develop in the EU, and collective redress mechanisms are still viewed with caution by many member states, this is exactly the time to ensure that, as private litigation expands, it will increase welfare. This is the purpose of this paper, which is available here. Section 2 addresses the inherent difficulty of determining when a price becomes unfair. The excessive pricing prohibition, though longstanding, suffers from serious and inherent difficulties in its implementation. In particular, it lacks clear and workable criteria. The challenges can be summarised as follows: to decide…

Eugenio Olmedo-Peralta ‘The Evidential Effect of Commitment Decisions in Damages Claims’ (2019) Common Market Law Review 56 979

The European Commission and national competition authorities (NCAs) make extensive use of commitment decisions. Since these decisions do not establish the existence of competition infringements, claimants still have to bear the burden of proof in stand-alone damages actions concerning conduct covered by them. However, some evidential effects should be recognised to commitment decisions, as well as to certain statements made in the context of related public enforcement proceedings. This article, available here, describes such effects as follows. Section II outlines the relationship between commitment decisions and the private enforcement of competition law. According to Regulation 1/2003, commitment decisions are adopted without concluding whether competition law has been infringed. Commitment decisions merely state that there are no longer grounds for action by a competition authority, as the behavioural or structural measures taken by the companies involved in an investigation are sufficient to put an end to the potential restriction of competition. In short, the main features of commitment decisions are that: (i) they…

Jorge Padilla and Nicolas Petit on ‘Competition policy and the Covid-19 opportunity’ (2020) Concurrences 2 1

Every economic crisis raises the same normative question for competition law. Should decision makers be temporarily more permissive in their application of the law to private and public restraints of competition? While historical evidence suggests that this is a bad idea, most economic crises since the 1970s led to some softening of competition law. In countries around the world, massive amounts of state aid have been injected into the economy. While such policies deserve praise in their concern for the protection of jobs, recessions have a “cleansing effect” which is desirable and can be dampened by such interventions. Recessions facilitate the exit of zombie firms that crowd out growth opportunities for more efficient competitors, and delay the diffusion of technological innovation. A case might thus be made that the current recession might be a source of opportunities for the EU economy, long trapped in a cycle of weak productivity, low economic dynamism and conspicuous absence of superstar firm creation. The…

Marco Botta and Klaus Wiedemann  ‘To Discriminate or not to Discriminate? Personalised Pricing in Online Markets as Exploitative Abuse of Dominance’ (2019) European Journal of Law and Economics 1

The advent of big data analytics has favoured the emergence of forms of price discrimination based on consumers’ profiles and their online behaviour (i.e. personalised pricing). This paper, available here, analyses this practice as a possible exploitative abuse by dominant online platforms. It concludes that such practices can have ambiguous welfare effects, and be subject to a case-by-case analysis. It also argues that competition law is more suitable than omnibus regulation – particularly data protection and consumer law – to tackle the negative effects of personalised pricing, particularly because competition authorities could negotiate with online platforms different kinds of behavioural commitments that could significantly tame the risks of personalised pricing. Section II looks at price discrimination in online markets. Economists typically distinguish between three different types of price discrimination. First-degree price discrimination takes place when a firm is able to discriminate perfectly among its customers. Second-degree price discrimination means that the firm discriminates between its customers by granting discounts once…

Alfonso Lamadrid ‘Shortcuts in the Era of Digitisation’ (2019) CPI Antitrust Chronicle – October

Competition law is arguably one of the areas of least importance when it comes to the major societal challenges posed by digitalisation. Nonetheless, competition law has been advertised as a sort of miraculous tool that would right all wrongs. In this context, the idea of entrusting a Report to three independent Special Advisers before advancing a reorientation of the competition rules was a very sensible initiative on the part of the European Commission. However, the author does not really agree with the report’s conclusions. He explain why in a paper that can be found here. Section two discusses what are the specific problems that digital markets raise for competition law. The first question to ask is whether there is consensus about competition problems in digital markets. If the answer is in the affirmative, we then need to ask whether we can address those problems while still preserving the benefits flowing from digitisation. The Report and other similarly-timed initiatives suggest that there…

Marc van der Voude ‘Judicial Control in Complex Economic Matters’ (2019) Journal of European Competition Law & Practice 10(7) 415

Already in the early 1960’s, the Court of Justice made clear that the application of competition law depends on contextual analysis that takes a wide range of economic and legal factors into account. Modern economics provides useful tools to deal with competition matters. The European Commission increasingly relies on these ‘mainstream’ economics in its assessment of competition cases, and courts have to make up their own mind on the merits of the Commission’s complex assessments and of the economic concepts on which the Commission relied to that effect. What kind of judicial control are the Union courts supposed to exercise over these complex assessments?  Under the current system set up by Article 263 TFEU, judicial review by the General Court, which has the final say on the interpretation of the facts of the case, is limited to the review of the legality of the Commission’s decision. In its case law, the Court of Justice has traditionally used formulae that suggest…