Russel Pittman ‘An Economist’s Thoughts on Behavioural Remedies in Merger Enforcement’ (2020) CPI Chronicle April

This paper, available here, argues that, not only does the current consensus favour structural over behavioural remedies, but that the reasons supporting such a trend are stronger than we may have anticipated. Behavioural remedies may be even more complex and raise more complicated economic issues than has been previously appreciated. As such, competition agencies would do well to approach behavioural remedies with great care. The paper begins by outlining the consensus on merger remedies. There is by now a substantial literature examining US and EU experience in imposing merger remedies. A number of “lessons” seem to have become broadly accepted in recent years: (i) structural remedies are generally to be preferred over behavioural remedies; (ii) structural remedies should where possible include the divestiture of complete existing “business units”; (iii) structural remedies may sometimes need to be supported by behavioural measures, if only as a transition mechanism; (iv) the merging firms have clear incentives to seek buyers and/or to package assets…

John Kwoka ‘Conduct Remedies, with 2020 Hindsight: Have We Learned Anything in the Last Decade?’ (2020) CPI Chronicle April

A decade ago, U.S. antitrust policy embarked on an experiment in expansive use of conduct remedies for mergers. Several major cases were settled with commitments that the merged firm – as a condition for approval of their mergers – would not engage in specific anticompetitive actions. However, a growing body of experience and research has found that conduct remedies are hard to write, even more difficult to enforce, and often simply ineffective. Despite this, over the past decade the agencies have not only failed to limit reliance on conduct remedies: they have continued to use them and even extended their use in more problematic directions. This essay, available here, discusses the flaws inherent in conduct remedies, before describing three recent cases that raise the question of whether anything has been learned from recent experience with such remedies Section II looks at the limitations of conduct remedies. Conduct remedies represent an effort to allow a merger to proceed while preventing anticompetitive…

Mark A. Lemley and Andrew McCreary on ‘Exit Strategy’ 101 B.U. L. Rev. (forthcoming, 2021)

The venture capital funding model that dominates the tech industry is focused on the “exit strategy”— the ways funders and founders can cash out their investment. While in common lore the exit strategy is an initial public offering (IPO), in practice IPOs are increasingly rare – they now account for fewer than 1 in 10 exits for start-ups, and happen later in a company’s life than they used to. Instead, most companies that succeed exit the market by merging with an existing firm. Innovative start-ups are especially likely to be acquired by the dominant firm in the market, particularly when they are venture funded, for a variety of reasons – because the dominant firms value the target’s technology, because they have lots and lots of money, or to eliminate a potential competitor who might leapfrog them in Schumpeterian competition. This paper argues that this focus on exit, particularly exit by acquisition, is pathological and one of the main reasons for…

C. Scott Hemphill and Tim Wu on ‘Nascent Competitors’ (2020) University of Pennsylvania Law Review (forthcoming)

A nascent competitor is a firm whose prospective innovation represents a serious future threat to an incumbent. Nascent rivals play an important role in both the competitive process and in developing innovation. New firms with new technologies can challenge and even displace existing firms; sometimes, innovation by an unproven outsider may be the only way to provide new competition to an entrenched incumbent. For competition enforcers, nascent competitors pose a dilemma. While nascent competitors often pose a uniquely potent threat to an entrenched incumbent, the firm’s eventual significance is uncertain, given the environment of rapid technological change in which such threats tend to arise. That uncertainty, along with a lack of present, direct competition, may make enforcers and courts hesitant or unwilling to prevent an incumbent from acquiring or excluding a nascent threat. This essay, available here, identifies nascent competition as a distinct category and outlines a program of antitrust enforcement to protect it. It favours an enforcement policy that…

Chris Pike and Pedro Caro de Sousa ‘How Soon Is Now: How to Deal with Uncertainty as regards Potential Competition in Merger Control’ Competition Law and Policy Debate (forthcoming)

While a short time frame of analysis can help build confidence in the conclusions reached on the likely effects of a transaction within that time frame, it misses potential harms and benefits related to longer-term potential competition. To correct this analytical deficiency requires the use of a longer time frame of analysis. However, with a longer time frame comes greater uncertainty on both probabilities and the magnitude of outcomes. Such prospective assessments often imply the balancing of probabilities by decision-makers, which are subject to substantive, evidentiary and practical constraints. In cases involving potential competition, this uncertainty is further heightened, to the point where meeting evidentiary standards designed for a short time frame analysis can become near impossible. This paper, available here, explores avenues to deal with uncertainty under merger control, and advances two proposals. First, one should ensure that the substantive standards for clearing and prohibiting a merger reflect not only the probability but also the potential magnitude of anti-…

Andrew Sweeting, Joel Schrag and Nathan Wilson ‘Not All Pre-Emptive Mergers Are Alike: A Classification of Recent Cases’ (2020) CPI October

There has been much recent debate about whether antitrust agencies have been sufficiently attentive to preemptive mergers, where one firm acquires another that it expects will become a more vigorous competitor in the future. The suggestion, sometimes described in terms of “killer acquisitions” (“kill zones”) or, less graphically, “the elimination of nascent competition”, is that agencies may have allowed transactions that, while perhaps not substantially reducing competition in the short-run, deprived consumers of lower prices, better products, and more variety in the future. It has been claimed that these types of mergers have been particularly common in certain sectors, such as the tech and pharmaceutical industries, but it is an open question whether these issues arise more generally. While these issues are important, the nature of the debate might lead people to believe that similar issues are raised by all preemptive merger cases. This paper by three economists at the FTC, available here, argues that this is wrong. It develops…

Giulio Federico, Fiona Scott Morton and Carl Shapiro ‘Antitrust and Innovation: Welcoming and Protecting Disruption’ in Innovation Policy and the Economy (eds. Josh Lerner and Scott Stern, NBER), Vol. 20, Chapter 4, 125

This paper, available here, focuses on the impact of competition policy on innovation. Disruptive firms drive a significant amount of innovation. By making its offer to customers attractive in a new way, a disruptive firm can destroy a great deal of incumbent profit while creating a large amount of consumer surplus. The resulting churn in products and market shares, as new products enter and old ones exit, and as newer business methods and business models supplant older ones, are typical of a healthy competitive process. If that competitive process is slowed or biased by mergers or by exclusionary conduct, innovation is lessened and consumers are harmed. Competition policy seeks to protect the competitive process by which disruptive firms challenge the status quo, despite the biggest firms being some of the most impressive innovators in many industries experiencing rapid technological change. Innovation is best promoted when market leaders are allowed to exploit their competitive advantages while also facing pressure to perform…

Nicolas Petit on ‘Innovation Competition, Unilateral Effects and Merger Control Policy’ (2019) Antitrust Law Journal 82 873

Competition authorities have started expressing concerns about horizontal mergers that give rise to a “significant impediment to effective innovation competition” (“SIEIC”) as a result of a reduction in post-merger R&D efforts (including lower R&D expenditure). At the heart of the development of SIEIC analysis lies a fundamental question of competition theory: under what conditions can variations of existing economic models be applied in merger cases? This paper, available here, concludes that SIEIC constitutes a small but significant change in merger policy, which applies standard unilateral effects analysis but shifts the focus from price to innovation effects. This is not problematic: agencies should remain free to rely on new or adapted pre-existing economic models in merger control reviews. However, this conclusion is subject to the proviso that agencies must still discharge their “burden of persuasion”, and this may be hard to do based solely on theoretical models. Section I describes and contextualises the role of innovation in European merger control. It…

C. Scott Hemphill and Nancy L. Rose on ‘Mergers that Harm Sellers’ (2018) Yale Law Journal 127(1) 2078

In typical mergers, the main concern is that the parties will be able to raise the prices they charge purchasers. Some mergers, however, reduce competition among competing buyers, thereby reducing the prices that sellers receive for their products and services. These adverse “buy-side” effects may harm a wide variety of sellers, including workers.  This paper, available here, examines the antitrust treatment of mergers that harm sellers. Its central claim is that harm to sellers in an input market is sufficient to support antitrust liability. Part I considers mergers that increase classical monopsony power. Monopsony is used here as the mirror image of monopoly, i.e. market power susceptible of affecting the price of inputs. Monopsony is a frequent concern in labour and agricultural markets. As with lawfully acquired monopoly power, antitrust law does not prohibit the exercise of lawfully acquired monopsony power, despite its economic costs. Yet antitrust problems do arise when buyers increase their monopsony power by combining forces. Agreements…

David Glasner and Sean P. Sullivan on ‘The Logic of Market Definition’ (forthcoming) Antitrust Law Journal

This paper,available here , is not technically about merger control, but it is as relevant here as in any other competition topic – and it fits nicely with wider discussions of market power and market entry, which, as we have seen in past weeks, are common in merger control. While the usefulness of, and methodologies concerning market definition would seem to be well established, in practice both are actively questioned. Some have even argued that market definition is unnecessary in competition law. While this argument is not new, Louis Kaplow has recently advanced this thesis with a particularly pointed argument that: (1) market definition serves no role except to produce market shares, (2) market shares are poor measures of market power, and (3) antitrust would be better served by ignoring market shares and trying to assess market power from estimates of residual-demand curves and the like instead. The goal of this paper is to trace the internal logic of market…