Antitrust Lawyer Blog

Commentary on Current Developments

On December 6, 2017, Senator Elizabeth Warren sharply criticized the state of antitrust enforcement in a speech at the Open Markets Institute.

She said that antitrust enforcers adopted the Chicago School principles, which narrowed the scope of the antitrust laws and allowed mega-mergers to proceed resulting in many concentrated industries.  She believes that antitrust enforcers already have the tools to reduce concentrated markets and that they simply must start enforcing the law again.

Senator Warren’s recommendations included stronger merger enforcement, cracking down on anticompetitive conduct and increasing agency involvement in defending competition.

On December 5, 2017, the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) issued an administrative complaint challenging Tronox Limited’s proposed acquisition of Cristal, a merger of two of the top three suppliers of chloride process titanium dioxide (“TiO2”) in the North American market.

Background

On February 21, 2017, Tronox inked a deal to buy Cristal for $1.67 billion and a 24% stake in the new entity. The transaction would have created the largest TiO2 company in the world, based on titanium chemical sales and nameplate capacity.

On November 20, 2017, the U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”) filed a civil antitrust lawsuit to block AT&T Inc.’s (“AT&T”) proposed acquisition of Time Warner Inc. (“Time Warner”).

The vertical merger, which combines AT&T’s video distribution platform with Time Warner’s programming, could be the first such deal litigated in almost 40 years.

According to the DOJ’s Antitrust Division, the acquisition would substantially lessen competition by resulting in higher prices for programming, thus harming consumers. The DOJ’s complaint alleges that the merged firm will have the increased ability and incentive to credibly threaten to withhold or raise the price of crucial programming content – such as Time Warner’s HBO, TNT, TBS, and CNN – from AT&T’s multi-channel video programmer distributor (“MVPD”) rivals.

On November 16, 2017, Makan Delrahim, recently confirmed as Assistant Attorney General for the Antitrust Division of the U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”), delivered a speech on the relationship between antitrust as law enforcement and his goal of reducing regulation.

Delrahim explained that effective antitrust enforcement lessens the need for market regulations and that behavioral commitments imposing restrictions on the conduct of the merged firm represents a form of government regulation and oversight on what should preferably be a free market.

Criticizing the early Obama administration for entering into several behavioral consent decrees that allowed illegal vertical mergers such as Comcast/NBCU, Google/ITA, and LiveNation/TicketMaster to proceed, Delrahim said there is bipartisan agreement that behavioral conditions have been inadequate. He shares the same skepticism that John Kwoka, a law professor and economist who previously served in various capacities at the Federal Trade Commission, Antitrust Division, and Federal Communications Commission, and American Antitrust Institute (AAI) President Diana Moss have about using regulatory solutions to address antitrust violations.  Specifically, Delrahim agrees with them that “allowing the merger and then requiring the merged firm to ignore the incentives inherent in its integrated structure is both paradoxical and likely difficult to achieve.”

On September 27, 2017, the FTC announced that Integra LifeSciences Holdings Corp. (“Integra”) and Johnson & Johnson (“J&J”) agreed to a divestiture of five neurosurgical medical device product lines to settle FTC allegations that Integra’s proposed $1 billion acquisition of J&J’s Codman Neuro division (“Codman”) would negatively impact competition in those markets.

Competitive Issue

Both companies supply a range of devices used in operative neurosurgery, hydrocephalus management and neuro-critical care.  According to the FTC’s complaint, the acquisition as it was proposed would likely harm competition in the U.S. markets for (1) intracranial pressure monitoring systems, where Integra and Codman are the only significant suppliers of these systems, together accounting for 94% of the U.S. market; (2) cerebrospinal fluid collection systems, where Integra and Codman are two of the only three competitively significant suppliers of these collection systems in the United States, together accounting for 71% of the market; (3) non-antimicrobial external ventricular drainage catheters, where Integra and Codman are two of the only three competitively significant suppliers of these catheters in the United States, together accounting for 46% of the market; (4) fixed pressure valve shunt systems, where Integra and Codman are two of the only three competitively significant suppliers of these catheters, accounting for a combined 38% of the U.S. market; and (5) dural grafts, where Integra and Codman together control 75% of the U.S. market.

On September 27, 2017, the DOJ announced Showa Denko K.K. (“SDK”) will be required to divest SGL Carbon SE’s (“SGL”) entire U.S. graphite electrodes business in order for SDK to proceed with its proposed $264.5 million acquisition of SGL’s global graphite electrodes business.

According to the DOJ’s complaint, SDK and SGL manufacture and sell large ultra-high power (UHP) graphite electrodes that are used to generate sufficient heat to melt scrap metal in electric arc furnaces.  The complaint alleges that SDK and SGL are two of the three leading suppliers of large UHP graphite electrodes to U.S. electric arc furnace steel mills, and that the two firms together have a combined market share of about 56%.  The third domestic player has a 22% market share.  While the rest of the market share (22%) is held by a number of importers, the DOJ alleged that none of the importers could individually or collectively are in a position to constrain a unilateral exercise of market power.

In the United States, individual EAF customers solicit bids from three domestic producers of large UHP graphite electrodes, and these producers develop individualized bids based on each customer’s Request

The answer is No.  The fact that your deal avoided a second request investigation does not mean that you are in the clear if your deal substantially lessens competition in a relevant antitrust market.

The Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division (“DOJ”) and Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) have for years emphasized that they will investigate and challenge consummated transactions that were not initially reviewed or slipped through the cracks if those transactions substantially lessen competition.  It does not matter that for one reason or another that merging parties were able to successfully avoid a long drawn out investigation.  The DOJ’s lawsuit to block Parker’Hannifin’s acquisition of CLARCOR, Inc. illustrates that the DOJ may open an investigation and challenge a transaction even after it allowed the Hart-Scott Rodino (“HSR”) waiting period to expire.  The enforcement action also serves as a reminder that if merging parties do not cooperate with a merger investigation, they risk being sued.

DOJ Sues Parker-Hannifin Seven Months After Allowing it to Close its Acquisition of CLARCOR

On September 21, 2017, the DOJ’s Antitrust Division issued a business letter stating that it would not challenge a proposal by The Clearing House Payments Company LLC (“TCH”), a joint venture of 24 U.S. banks, to create and operate a new payment system that will enable the real-time transfer of funds between depository institutions, at any time of the day, on any day of the week.

According to TCH, it claims that it will create and operate the Real Time Payment system (“RTP”) – a new payment rail that will provide for real-time funds transfers between depository institutions – and in turn, RTP will allow depository institutions to enable faster fund transfers for their end-user customers.

According to TCH, RTP will not interfere with the continued use and operation of existing payment rails, including automated clearing house, wire, and check clearing houses.  RTP will also incorporate additional features that existing payment rails do not offer, such as enhanced messaging capabilities.

On September 19, 2017, Valero Corporation (“Valero”) abandoned its acquisition of two northern California bulk petroleum terminals from Plains All American Pipeline (“Plains”) after the California state attorney general filed a lawsuit in the Northern District of California against Valero’s proposed acquisition.  The lawsuit was filed on July 8, 2017, a day after the FTC decided not to take any action against the transaction.

Background of Case 

Valero is a refiner and retailer of gas in California and through the acquisition, it was seeking to add Plain’s storage and distribution terminals in Richmond and Martinez, California.  California alleged that the transaction would allow Valero to control the last independently operated gathering line in the state with available capacity.  Part of the state’s argument was that the acquisition would eliminate Plains as a maverick competitor.  California alleged that Valero’s acquisition would permit the vertically integrated refiner to reduce competitor access to the distribution terminals, which would result in increased fuel prices at retail gas stations.  California alleged that Valero would be able to recoup lost terminal profits (after withholding access from competitors) through a downstream increase in gas prices.  California also alleged that once all the fuel terminals were vertically integrated, there would be a higher risk of coordination among Valero and other vertically integrated providers to similarly reduce supply into the terminal and increase prices at gas stations.

On August 30, 2017, the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) announced that Mars, Incorporated (“Mars”)  agreed to divest 12 specialty or off-hours emergency animal hospitals around the United States to settle FTC allegations that Mars’s $9.1 billion acquisition of pet care company VCA Inc. (“VCA”) would violate federal antitrust laws.

Competition Problem

The animal hospital industry is highly fragmented and very crowded.  For the most part, the FTC found that there were really very few antitrust concerns with the deal so there was much in terms loss of competition.  Overall, the combined entity would own roughly 6.5% of the North American market (26,000 animal hospitals) in terms of locations.  While a 6% share of the national or North American space is by no means troubling, problematic overlaps could nevertheless exist in smaller local markets.  Indeed, the primary factors influencing a customer’s selection of an animal hospital are convenient location and hours, personal recommendations, reasonable fees and quality of care.