Antitrust Lawyer Blog Commentary on Current Developments

Articles Tagged with antitrust

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 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.

On June 19, 2017, the Trump Administration’s Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) authorized the staff to file an antitrust complaint to block the merger of DraftKings and FanDuel, the two largest daily fantasy sports (“DFS”) sites.  The state of California and the District of Columbia Attorneys General joined in the lawsuit.  The FTC’s legal challenge is a huge win for DFS customers.

Merger to Monopoly Tests Trump’s Antitrust Enforcement Policy

On November 18, 2016, shortly after President Trump won the election, the two largest DFS firms announced their plans to merge into a single company that would control more than 90% of the DFS market.  Regardless of the political backdrop, any merger that would result in a virtual monopoly was sure to be highly scrutinized.

On April 5, 2017, the EC approved China National Chemical Corporation’s (“ChemChina”) proposed acquisition of  Syngenta AG (“Syngenta).  The approval is conditional on the divestiture of significant parts of ChemChina’s European pesticide and plant growth regulator business.

Syngenta is the leading pesticide supplier worldwide. ChemChina is currently active in pesticide markets in Europe through Adama, its wholly-owned Israel-based subsidiary.  Unlike Syngenta, which produces pesticides based on active ingredients it has developed itself, Adama only produces generic pesticides based on active ingredients developed by third parties for which the patent has expired.  Adama is the world’s largest producer of such generic pesticides.

The EC had concerns that the transaction as notified would have reduced competition in a number of existing markets for pesticides.  Furthermore, it had concerns that the transaction would reduce competition for plant growth regulators.  The EC’s investigation focused on competition for existing pesticides, since ChemChina does not compete with Syngenta for the development of new and innovative pesticides.

On April 3, 2017, the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) announced that that it forced Danone to divest its Stonyfield Farms business in order for Danone to proceed with its $12.5 billion acquisition of WhiteWave.

Prior to the merger, Danone did not produce or sell organic milk in the United States, however, it produced and sold organic yogurt through its United States subsidiary, Stonyfield Farms. WhiteWave produces and sells organic milk and yogurt in the United States.

According to the DOJ’s complaint, however, as a result of Danone’s long-term strategic partnership and supply and licensing agreements with CROPP Cooperative (“CROPP”), WhiteWave’s primary competitor, the proposed acquisition would have provided incentives and opportunities for cooperative behavior between the two leading purchasers of raw organic milk in the northeast (CROPP and WhiteWave”), which likely would have resulted in farmers receiving less favorable contract terms for the purchase of their raw organic milk.  So, the DOJ had buyer power concerns.

On March 23, 2017, the U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”) announced that it reached a settlement that will prohibit DIRECTV Group Holdings, LLC (“DirecTV”) and its parent corporation, AT&T Inc. (“AT&T”), from illegally sharing confidential, forward-looking information with competitors.

On November 2, 2016, the DOJ’s Antitrust Division filed suit alleging that DirecTV was the ringleader of a series of unlawful information exchanges between DirecTV and three of its competitors – namely, Cox Communications Inc. (“Cox”), Charter Communications Inc. (“Charter”) and AT&T (before it acquired DirecTV) – during the companies’ negotiations to carry the SportsNet LA “Dodgers Channel.”

SportsNet LA holds the exclusive rights to telecast almost all live Dodgers games in the Los Angeles area.  According to the complaint, DirecTV’s Chief Content Officer, Daniel York, unlawfully exchanged competitively-sensitive information with his counter-parts at Cox, Charter and AT&T while they were each negotiating with SportsNet LA for the right to telecast the Dodgers Channel.  Specifically, the complaint alleges that DirecTV and each of these competitors agreed to and exchanged non-public information about their companies’ ongoing negotiations to telecast the Dodgers Channel, as well as their companies’ future plans to carry – or not carry – the channel. The complaint also alleges that the companies engaged in this conduct in order to unlawfully obtain bargaining leverage and to reduce the risk that they would lose subscribers if they decided not to carry the channel but a competitor chose to do so. The complaint further alleges that the information learned through these unlawful agreements was a material factor in the companies’ decisions not to carry the Dodgers Channel. The Dodgers Channel is still not carried by DirecTV, Cox or AT&T. The DOJ allegations make out a buyer conspiracy case that violate Section 1 of the Sherman Act.  The DOJ further claims that the illegal information sharing corrupted the competitive bargaining process and likely contributed to the lengthy blackout.

On January 18, 2017, the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division (“Antitrust Division”) announced a $600,000 civil settlement against Duke Energy for illegal “gun-jumping” violations of the Hart-Scott-Rodino Antitrust Improvements Act of 1976 (“HSR Act”).

The HSR Act requires that parties to certain acquisitions notify the antitrust enforcement agencies and observe a waiting period before consummating the transaction or transferring beneficial ownership of a business.  Duke Energy prematurely obtained beneficial ownership over a power plant through a tolling agreement before filing its HSR pre-notification form and observing the HSR waiting period.

Background

About a week before taking office, President-elect Trump had two high level meetings with CEOs of companies that are involved in significant acquisitions currently under antitrust review by the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division.  The meetings raise questions about the integrity and independence of the DOJ’s merger reviews going forward under a Trump administration. 


AT&T/Time Warner

On January 12, 2017, AT&T Inc. (“AT&T”) Chief Executive Officer Randall Stephenson said that in his meeting with President-elect Donald Trump they touched on job creation, investment and competition, but he noted that AT&T’s merger with Time Warner Inc. (“Time Warner”) did not come up.  We find that hard to believe given President-elect Trump’s open reservations about the transaction and his ongoing battle with CNN.