Antitrust Lawyer Blog Commentary on Current Developments

Articles Tagged with antitrust

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.

On July 27, 2016, the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) cleared to generic pharmaceutical deals.

Mylan/Meda Deal

Mylan, N.V. agreed to divest the rights and assets related to two generic products to settle allegations that its proposed $7.2 billion acquisition of Meda AB would be anticompetitive.  Under the terms of the settlement agreement, Alvogen Pharma US, Inc. will acquire the rights and assets related to 400 mg and 600 mg felbamate tablets (used to treat refractory epilepsy) from Mylan, and Mylan must also relinquish its U.S. marketing rights for 250 mg carisoprodol tablets (used to treat muscle spasms and stiffness) to allow Indicus Pharma LLC to compete in the U.S. market.  See FTC Press Release.

On July 21, the U.S. Department of Justice’s Department of Justice (“DOJ”) and several state attorneys general filed two lawsuits, challenging two major health insurer mergers: (1) Anthem, Inc.’s (“Anthem”) proposed $48.4 billion purchase of Cigna Corporation (“Cigna”) and (2) Aetna Inc.’s (“Aetna”) planned $37 billion acquisition of Humana Inc. (“Humana”).

While the cases are substantially different, both complaints contain some similar allegations.  Both complaints describe the proposed mergers as consolidation of the “big five” insurers to the “big three, each of which would have almost twice the revenue of the next largest insurer.”   Taken together, they would cut the number of major health insurers from five to three, with UnitedHealth Group Incorporated (“UnitedHealth”) being the only other remaining large player.  Both complaints say the mergers will harm competition by “eliminating two innovative competitors – Humana and Cigna – at a time when the industry is experimenting with new ways to lower healthcare costs.”  Both complaints allege that the mergers will restrain competition in the sale of individual policies on the public insurance exchanges.

However, the cases are different in that they focus on different product and geographic markets and that the Anthem/Cigna complaint contains a monopsony claim while the Aetna/Humana complaint does not.  The Anthem/Cigna complaint alleges that that merger will restrain competition in the “purchase of healthcare services by commercial health insurers,” as well as the sale of commercial health insurance to national accounts and large-group employers, and the sale of individual policies on the public insurance exchanges.  The Anthem/Cigna complaint also includes an allegation that the merger would substantially increase Anthem’s ability to dictate the reimbursement rates it pays hospitals, doctors, and healthcare providers, threatening the availability and quality of medical care.  The DOJ alleges that Anthem already has bargaining leverage over healthcare providers and this acquisition would make the situation worse in 35 metropolitan areas.  This is otherwise known as a monopsony theory.   The Aetna/Humana complaint alleges anticompetitive effects only in the sale of Medicare Advantage policies to individual seniors and the sale of individual polices on the public exchanges.   The Aetna complaint does not charge a violation in the market for the purchase of healthcare services, and therefore does not rely on a monopsony theory.  Even where the complaints overlap with respect to product market as is the case with the sale of individual policies on the public insurance exchanges, the geographic markets are different.

Andre P. Barlow
Few missions are as important to the U.S. Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division as preventing anti-competitive mergers or permitting them with adequate conditions to prevent competitive harm. After all, a merger is forever — fixing it after the fact is too messy.

The DOJ is currently investigating Anheuser-Busch InBev SA/NV’s (“ABI”) acquisition of SABMiller PLC, the largest beer merger in history, as well as its proposed divestiture of SABMiller’s interest in the MillerCoors LLC Joint Venture to Molson Coors Brewing Company. These proposed transactions lock in place the two largest beer competitors in the United States while fundamentally changing the dynamics in the beer industry for smaller brewers, distributors, wholesalers and retailers. While ABI maintains that the proposed transactions do not change the competitive landscape, the DOJ knows better.

Indeed, the DOJ’s recent approach in approving Charter Communications Inc.’s acquisition of Time Warner Cable Inc. (“TWC”) and its related acquisition of Bright House Networks LLC to create New Charter, the merged firm, is instructive. Despite no geographic overlap in any local market, the DOJ required comprehensive behavioral conditions to prevent New Charter from engaging in future anti-competitive conduct against its smaller rivals. The DOJ should take the same tough and sophisticated approach to protecting consumers from the much larger ABI/SABMiller merger and the new ownership by Molson Coors, which will create two beer giants that will dwarf its rivals.

On May 13, 2016, the FTC approved a merger American Air Liquide Holdings, Inc. and Airgas, Inc. as long as the parties divest certain production and distribution assets to settle the FTC’s allegations that their proposed merger likely would have harmed competition and led to higher prices in several U.S. and regional markets.

Competitive Problem

According to the FTC’s complaint, the deal would eliminate direct competition between the two companies in certain markets that are already concentrated, increasing the likelihood that Air Liquide could unilaterally exercise market power.  The FTC’s complaint also alleged that the proposed acquisition would also make it more likely that remaining competitors, if any, could collude or coordinate their actions.  The FTC also alleged that entry was not likely happen quick enough to sufficiently counteract any anticompetitive price increases.  As a result, customers would likely pay higher prices for industrial gases in various regional and national markets within the United States.

Corona’s advertising slogan encourages consumers to find their beach, but consumers may soon have trouble finding Corona.

In 2013, the U.S.Department of Justice required Anheuser-Busch InBev (ABI) to grant a perpetual and exclusive U.S. license to some of its Grupo Modelo Mexican beer brands that were at the time competing in the U.S. market, including Corona Extra, Modelo Especial and other popular brands, to Constellation Brand Inc.[1] In addition to the sale, the DOJ put a number of conditions on ABI to ensure that the Grupo Modelo Mexican beer brands, including Corona, remained competitive in the U.S. market, including critical protections to make sure distribution was open and independent. This summer will be the third anniversary of the sale of the Modelo American portfolio to Constellation and the lapse of important protections could leave many Corona consumers scrambling to find their beer of choice.

Prominent among the conditions the DOJ required in its consent decree was the sale of the Piedras Negras Brewery in Nava, Coahuila, Mexico to Constellation. The sale was required so Constellation can brew the Modelo brands itself for importation into the United States, and not rely on its chief competitor, ABI. Accompanying the sale of Piedras Negras was a condition that Constellation obtain its supply of necessary materials from ABI for a three-year period. That provision is about to lapse.

A couple of months ago, ABI and Constellation agreed to extend their supply agreement by another year, making Constellation dependent on ABI for necessary inputs through June 2017. However, this reliance on its chief rival for inputs with no extension of other important protections will be a recipe for disaster, as Constellation is still in the transition of becoming a fully independent brewer. Reliance on ABI has not entirely helped it in its transition, and Constellation is still in a very precarious position. For example, there have been two recalls of Corona due to defective glass bottles in less than two years.

In addition to the supply agreement, the DOJ required protections for independent ABI beer distributors carrying the Modelo American portfolio brands, which have been pivotal to the success of Constellation’s stewardship of the Modelo American portfolio brands. In its review of the ABI/Modelo deal, the DOJ stated that “[e]ffective distribution is important for a brewer to be competitive in the beer industry.” Recognizing that independent distribution is the artery that spurs consumer choice and the explosion of craft beer, the DOJ prohibited ABI from adversely affecting a distributor’s ability to carry the Modelo American portfolio brands, including Corona, for a three-year period.

ABI is known to offer incentives and other tactics to exclude craft and other non-ABI brands from independent distributors’ brand portfolios. In fact, ABI’s current distributor incentive program already encourages the exclusion of non-ABI brands in exchange for marketing payments and favored position. ABI will soon be able to use these incentives and tactics against the Modelo American portfolio brands, including Corona. Accordingly, there is substantial concern that ABI will attempt to ice Corona out of many distributors’ portfolios once this protection provision expires this summer.

Indeed, ABI has strategically timed the roll out of its Mexican beer brand Estrella Jalisco (also under the Modelo brand, which is controlled by ABI outside of the United States), designed to compete with Corona in the U.S. market, to roughly coincide with the lapse of these protection provisions as well as the important Cinco de Mayo and kick-off of summer sales seasons. ABI will undoubtedly push its independent distributors to shift focus away from the Modelo American portfolio brands, including Corona, to Estrella Jalisco once the DOJ protections expire in June.

The DOJ’s consent decree and the protections put in place for distributors of the Modelo American portfolio brands have undoubtedly allowed it to flourish over the last few years in the United States. Hence, Constellation’s growth has exploded since the acquisition of the U.S. rights to the Modelo American portfolio brands, and its growth has far outpaced the overall growth of the U.S. beer market.

To keep the U.S. beer markets competitive, the DOJ needs to act to extend the consent decree and the protection of Constellation through independent distributors or risk losing this important source of competition that gives consumers choice and keeps prices down. The marketplace will be able to “find their beach” if ABI is prevented from pushing out the competition.

[1] Final Judgment, U.S. v. Anheuser-Busch InBev SA/NV and Grupo Modelo S.A.B. de C.V., No. 13-cv-00127-RWR (D.D.C. Oct. 24, 2013), ECF No. 48.

Andre Barlow
(202) 589-1838
abarlow@dbmlawgroup.com

 

On December 7, 2015, after four weeks of trial in the U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia, GE terminated its $3.3 billion sale of its appliance business to Electrolux.

In September of 2014, Electrolux announced its acquisition of GE’s appliance business.  The deal was characterized as a way to make Electrolux more competitive with Whirlpool and allow GE to simplify its business, focusing on technology and infrastructure.

However, on July 1, 2015, the DOJ brought a law suit to challenge Electrolux’s $3.3 billion acquisition of GE’s appliance business because as alleged the deal would combine two of the leading manufacturers of ranges, cooktops and wall ovens sold in the United States.  Generally, the DOJ alleged that the deal would eliminate competition that benefits American consumers and home builders who buy cooking appliances adn that the deal would result in higher prices and less options.  More specifically, the DOJ’s main antitrust concerns focused on appliances such as ranges, cooktops and wall ovens sold to “contract-channel” purchasers.  According to the complaint, contract-channel purchasers are single-family homebuilders, multifamily homebuilders, property managers of apartments and condominiums, hotels and governmental entities who individually negotiate contracts for major cooking appliances with suppliers like GE and Electrolux.  The DOJ alleged that GE, Electrolux and Whirlpool are the three biggest suppliers in this contract-channel market, accounting for more than 90 percent of sales.

In one of the most famous scenes in the Star Wars franchise, Obi-Wan Kenobi used a Jedi mind trick to tell a Stormtrooper that “these aren’t the droids you are looking for” and that they can “move along.” The Stormtrooper ignored what was right in front of him and complied. Tomorrow, the CEO of the largest beer company in the world will be trying a Jedi mind trick of his own.

On Tuesday, the heads of Anheuser-Busch InBev (“ABI”) and Molson Coors testify before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights in a hearing aptly titled “Ensuring Competition Remains on Tap: The AB InBev/SABMiller merger and the State of Competition in the Beer Industry.”  Like Obi Wan they will try to create an illusion and tell the senators that there is no reason to worry about the merger of the two largest beer companies in the world, which will account for over 1/3rd of all global beer production.

This is an illusion the senators should treat with extreme skepticism.

On September 16, 2015, the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division (“DOJ” or “Antitrust Division”) issued a statement regarding it decision to close its six month investigation of Expedia’s $1.3 billion acquisition of Orbitz. The decision means that Expedia can close its acquisition of Orbitz to combine two of only three online travel agencies (“OTAs”) in the United  States.

Second Request

The transaction was announced on February 12, 2015 and the Antitrust Division issued a second request on March 25, 2015.  The transaction drew antitrust scrutiny because it came on the heels of Expedia’s acquisition of Travelocity in a deal that was cleared via early termination of the Hart-Scott-Rodino (“HSR”) waiting period on January 14, 2015.  That transaction reduced the number of sizable OTAs in the United States from the four-to-three, and consolidated 56% of the market in the hands of the enlarged Expedia.  The DOJ scrutinized the Expedia/Orbitz deal because the transaction presented a three-to-two situation, in which the combined Expedia/Orbitz would possess a commanding 75% of the OTA space in the United States, leaving just Priceline as a sizable alternative with roughly 19% share of the space.