Competition Matters


Pardon the interruption

During an antitrust investigation, we often hear that our concerns fail to account for disruptive forces that will soon emerge and shake up the competitive dynamic in the market in the near future—from an innovative newcomer or from the emergence of a completely new business model.  I recently went to the Pacific Northwest, a hotbed of innovation and new ideas, to talk about the role of disruptive business models in U.S. antitrust analysis.

Comings and goings

With a tinge of both nostalgia and anticipation, I am pleased to announce a number of management changes at the Bureau. As you may have heard, Deputy Director Steve Weissman will be returning to private practice shortly. Steve is heading back to Baker Botts, where he will help lead the firm’s antitrust group. Steve has been a terrific deputy with numerous accomplishments, including leading the FTC team to victory in FTC v. Sysco/US Foods.

Calculating the value of stock under HSR rules

The Hart-Scott-Rodino statute and rules contain a number of reporting thresholds for transactions subject to premerger notification filing with the FTC and DOJ. In this post, we are going to focus on how to value publicly traded stock in order to determine reportability under the various filing thresholds. Some of the most frequent questions we get involve how to value acquisitions of voting securities in 801.30 transactions, given the volatile nature of the stock market.

What are the HSR notification thresholds for voting securities?

Doing good well

Antitrust law seeks to promote efficiency and economic welfare. But companies may want to collaborate to advance other social objectives. I recently spoke at a program entitled “Antitrust Law and Corporate Social Responsibility,” hosted by the Council for International Business. The purpose of the program was to discuss whether and how companies can work together to achieve social welfare goals—such as environmental objectives, health and safety objectives, or labor objectives—without running afoul of the antitrust laws. I made two key points.

The when and what of active supervision

Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the North Carolina State Board of Dental Examiners violated the federal antitrust laws by preventing non-dentists from providing teeth whitening services in competition with the state’s licensed dentists. N.C. State Bd. of Dental Exam’rs v. FTC, 135 S. Ct. 1101 (2015). The Board had argued that, because it is a state agency, it is exempt from liability under the federal antitrust laws.

Change may be coming to a plug near you

It’s easy to be blasé about electric power: Flip a switch and the lights come on. Plug in your phone and it recharges. Maybe you have a vague sense that behind the plug is a vast infrastructure of lines and junction boxes, all leading back to far-away power plants that generate electricity. But new technologies and growing interest in ‘green’ energy sources are prompting policymakers to rethink public utility regulation – and suddenly, what happens behind that plug could get a whole lot more interesting.

“Investment-only” means just that

Today, the Commission (with the help of our friends at the Justice Department) filed a proposed settlement in federal court to settle charges that three funds managed by Third Point violated the Hart-Scott-Rodino Act by failing to make the necessary premerger notification filings when they acquired shares of Yahoo! Inc.

Notable trends in merger review: inside the HSR Annual Report

Today the FTC and DOJ released the FY 2014 Hart-Scott-Rodino Annual Report, which details the agencies’ merger review and enforcement program for October 1, 2013 through September 30, 2014. As the only complete source of data on federal merger enforcement, the HSR Report is worth a close read, but here’s a little preview of our top four most interesting observations, trends, and takeaways from this year’s report.

A fine balance: toward efficient merger review

One of the key functions of the Bureau of Competition is to analyze mergers. Obtaining information through Second Requests is an essential aspect of our review process for proposed acquisitions. Even though the FTC and DOJ on average issue a Second Request in less than 5 percent of filed transactions, for the few that do require more extensive review, we have long recognized the burden they impose. The challenge is to find a balance between our need for information to determine whether there is a potential law violation and avoiding unnecessary costs for businesses subject to review.

Monitors: Expert eyes and ears in Commission orders

The ability to appoint a monitor is an important tool in building a successful merger remedy. The boilerplate-style language FTC uses in merger orders when appointing a monitor belies the unique and varied roles that monitors play in assuring that the order maintains or restores competition. Here’s some background and insight into some of the ways the FTC uses monitors.

Not just an opinion: competition really is key to healthy health care markets

In a variety of industries, the FTC advocates for policies that promote competition. Why? Because studies show competition works, for our citizens and for our economy. Competition typically improves consumer welfare through lower prices, expanded output, better service and more innovation.

Mergers II leadership

I am pleased to announce that Ben Gris has been promoted to Assistant Director of the Mergers II Division. Ben joined Mergers II in 2006 from private practice, and became a Deputy Assistant Director of the shop in 2011.

The not-so-big news about Big Data

Everywhere these days, folks are talking about big data. (Apparently, even machines are talking amongst themselves using big data in an ecosystem called the Internet of Things.)  Last week, Chairwoman Ramirez spoke about the privacy implications of the big data revolution, and specifically, about the FTC’s law enforcement efforts to protect consumer privacy from the risks associated with the collection and use of consumer data.

Double dog dare: Read FTC staff’s new report on pet medications competition

FTC staff has doggedly tracked down information about competition in the pet medications industry for the past several years. Why? Because it’s a large and growing consumer market. With 65 percent of American households owning a pet, and retail sales of prescription pet medications expected to top $10 billion by 2018, it is clearly a market where competition could benefit consumers. Most consumers pay for pet meds out-of-pocket and do not have pet health insurance that covers these expenses.

Sharing thoughts about the sharing economy

These days, the sharing economy is all around us. One person might use her smartphone to get an Uber ride to a dinner arranged through Feastly. Another might hire a Taskrabbit to clean up his garden for spring and order custom pots for his flowers from a seller on Etsy. But do these new services come with risks to competition and consumers? And how should regulations governing traditional suppliers be tailored to apply to them?

From the antitrust mailbag: What can the FTC do about prescription drug price spikes?

Consumers frequently contact the Bureau of Competition to alert us that the cost of a prescription drug suddenly spiked up, and ask if the FTC can take antitrust action to bring the price back down. The answer in a nutshell is that it depends on the reason for the price change.

Direct-to-consumer auto sales: It’s not just about Tesla

A fundamental principle of competition is that consumers – not regulation – should determine what they buy and how they buy it. Consumers may benefit from the ability to buy cars directly from manufacturers – whether they are shopping for luxury cars or economy vehicles. The same competition principles should apply in either case.