Agency Has Focused Enforcement on Sectors of Economy with Greatest Impact on Consumers
Presenting Federal Trade Commission testimony today before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary’s Task Force on Antitrust and Competition Policy, Chairman Deborah Platt Majoras provided an overview of the FTC’s recent antitrust enforcement activities.
Since the beginning of 2007, the Commission has had to be especially resourceful, as the number of premerger filings grew to 1,967, a 23 percent increase from the same time period of fiscal year 2006, and the number of requests for additional information also increased, reflecting a corresponding increase in investigative activity. The Commission’s merger enforcement actions also have increased, with 21 mergers in the past 11 months in which the FTC has brought actions to preserve competition, or in which the parties have abandoned mergers that were of anticompetitive concern. This includes three litigated preliminary injunction actions filed in federal district court seeking to block proposed mergers. Also in FY 2007, the FTC brought 12 nonmerger enforcement actions.
According to the testimony, the FTC continues to focus its enforcement efforts on sectors of the economy that have the greatest impact on consumers, including health care, energy, retail, technology, and real estate, while pursuing a broad range of merger and nonmerger enforcement action in other industries.
In the health care area over the past year, the testimony states, the Commission challenged several mergers and achieved substantial relief for consumers in the areas of generic drugs, over-the-counter medications, injectable analgesics, and other medical devices and
diagnostic services. In addition, the agency continued to investigate, and challenge when appropriate, agreements among pharmaceutical companies and doctors. The Commission also issued its final opinion and order in the matter of Evanston Northwestern Healthcare Corporation, ruling that Evanston’s acquisition of Highland Park Hospital was anticompetitive, upholding an October 2005 initial decision by an FTC Administrative Law Judge.
Enforcement actions in the energy sector were detailed next, including the Commission’s three merger challenges over the past year. In January 2007, the FTC challenged the terms of a proposed $22 billion deal through which energy firm Kinder Morgan would be taken private by its management and a group of private investment firms. In settling charges that the deal was anticompetitive, the firms agreed to make part of the investment passive and to restrict the flow of sensitive information between competing firms.
Second, the FTC moved in federal district court to block Equitable Resources’ proposed acquisition of The Peoples Natural Gas Company, a subsidiary of Dominion Resources in Pennsylvania. The district court denied the FTC’s request for an injunction, citing the state action doctrine. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals has issued an injunction pending appeal, and the appeal will be argued on October 3.
The Commission also unsuccessfully moved in federal district court to block Western Refining’s proposed acquisition of Giant Industries, to preserve competition in the bulk supply of light petroleum products to Northern New Mexico – an area of the country where the FTC alleged the companies are direct competitors. The testimony also noted the FTC’s continuing work in monitoring retail and wholesale gasoline prices nationwide for possible anticompetitive conduct, as well as its work studying and reporting on the causes of gasoline price spikes.
In the real estate industry, the testimony described the FTC’s work in bringing eight cases against associations of competing realtors or brokers for alleged anticompetitive conduct, and in the technology and defense industries, it detailed actions taken to safeguard consumers and competition, including the issuance of the final Commission order in the Rambus matter and a consent agreement with Boeing and Lockheed Martin regarding their proposed joint venture, United Launch Alliance.
In retail and other industries, the FTC challenged Rite Aid Corporation’s proposed $3.5 billion acquisition of the Brooks and Eckerd Pharmacies, resulting in a consent order remedying the alleged anticompetitive impacts of the deal, and similarly challenged the proposed combination of the nation’s two largest funeral homes and cemetery chains. Also, this summer, the Commission moved for a preliminary injunction to block Whole Foods Markets’ proposed acquisition of Wild Oats, but a federal district court in Washington, DC, denied the motion.
This case-specific overview was followed by details on antitrust guidance, transparency, and merger process review improvements achieved during FY 2007, as well as a summary of the FTC’s competition advocacy work, amicus brief filings to aid the courts in analyzing and resolving competition-related policy issues, and a summary of recent hearings, conferences, workshops, and reports.
Finally, the testimony presented an overview of the FTC’s international coordination and technical assistance work, noting the January 2007 creation of the Office of International Affairs to coordinate more effectively the full range of FTC’s international activities. “Cooperation with competition agencies around the world is a vital component of the FTC’s enforcement and policy, facilitating our ability to collaborate on cross-border cases, and promoting convergence toward sound, consumer welfare-based competition policies,” according to the testimony.
Accordingly, the FTC promotes policy convergence through formal and informal working arrangements with other agencies, many of which seek the Commission’s views in connection with developing their competition policies. In addition, the testimony concluded, the Commission plays a key role in multinational competition fora, including the International Competition Network, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the UN Conference on Trade and Development, and Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation.
The Commission vote to approve the testimony and place a copy on the public record was 5-0. A copy can be found on the FTC’s Web site as a link to this press release. The written statement presented by the Chairman at the hearing represents the views of the FTC.
The FTC’s Bureau of Competition works with the Bureau of Economics to investigate alleged anticompetitive business practices and, when appropriate, recommends that the Commission take law enforcement action. To inform the Bureau about particular business practices, call 202-326-3300, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org, or write to the Office of Policy and Coordination, Room 394, Bureau of Competition, Federal Trade Commission, 600 Pennsylvania Ave, N.W., Washington, DC 20580. To learn more about the Bureau of Competition, read “Competition Counts” at http://www.ftc.gov/competitioncounts.
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