Harm to Competition Under the 2010 Horizontal Merger Guidelines
Herbert J. Hovenkamp
University of Iowa - College of Law
April 20, 2011
In August, 2010, the Antitrust Division and the Federal Trade Commission issued new Guidelines for assessing the competitive effects of horizontal mergers under the antitrust laws. These Guidelines were long awaited not merely because of the lengthy interval between them and previous Guidelines but also because enforcement policy had drifted far from the standards articulated in the previous Guidelines. The 2010 Guidelines are distinctive manly for two things. One is briefer and less detailed treatment of market delineation. The other is an expanded set of theories of harm that justify preventing mergers or reversing mergers that have already occurred.
The 2010 Guidelines reflect a growing belief that in markets where product differentiation is minimal competition tends to be robust and the structural presumptions stated in previous Guidelines were too harsh. By contrast, where product differentiation is substantial the Guidelines’ approach tended to define markets too broadly, overlooking significantly anticompetitive possibilities. Under the 2010 Guidelines unilateral effects analysis, relevant markets can be very small, often limited to three or four firms, and excluding some obvious substitutes. Markets in merger analysis are not defined for their own sake, however, but rather to ascertain whether a particular alteration in market structure covered by the merger provisions will be likely to facilitate a price increase.
The 2010 Guidelines address four substantive merger concerns: exclusion, restraints on innovation, unilateral effects, and coordinated effects. The Guidelines have a separate section on mergers limiting “innovation and product variety,” treated mainly in the category of unilateral effects.
The 2010 Guidelines are more flexible than previous Guidelines and also more catholic about the types of harms that mergers might cause and the techniques that can be used to assess them. Older Guidelines were excessively wed to methodologies that were at the forefront of applied merger analysis when they were drafted, but that tended to make the Guidelines obsolete as new methodologies became available. Not only do methodologies change, however, they are also specific to the situation. Further, they tend to be well developed in the literature and accessible to experts consulted by those defending a merger as well as to the government economists who employ them. To be sure, there is a tradeoff between flexibility and guidance. Often we can have more of one only by giving up some of the other, and that tradeoff is clearly present in the 2010 Guidelines.
This paper focuses mainly on novel features of the 2010 Guidelines, including a new treatment of restraints on innovation, a greatly expanded consideration of unilateral effects and the possibility of exclusionary practices, a trimmed down and restated theory of coordinated interaction, and a de-emphasis on traditional market definition as used in antitrust analysis in favor of more direct measurement alternatives.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 17
Keywords: mergers, antitrust, enforcement, unilateral effects, exclusionary practices, market definition, market power
Date posted: November 6, 2010 ; Last revised: January 18, 2014