Common Ownership, Institutional Investors, and Antitrust
60 Pages Posted: 30 Mar 2017 Last revised: 2 Feb 2018
Date Written: January 2, 2018
Recent empirical studies demonstrate the significant extent to which a small number of well-known institutional investors have taken on significant ownership interests in the majority of large U.S. public companies, including significant ownership interests in horizontal competitors. The response to these studies has been dramatic, with calls for significant overhauls of antitrust policy and institutional shareholding due to common ownership’s potential anticompetitive effects. Yet, this article argues, it is important to first appreciate a number of consequential complexities before any such changes occur. The article shows that while common ownership can harm competition as a theoretical matter, whether and the extent to which common ownership will actually generate competitive harm in a given market depends on numerous factors, such as the nature and extent of common ownership in the relevant market, the structure of the market, shareholder incentives, and managerial objectives. For that reason, the mere fact that institutional investors’ significant equity holdings generate high levels of common ownership by itself is insufficient to conclude that this common ownership results in substantial competitive harm in a given market. The article’s second contribution is a set of modest, but important, policy proposals that flow directly from the paper’s core finding that there is no unequivocal answer to whether common ownership in a particular market will generate substantial competitive harm. Most important, rather than restrictions on common ownership or widespread antitrust investigation, or safe harbors or presumptions of legality, common ownership should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. This approach remains true to both the modern structure of antitrust and current understanding of common ownership’s effect on competition.
Keywords: Antitrust, Common Ownership, Institutional Investors, Competition
JEL Classification: K21, G23, L40, L13, D43
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation