Assessing the Efficacy of Structural Merger Remedies: Choosing Between Theories of Harm?
Previous empirical assessments of the effectiveness of structural merger remedies have focused mainly on the subsequent viability of the divested assets. Here, we take a different approach by examining how competitive are the market structures which result from the divestments. We employ a tightly specified sample of markets in which the European Commission (EC) has imposed structural merger remedies. It has two key features: (i) it includes all mergers in which the EC appears to have seriously considered, simultaneously, the possibility of collective dominance, as well as single dominance; (ii) in a previous paper, for the same sample, we estimated a model which proved very successful in predicting the Commission’s merger decisions, in terms of the market shares of the leading firms. The former allows us to explore the choices between alternative theories of harm, and the latter provides a yardstick for evaluating whether markets are competitive or not – at least in the eyes of the Commission. Running the hypothetical post-remedy market shares through the model, we can predict whether the EC would have judged the markets concerned to be competitive, had they been the result of a merger rather than a remedy. We find that a significant proportion were not competitive in this sense. One explanation is that the EC has simply been inconsistent – using different criteria for assessing remedies from those for assessing the mergers in the first place. However, a more sympathetic – and in our opinion, more likely – explanation is that the Commission is severely constrained by the pre-merger market structures in many markets. We show that, typically, divestment remedies return the market to the same structure as existed before the proposed merger. Indeed, one can argue that any competition authority should never do more than this. Crucially, however, we find that this pre-merger structure is often itself not competitive. We also observe an analogous picture in a number of markets where the Commission chose not to intervene: while the post-merger structure was not competitive, nor was the pre-merger structure. In those cases, however, the Commission preferred the former to the latter. In effect, in both scenarios, the EC was faced with a no-win decision. This immediately raises a follow-up question: why did the EC intervene for some, but not for others – given that in all these cases, some sort of anticompetitive structure would prevail? We show that, in this sample at least, the answer is often tied to the prospective rank of the merged firm post-merger. In particular, in those markets where the merged firm would not be the largest post-merger, we find a reluctance to intervene even where the resulting market structure is likely to be conducive to collective dominance. We explain this by a willingness to tolerate an outcome which may be conducive to tacit collusion if the alternative is the possibility of an enhanced position of single dominance by the market leader. Finally, because the sample is confined to cases brought under the ‘old’ EC Merger Regulation, we go on to consider how, if at all, these conclusions require qualification following the 2004 revisions, which, amongst other things, made interventions for non-coordinated behaviour possible without requiring that the merged firm be a dominant market leader. Our main conclusions here are that the Commission appears to have been less inclined to intervene in general, but particularly for Collective Dominance (or ‘coordinated effects’ as it is now known in Europe as well as the US.) Moreover, perhaps contrary to expectation, where the merged firm is #2, the Commission has to date rarely made a unilateral effects decision and never made a coordinated effects decision.
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