(by Peter Ormosi) While it is widely recognised that last year’s EU referendum caused significant uncertainty for markets, some early indications were that it had not reduced the level of business confidence. Almost a year on, our research – based on a careful study design of a treatment and control group and using data from S&P’s Capital IQ – finds that the uncertainty surrounding the referendum has in fact led to a significant drop in merger numbers and the numbers have failed to recover to earlier levels. Apart from establishing a causal relationship, the study suggests that the post-referendum policy uncertainty is helping the largest M&A transactions, while hindering the smaller ones, with possible negative consequences.
(by Andreas Stephan) The UK’s decision to leave the European Union has come as a shock to markets, politicians and indeed to many ‘Brexiteers’. Although protests demanding a reversal of the outcome and legal wrangling over Art 50 (the process for leaving the EU) continue, mainstream politicians have almost universally accepted the result (the obvious exception being in Scotland) and there is little evidence of public perceptions having shifted towards ‘Remain’ since the vote, despite accusations of a dishonest and misleading campaign by the ‘Leave’ camp. It is therefore almost certain that the UK will cease to be a full member of the EU. Bruce Lyons wrote about the (limited) advantages and (greater) disadvantages of Brexit for competition policy in an earlier blog, but here I suggest that much may remain the same regardless of what the UK’s new relationship with the EU ends up being. Read the rest of this entry »
(by David Reader) After two years at its helm, the Chief Executive of the UK’s Competition & Markets Authority (CMA), Alex Chisholm, is stepping down to become the new Permanent Secretary at the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC). His departure marks the end of an era for the competition watchdog which, despite only becoming fully operational in April 2014, has reached a number of key milestones during his tenure. In a recent speech reflecting on the CMA’s achievements over the last two years, Chisholm made reference to notable progress on enforcement activity, efficient merger control and, of course, some very high-profile market inquiries. His verdict, then, is that there is cause for optimism as the authority embarks on a new chapter. But the outgoing CEO is also mindful of ‘the 3 big challenges’ that lay ahead for his successor. Perhaps the most striking of these ‘harder nuts to crack’, as Chisholm puts it, is the CMA’s ability to deal with ‘challenges to the primacy of competition analysis when sensitive mergers give rise to calls for public interest interventions’. Read the rest of this entry »
(by Richard Cadman) Last Friday, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) gave unconditional approval to the acquisition by BT, the UK’s largest fixed telecommunications provider, of EE, its largest mobile communications provider. The CMA concluded, after a nine-month long investigation, that the merger would not lead to a Substantial Lessening of Competition (SLC) and that neither the wholesale nor retail customers of both companies would suffer any harm from the merger. How much did this depend on product market definition? Read the rest of this entry »
(by Andreas Stephan) The UK’s Labour party is currently in the process of selecting a new leader. The front-runner, Jeremy Corbyn, may become Britain’s first socialist Prime Minister in a generation. This blog post considers what a Corbyn government could mean for competition policy. Read the rest of this entry »
Pfizer/AstraZeneca and the Public Interest: Do Vince Cable’s Foreign Takeover Proposals Prescribe the Right Medication?August 12, 2014
(by David Reader) When US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer sought to acquire its UK-listed counterpart AstraZeneca earlier this year, discussion centred around the supposed adverse impact that the merger could have on the UK’s science base, particularly in light of Pfizer’s questionable track record for asset-stripping and cutting investment in R&D. Although the proposed £69 billion takeover ultimately crumbled, the prospect of Pfizer returning with an improved offer later in the year has led many to ask whether the UK should adopt a tougher stance on foreign takeovers that threaten the national interest. The UK’s Business Secretary, Vince Cable MP, has since proposed new safeguards to counteract these perceived threats – but do they represent the best course of action in practice? Read the rest of this entry »
(by David Reader) On 4 February, the House of Lords Select Committee on Communications published its Report on Media Plurality proposing a number of changes to media ownership regulation in the UK. Among the most notable is the proposal to grant decision-making powers to the media regulator, Ofcom, in mergers raising potential media plurality concerns. At present, this role is performed by the Secretary of State but, as has been noted in a previous post by Andreas Stephan, the ability of politicians to undertake this role impartially has recently been called into question. In particular, the close contact between a NewsCorp lobbyist and a Special Adviser to (the then Culture Secretary) Jeremy Hunt during the NewsCorp/BSkyB assessment, as exposed by the Leveson Inquiry, highlights the sheer extent to which politicians can be subjected to undue influence in the media sector. Re-allocating the decision-making role to Ofcom could overcome this problem, but it could equally amount to substituting one problem for another. Read the rest of this entry »