Market Power as a Limiting Principle in Merger Enforcement
One of the most important changes in the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and U.S. Justice Department’s (DOJ) draft merger guidelines is the abandonment of market power as the central element of merger enforcement. The “unifying theme” of the 2010 horizontal merger guidelines was that “mergers should not be permitted to create, enhance, or entrench market power or to facilitate its exercise.” The draft guidelines have dropped the unifying theme language.
The guidelines’ abandonment of enhancement of market power as the central element of merger enforcement will have profound consequences for antitrust. One consequence is that merger enforcement will no longer prioritize consumers over competitors of the merging firms. Another important consequence, however, is the loss of a limiting principle in merger enforcement. Courts recognize that enhancement of market power is a necessary element of a merger challenge under antitrust law. The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit made this point clear in its 2001 FTC v. H.J. Heinz opinion when it held that “[m]erger enforcement, like other areas of antitrust, is directed at market power.” The draft guidelines have removed enhancement of market power as a necessary element of a merger case.