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The FTC Has Been Busy

May 23, 2016 Blog

The Federal Trade Commission, an independent agency of the U.S. government, has recently been moving to block mergers between large, powerful corporations.

The reasoning behind the FTC’s drive to shut down certain large mergers is simple. Where there are too few providers of a product or service, consumers are likely to get the shaft in terms of higher prices and lower quality service.

In fact, the FTC last year effectively blocked a proposed merger of Bumble Bee and Chicken of the Sea, which would have reduced competition in the tuna market. That was good news for StarKist, whose mascot is Charlie the tuna.

The FTC’s rash of merger rejections comes after 2015 proved to be a record year for mergers and acquisitions. Wall Street’s banks must be displeased; they were counting on the mountain of fees that such deals generate. A large reason behind merger mania is record low interest rates, which makes borrowing money extremely attractive for firms looking to expand.

And the FTC is opposing deals of more than just canned fish.

The FTC won a victory this month when a federal judge halted a $6.3 billion merger between Staples and Office Depot which, combined, had 80% of the consumable office supplies market.

The judge in that matter, Judge Emmet G. Sullivan, this week released an opinion outlining his reasons for agreeing with the FTC and rejecting the merger, according to Yahoo! Finance. In his opinion, Sullivan concurred that the deal would have jacked up prices for big-business customers in a way that would have violated US antitrust law.

“Antitrust laws exist to protect competition, even for a targeted group that represents a relatively small part of an overall market,” Sullivan wrote.

Other deals that the FTC has challenged and effectively halted in the past year include: Halliburton and Baker Hughes, a $28 billion deal in the oil services field; Time Warner Cable and Comcast, which would have had a combined market share of almost 60% of broadband services; and Sysco and US Foods, which would have had an enormous share of the national food market.

The FTC’s job is to protect competition in industries and block mergers where competition is hurt and the merged firm would have an unduly large share of a particular market. Moreover, too few competitors in a market often leads to higher prices for consumers.

The biggest loser in the FTC’s merger kills is the banks on Wall Street. They are failing to earn tens of millions of dollars in investment banking fees because these deals are not being consummated. Thankfully, Wall Street’s loss of M&A revenue is not a concern for consumers or the FTC.

Zamansky LLC are investment and stock fraud attorneys representing investors in federal and state litigation and arbitration against financial institutions.