UK Merger Policy

Any potential merger must give details to the OFT. If the OFT is concerned they can refer the merger to the Competition and Markets Authority, which can examine whether the merger is in the public interest

The Competition and Markets Authority can

  • Block the merger
  • Allow the merger to occur
  • Allow it to occur under certain condition such as divesting some parts of the business to keep market share low.

Notes on the effectiveness

  1. Only a few mergers are referred in 1997 10/186. Most of these were prohibited, perhaps more should be referred
  2. Size and scope of the market is important for determining policy, a narrower market gives rise to greater concentration
  3. Mergers depend on industry and local conditions
  4. Pragmatic. Dominant market power doesn’t necessarily lead to market dominance. Contestability is very important, if there is freedom of entry and exit the market will be competitive
  5. Secret and tacit collusion difficult to tackle.
  6. High fines do bite e.g. British Steel and toy companies
  7. Competition in the UK has to be weighed against international strength.

Recent Successful investigations

  • Mis-selling of PPI

Reasons to prevent Mergers

If a merger leads to a significant increase in market share, either in local or national markets, the new firm could exercise monopoly power. The legal definition of a monopoly is a firm with more than 25% of the market. If the firm has monopoly power there could be the following disadvantages:

  • Higher prices leading to allocative inefficiency)
  • Lower Quantity and reduction in consumer surplus
  • Monopolies are more likely to be productively inefficient and not produce on the lowest point on the average cost curve
  • Easier to collude
  • If there is less competition complacency amongst firms  can lead to lower quality of products and less investment in new products
  • Fewer firms therefore less choice for consumers
  • With increased supernormal profits the firm can engage in cross subsidisation or predatory pricing increasing Barriers to Entry.
  • The new firm can pay lower prices to suppliers
  • Mergers can lead to job losses.
  • If the firm becomes too big it may suffer from diseconomies of scale
  • The motives for mergers is often poor. E.g. managers may prefer to work for a big company where they get higher salaries and more prestige.

see also:

Published November 28, 2012 | Tejvan Pettinger
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