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Recommendations and Comments on the Draft Vertical Merger Guidelines

 |  March 23, 2020

By Jonathan B. Baker (American University), Nancy L. Rose (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), Steven C. Salop (Georgetown University Law Center) & Fiona M. Scott Morton (Yale)

These recommendations and comments respond to the request by the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division for public comment on the draft 2020 Vertical Merger Guidelines. We commend the agencies for updating the 1984 non-horizontal merger guidelines by recognizing the substantial advances in economic thinking about vertical mergers in the thirty-five years since those guidelines were issued. Our comments emphasize four issues: (i) the treatment of the elimination of double marginalization (“EDM”), particularly that the draft vertical merger guidelines appear inappropriately to make proof of cognizability part of the agencies burden and that they appear to inappropriately treat the merging firm’s failure to have eliminated double marginalization pre-merger as proof that the merger would lead to EDM and that the post-merger EDM would be merger-specific; (ii) the seemingly arbitrary and inappropriately permissive safe harbor; (iii) the inappropriate (though perhaps unintended) apparent requirement that harms be quantified; and (iv) the inappropriate (though perhaps unintended) apparent requirement that the agencies show that foreclosure would not have been profitable before the merger. We are concerned that these features of the draft Guidelines will lead to under-enforcement and false negatives (including under-deterrence).

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