On Monday December 18, the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) and the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) released the final version of their Merger Guidelines (“Guidelines”), capping a nearly two-year effort to implement a policy capturing the Biden Administration’s aggressive enforcement stance in merger reviews. The Guidelines are intended to provide transparency into how the agencies evaluate whether a merger or acquisition may lessen competition in violation of the Clayton Act. After the agencies released the draft merger guidelines in July (“Draft Guidelines”), the agencies received over 3,000 public comments, many of them criticizing the Draft Guidelines for being too aggressive and departing too radically from controlling case law and practice.  The final Guidelines reflect the agencies’ consideration of the comments received.

While the final Guidelines largely maintain the same aggressive positions of the draft, they introduce more nuanced language that signals more openness to rebuttal evidence than the Draft Guidelines. The most apparent change is an across-the-board shift away from a flat prohibition on certain effects and toward a more traditional warning about the possible consequences when those effects are present. This is an important change to the draft language, which had come under fire for appearing to set forth several rules of per se illegality. For example, in Guideline 2, the draft language stated that “mergers should not eliminate substantial competition between firms,” (emphasis added), signaling the possibility that the agencies would challenge any merger between rivals even when remaining competitors would discipline any post-merger attempt to raise prices or reduce output or quality. In contrast, the final language states that “mergers can violate the law when they eliminate substantial competition between firms” (emphasis added), affirming what has always been the case.Continue Reading FTC and DOJ Publish 2023 Merger Guidelines