April 9, 2014

Barclays Settles First LIBOR “Test Case”

A View from Constantine Cannon’s London Office

By Michael Petrides

Barclays announced on Monday that it has reached an out of court settlement of British LIBOR-related litigation with Graiseley Properties, owner of Guardian Care Homes (GCH).

The case concerned two interest rate swap contracts entered into by Graiseley and Barclays. Graiseley suffered substantial losses when base LIBOR rates fell.  Graiseley sought to escape its liability to Barclays by asserting claims that Barclays engaged in mis-selling, which involves misrepresenting the characteristics of a product or service.  Although Grassley originally alleged a case of innocent misrepresentation by Barclays, it succeeded in persuading the court to allow it to add fraudulent misrepresentation claims based on Barclay’s knowledge of LIBOR rigging once the LIBOR scandal became public knowledge.

The case received publicity as a result of its being treated as a test case for other LIBOR rigging claims and because of certain comments by judges hearing applications in the case that were critical of Barclay’s arguments.  It was expected that the trial this month would have led to the public disclosure of a large volume of documents relevant to LIBOR rigging (up to 200,000 documents according to pre-trial hearings) as well as embarrassing testimony by key former employees, including former Barclays CEO Bob Diamond, who resigned in 2012 following the LIBOR-related fines imposed by the U.K. Financial Services Authority.

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Categories: Antitrust Litigation, International Competition Issues

    February 11, 2014

    Google Agrees To Search Engine Makeover To Settle European Antitrust Case

    A View from Constantine Cannon’s London Office

    By Michael Petrides

    The announcement by the European Commission on February 5, 2014, that it has received a set of “improved commitments” from Google in their stand-off over the Internet giant’s search engine practices signals not only the beginning of the end of a four-year antitrust battle, but also a new chapter in online search and search advertising.

    Under the settlement, which is awaiting final approval by the European Commission, Google would give its rivals more prominence in specialized search results, including those for shopping, travel and local business reviews.  The settlement would result in Google’s search engine in Europe looking substantially different look from the way it appears in the United States.  

    The European Commission’s case against Google dates back to November 2010, when the Commission launched an investigation after having received a total of 18 formal complaints against Google.  The probe focused on whether a series of Google business practices in online searches effectively amounted to an abuse of the company’s dominant position in the markets for web search, online search advertising and online search advertising intermediation in the European Economic Area (EEA) – in violation of Article 102 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. click here for more »

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    Categories: Antitrust Litigation, International Competition Issues

      February 10, 2014

      Umbrella Liability For Price Fixing: Does The Forecast Call For More Damages In The EU And U.S.?

      A View from Constantine Cannon’s London Office

      By Irene Fraile and Ankur Kapoor

      The European Union may be on the verge of embracing “umbrella liability”—a theory of liability that would significantly increase the exposure of members of anticompetitive cartels.

      The European Court of Justice is being urged by one of its advocates general to hold that, under EU law, victims of cartels can seek damages from cartel members for higher prices paid to non-cartel members that were able to raise their prices under the pricing “umbrella” created by the cartel. If the Court of Justice endorses such umbrella liability, antitrust liability in the EU could diverge from the approach evolving in U.S. courts which have been reluctant to embrace umbrella liability. click here for more »

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      Categories: Antitrust Enforcement, Antitrust Law and Monopolies, Antitrust Legislation, Antitrust Litigation, Antitrust Policy, International Competition Issues

        December 11, 2013

        Rough Regulatory Waters May Rock Massive Shipping Alliance

        By Jeffrey I. Shinder

        The proposed P3 shipping alliance among the world’s three biggest container shipping companies encountered more rough seas this past week.

        The U.S. Federal Maritime Commission (“FMC”) has requested additional information from the parties.  This request will delay the implementation of the proposed alliance because, after the parties comply with the request, a new 45-day regulatory review period will begin.  While this request should not be interpreted as indicating that the alliance will not be approved by regulators, it almost certainly reflects the significant issues that the proposed deal raises for competition.

        The proposed P3 vessel-sharing alliance among Maersk, MSC and France’s CMA CGM S.A has the expressed goal of dealing with overcapacity and declining freight rates through an agreement to share ships and engage in related cooperative operating activities, under a common management, while retaining individual commercial status and control of consignments.

        The issues that are raised by this plan to create the world’s largest shipping alliance came into sharp focus last week when reports surfaced that the FMC is apparently questioning “operational contradictions” and “gaps” in the duties of the liners.  See Lewis Crofts,  “P3 shipping lines face questions over alliance’s scope ahead of US, EU, China meeting,” http://www.mlex.com/US/Content.aspx?ID=479918 (MLex, Dec. 6, 2013) (subscription required).  click here for more »

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        Categories: Antitrust and Price Fixing, Antitrust Enforcement, International Competition Issues

          December 6, 2013

          Microsoft No Longer Has An X On The Back Of Its Box For Antitrust Enforcers

          By Jean Kim

          The European Commission (the “EC”), as expected, has approved Microsoft’s proposed acquisition of Nokia’s handset devices business, demonstrating that antitrust enforcers no longer view the operating system Goliath of the 1990s as a tempting target.

          The European approval was the last remaining regulatory hurdle for the parties to go forward with the $7.2 billion acquisition.  The FTC granted “early termination” approval last week, which means that it will take no action to block the merger.

          These relatively easy approvals by U.S. and European regulators are consistent with the similar ease with which Microsoft’s acquisition of Skype (worth $8.5 billion) sailed through U.S. and EC merger review in 2011.  Antitrust enforcers apparently are not concerned with Nokia’s 3% share of the smartphone market going to Microsoft, particularly when Apple and Samsung together account for almost 50% of worldwide smartphone sales in 2013.

          Microsoft, after emerging in 2011 from a decade of oversight by the U. S. Department of Justice following the settlement of the DOJ’s 1998 antitrust suit, has truly entered a new era.  Antitrust enforcers have turned their gaze to bigger fish like Google and Apple, and no longer have a knee-jerk reaction to Microsoft’s every move in tech markets.

          The EC has not completely withdrawn its scrutiny of Microsoft, however.  As late as March of this year, the EC fined Microsoft $730 million for breaching its five-year commitment to give customers a choice of browser in connection with the upgrade of its Windows 7 operating system.  This penalty was in addition to the more than 1.6 billion euros in fines that the EC had already levied on Microsoft over the last decade.

          But Microsoft’s commitment with the EC expires in 2014 (unless extended), and Microsoft may well be left unfettered to pursue an acquisition strategy aimed at making it more competitive in a technological world that is no longer dominated by the personal computer.  Microsoft certainly has the funds for a shopping spree with its $77 billion war chest.

          With the rollout of Surface tablets, and Xbox’s healthy 30% plus share of the console market, the Nokia acquisition will round out Microsoft’s portfolio and give it a foothold in three device markets where it can deploy and unify its Windows platform.

          – Edited by Gary J. Malone

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          Categories: Antitrust Enforcement, International Competition Issues

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