There is an increasing tendency by the South African competition authorities to look closely at transactions in which the potential for the dissemination of competitively sensitive information between firms is heightened. This is according to Lerisha Naidu, senior associate in the Competition practice at Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr.
“On 23 January 2013, the Competition Tribunal issued its reasons in the large merger involving Absa Bank (Absa) and the Private Label Store Card Portfolio of Edcon ((Edcon), in which the Tribunal approved the transaction subject to conditions designed to minimise the potential for coordinated effects post-merger,” Naidu explains.
Naidu says that pre-merger, certain business activities supplied by the merging parties, namely those relating to the provision of unsecured credit, were found to horizontally overlap.
“This was because Absa is party to a joint venture with Woolworths called Woolworths Financial Services (WFS), which offered certain types of unsecured credit products and that, post transaction, Absa would acquire the right, title and interest to the accounts and receivables relating to the Edcon portfolio (which offers substitutable products and services to WFS),” she says.
Naidu notes that the Competition Commission regarded Absa's post-transaction interest in both WFS and the Edcon portfolio as a platform for collusion, which could facilitate the exchange of competitively sensitive information (such as pricing, marketing policies and commercial strategies) between Edcon and Woolworths through Absa, and could substantially prevent or lessen competition.
“The Competition Tribunal agreed with the Commission's findings and imposed a set of behavioural conditions, pertaining to the implementation of ring-fencing measures designed to prevent anti-competitive information exchange, and monitoring conditions.
“In the decision of Business Venture Investments No. 1624 and another; and Waco African and another, similar conditions were imposed by the Tribunal to prevent the dissemination of competitively sensitive information within the acquiring group as regards its interests in competing scaffolding businesses, post-merger,” Naidu says.