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Antitrust Focus Shifts to Bid-Rigging, Price-Fixing

September 03, 1987|From Reuters

WASHINGTON — The Justice Department's chief antitrust fighter said today that he will limit government lawsuits against corporate mergers and concentrate on criminal price-fixing and bid-rigging.

Assistant Atty. Gen. Charles Rule, new head of the department's antitrust division, told a news conference that he sees no need for new laws to curb corporate acquisitions. Several such bills are before Congress.

"We challenge only those mergers that represent a real threat to consumers," Rule said.

"If a merger violates our guidelines and threatens consumers' interests, we will try to stop it. Often, as a result of such a decision, the parties will restructure their merger to eliminate the problem."

Foreign Competition

Rule, who was confirmed by the Senate last month but has been acting director of the antitrust division for almost a year, said many U.S. corporate mergers are vital to counter stiff foreign competition.

"Particularly in an era of increasing international competition, we can no longer afford to attack American companies that are using innovative techniques to keep costs and prices down," he said.

Rule said the department's guidelines allow firms to put together mergers and acquisitions in whatever way makes economic sense to them as long as they avoid mergers that threaten to raise consumer prices.

"Today the courts insist that we prove economic harm to the consumers. If conduct benefits consumers--or at least, doesn't hurt them--by lowering prices, improving service or introducing new products, then it doesn't violate the antitrust laws."

Mergers Are Studied

The Justice Department reviews many corporate mergers and takeovers with an eye to ensuring that competition is not restricted by the combinations. The department has rarely blocked mergers under President Reagan but has required some acquiring companies to sell some businesses.

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