“The next area I would like to discuss is one where the Guidelines appear to inaccurately describe the Agencies’ enforcement policy. As the Merger Challenges Data that I referred to earlier in this talk indicate, it is relatively rare for the Agencies to challenge mergers that will lead to HHI concentration levels below 1,800. (12) Yet the Guidelines indicate that such mergers “potentially raise significant competitive concerns.” (13) Similarly, the Guidelines suggest that a 100 point increase in an HHI concentration level raises competitive concerns. (14)In actual practice, however, the Agencies have only infrequently challenged mergers unless they increase concentration several times that much. (15)
More broadly, our panelists have generally confirmed that the Guidelines overstate the importance of HHIs in merger analysis. It will not surprise you that HHIs have been the focus of neither a party presentation nor a staff recommendation since I’ve been the Assistant Attorney General. That reality reflects the current state of economic thinking, where HHI levels are given a far less prominent place as a predictive tool for assessing competitive effects than the one suggested by the current Guidelines. In that vein, I note that, while many panelists have noted their usefulness as a tool for assessing likely competitive effects, none has maintained that HHIs should be the key driver of enforcement decisions.
It is thus relatively clear that the HHI thresholds set forth in the Guidelines no longer capture agency practice or economic learning about the kinds of mergers that are most likely to lead to consumer harm. Revising the HHI thresholds to express accurately how the Agencies use HHIs seems not just appropriate but also necessary to correct what has become an affirmative misstatement at this point.”