DOJ hints at blocking ‘anti-competitive’ mergers

The U.S. Justice Department’s Antitrust Division chief declared a willingness to block mergers like Discovery and WarnerMedia that could hurt competition.

Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Kanter on Monday addressed the New York State Bar Association Antitrust Section and said his agency has “an obligation to enforce the antitrust laws as written by Congress” while promising to challenge any merger where the effect “may be substantially to lessen competition, or to tend to create a monopoly.”

“I am concerned that merger remedies short of blocking a transaction too often miss the mark. Complex settlements, whether behavioral or structural, suffer from significant deficiencies. Therefore, in my view, when the division concludes that a merger is likely to lessen competition, in most situations we should seek a simple injunction to block the transaction. It is the surest way to preserve competition,” said Kanter in his prepared remarks.

This, of course, could spell some trouble for proposed mergers including Discovery and WarnerMedia, Microsoft and Activision, and Amazon and MGM.

RELATED: Congress members urge antitrust probe of proposed WarnerMedia-Discovery merger

Last month, more than 30 members of Congress signed a letter to Kanter and Attorney General Merrick Garland calling for an antitrust review of the proposed WarnerMedia-Discovery merger.

“In particular, the merger threatens to enhance the market power of the combined firm and substantially lessen competition in the media and entertainment industry, harming both consumers and American workers. In light of these concerns, we respectfully urge the Department to conduct a thorough review of this transaction to ensure that it does not harm American consumers and workers by illegally harming competition,” the group wrote.

The group also pointed toward President Biden’s executive order to promote competition, which warns that “excessive market concentration threatens basic economic liberties, democratic accountability, and the welfare of workers, farmers, small businesses, startups and consumers.”

As PYMNTS notes, though, the decision to block a merger is not entirely up to the DOJ. If the agency decides an injunction to block a merger is the best remedy, it would still have to make its case in court where a judge would have the final say.