U.S. antitrust enforcer says merger wave means slower vetting

FILE PHOTO: Signage is seen at the Federal Trade Commission headquarters in Washington, D.C., U.S., August 29, 2020. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A huge increase in the number of mergers coming before the Federal Trade Commission for antitrust reviews is limiting its ability to investigate deals in a timely fashion, the FTC said on Tuesday.

The agency, which works with the Justice Department to enforce antitrust law, said it got 343 deal notifications in July alone, up from 112 last July. It said in a statement that the influx “is straining the agency’s capacity to rigorously investigate deals ahead of the statutory deadlines.”

The agency said it was sending letters to companies planning transactions that receive a request for in-depth documentation about a deal to inform them that although the usual 30-day waiting period would soon expire, that the FTC probe was continuing.

“Please be advised that if the parties consummate this transaction before the Commission has completed its investigation, they would do so at their own risk,” it said.

In February, the FTC and Justice Department’s Antitrust Division temporarily suspended the practice of granting early terminations for the least-controversial deals. It did so because of the change in administrations and a jump in the number of merger filings.

Under merger law, transactions over a certain size must be reported to the government, which allows many to go forward quickly under what is called “early termination.” More complicated or more controversial deals trigger a “second request,” or a demand for documents about the proposed transactions.

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