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US: AT&T bid for Time Warner faces populist rage

 |  October 26, 2016

AT&T’s $85.4 billion deal to buy Time Warner is sailing ­towards two cresting waves of ­opposition: resurgent antitrust ­enforcement in Washington and politicians fired by a new bipartisan populist rage.

It is too early to know how regulators will treat the AT&T-Time Warner deal. But after several quiet years, President Barack Obama’s antitrust team has switched into high gear in ­response to a recent spurt of deal-making. This trend is likely to continue in the next administration, as both presidential campaigns have signalled unease with the AT&T deal and with economic consolidation more broadly.

Justice Department antitrust enforcers say they have sunk eight would-be deals over the past year and are currently waging court fights over three more, including two big health insurance mergers. In all, the Justice Department has stopped 43 deals over the past eight years, more than double the mergers blocked by the preceding Bush Justice Department.

The Federal Trade Commission, which shares antitrust duties with Justice, recently waged multiple challenges against hospital mergers and is considering ­whether to allow a combination of two of the country’s largest pharmacy chains, Walgreens Boots ­Alliance and Rite Aid.

Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Chuck Grassley on Monday called for a “robust ­review” of the AT&T deal. Senator Patrick Leahy, the top Democrat on the committee, said the panel should hold a hearing on the deal “without delay”.

Given the current merger fever, the antitrust views of the next president’s nominees for lawyer general, FTC head and Justice ­Department antitrust chief are likely to get a lot of attention.

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has sent signals during the campaign that her administration would be active in antitrust enforcement.

Republican Donald Trump has said he would not only fight the AT&T deal, but would also try to unwind a major media merger previously approved by the Obama team: Comcast’s 2011 acquisition of NBCUniversal.

The Obama administration came into office promising a new day for antitrust after what it portrayed as somnolent in the Bush era, but for the first few years its ­record was hard to distinguish from that of its predecessors, in part because of a soft deal market.

Full Content: The Australian

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