Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Publisher Could Have Monopolized Market for Bank Rate Websites

This posting was written by Darius Sturmer, Editor of CCH Trade Regulation Reporter.

A company in the business of aggregating and publishing bank rate tables listing interest rates from financial institutions could have unlawfully monopolized or attempted to monopolize the market for bank rate websites, but had not engaged in a predatory price fixing conspiracy, the federal district court in Newark, New Jersey, has ruled.

A complaining competitor adequately alleged that the company violated federal and New Jersey antitrust law by entering into exclusive dealing arrangements with online media outlets that allegedly prevented competitors from gaining necessary distribution outlets for their data, the court found.

The competitor, however, failed to offer factual allegations that the defending company acted in concert with any other entity to price below some measure of cost. Therefore, a motion to dismiss was granted as to the price fixing claim, but denied as to the other claims.

Monopoly Power

The complaining competitor sufficiently alleged that the defendant possessed monopoly power by claiming: that the defendant had reached a relevant market share of over 95%, that it had entered into agreements with more than 300 partner sites, that the prices it charged to customers had become inelastic, and that independent competitors had been pushed out or acquired as a result of the defendant's scheme.

Predatory Pricing

The allegations of anticompetitive conduct was bolstered by claims that the defendant purposefully predatorily priced its rate listings below cost, and sometimes for free, in order to acquire customers from its rivals and to drive those rivals out of the market, the court noted.
The court rejected arguments that there was no market foreclosure and that a one-year contract with partner websites was not restrictive to the extent condemned by the antitrust laws.

The complaint alleged conduct—such as an agreement with a financial media website allowing the defendant to set rates in exchange for waiving annual license fees—that would impair the opportunities of rivals for whom waiving license fees was not feasible and who were, as a consequence, excluded from doing business with those website partners, in the court’s view.

The decision is BanxCorp. v. Bankrate Inc., 2011-2 Trade Cases ¶77,750.

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