Two recent cases in the EU demonstrate that, particularly in concentrated markets, companies need to be very careful when making public price increase announcements.
On 21 November, the Dutch competition authority (ACM) said that it had identified competition law concerns about public statements by mobile operators concerning planned price increases or reductions in commercial conditions for consumers, where these statements were not based on a final decision. The three major providers in the Netherlands have therefore made a commitment to ACM that they will refrain from making such statements in public to avoid any risk of illegal collusive behaviour in the future. They will incorporate this into their compliance programs and give it “special attention” in employee training workshops.
On the next day, the European Commission (EC) announced that it has opened a formal competition law investigation into container liner shipping companies, which is based on very similar issues. The concern is that the companies (which are not named) have been making public price increase announcements via press releases and in the trade press (covering the amount and date of increases), which again may amount to illegal price signalling.
Although these types of cases are rare in the EU, it is clear that if similar practices are used in other sectors, then the same issue could arise. Companies should take note for their internal audits and compliance programmes.