On 6 October 2017 the Competition Appeal Tribunal (CAT) issued a judgment dismissing an appeal made by Balmoral Tanks Limited and Balmoral Group Holdings Limited against a fine of £130,000 imposed on Balmoral by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA). In December 2016 the CMA found that Balmoral, a supplier of galvanised steel water tanks, had exchanged information relating to current and future pricing plans with three of its competitors at a one-off meeting in July 2012. The three competitors were part of a cartel in the market, which Balmoral had refused to join, and were fined separately. The CMA found that by sharing commercially sensitive pricing information with its competitors, Balmoral had engaged in a concerted practice prohibited by Article 101 of the TFEU and by Chapter I of the Competition Act 1998.
Before the CAT, Balmoral argued that the purpose of the meeting was not to restrict competition; rather, Balmoral intended to put an end to unwanted contact from the cartel members. The CAT found that the purpose of the meeting should be judged based on the arrangements arrived at by the end of the meeting, rather than on the intentions of the parties at the beginning. While the CAT accepted that Balmoral had attended the meeting to bring the illegitimate contact to an end, their representative remained at the meeting after he had made clear that Balmoral would not be joining the cartel. He then provided information about Balmoral’s pricing, asked a competitor a specific question about their own pricing and suggested that he was keen for prices to stabilise.
In addition, Balmoral contended that the one-off nature of the meeting and type of information exchanged meant that the CMA was wrong to have concluded that the discussion was capable of reducing uncertainty within the market. The CAT found that in the context of this market where a cartel was operating, a one-off exchange of pricing information (some of which was not generic or historic) had the potential to affect prices well into the future.