ACCC Chairman discusses the increasing concentration in Australia’s economy

27 October 2016

Correction: a previous version of this media release read: '...the revenue of Australia’s largest 100 listed companies increased from 15% of GDP in 1993 to 47% of GDP in 2015.'

This has been updated to '...the revenue of Australia’s largest 100 listed companies increased from 27% of GDP in 1993 to 47% of GDP in 2015.'

Figure 1 below has been corrected. Figure 3 has also been corrected in the speech link below.

Australian Competition and Consumer Commission Chairman Rod Sims discussed increasing concentration in the Australian economy at today’s RBB Economics Conference in Sydney.

“The rise of large corporations in the Australian economy has been substantial. Indeed it seems we have outpaced the US,” Mr Sims said.

Analysis prepared by Port Jackson Partners Limited shows the revenue of Australia’s largest 100 listed companies increased from 27% of GDP in 1993 to 47% of GDP in 2015. This compares to the US figures of 33% to 46% (see figure 1).

“In Australia many markets are concentrated or are likely to become concentrated as firms pursue efficiencies from scale. In some markets there may not be room for more than a few efficiently sized firms given the size of demand,” Mr Sims said.

“From a competition perspective, what we need to understand is whether smaller rivals or new entrants can readily contest the position of larger, more established firms.”

“We should, therefore, have an eye to how often the identity of large firms change,” Mr Sims said.

Again, drawing on work by Port Jackson Partners Ltd, of the ASX top 100 companies in 1990, only 29 companies remained in the top 100 as at October 2015 (see figure 2).

Mr Sims, however, questioned the increasingly put view that we need not be concerned with industries becoming heavily concentrated, and with monopolies and their behaviour.

“It seems to me that, absent a clear and convincing economic and evidence based explanation of how a merger will avoid harming consumers, the standard economic wisdom should prevail,” Mr Sims said.

“This wisdom is that mergers resulting in high levels of concentration in markets with substantial barriers to entry will usually reduce competition and cause harm to consumers and our economy.”

He also said circumstances where monopoly pricing has no effect, or only a small effect on economic efficiency, are rare.

While not advocating any positions, Mr Sims then raised a series of questions for further consideration about market concentration and merger analysis, including:

  • Why is it that economic argument and opinion increasingly down plays conventional economic theory and wisdom on high levels of consolidation and monopolies?
  • Do we need to consider something similar to the approach adopted by US courts where once markets are defined and the merger is likely to result in a significant increase in concentration, there exists a “rebuttable presumption” that the merger should not proceed absent evidence to the contrary?

    There will be times when a merger to high concentration is acceptable, due perhaps to low entry barriers, but logic says it will not be the norm. Why shouldn’t those arguing the unconventional have the burden of producing evidence to support their position?

  • Are regulators able to analyse and act where large incumbent firms continue to acquire promising start-ups?
  • Is there too much focus on overlap in specific narrow market sectors? Should we focus more on the wider actual and potential competitive constraints and the extent or strength of those constraints?
  • How many different forms of remedy should a competition regulator need to assess before saying “enough”?

“All of us here today understand the importance of strong actual or potential competition to the effective working of our market economy. This is why we all have an interest in these questions,” Mr Sims said.

Read the Chairman’s speech

Background

ASX Top 100 Revenue Proportion of GDP

Of the ASX Top 100 in 1990, only 29 companies survive in Top 100 as at October 2015

 

Release number: 
MR 194/16
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