Investigations of non-notified mergers and acquisitions have disclosed “significant competition issues” with some firms being prosecuted as a result, the Commerce Commission says.

The regulator’s case register shows four purchases or proposed purchases are being tested to see if they will reduce competition. They include Wilson Parking, against which the commission began High Court action in July for the firm’s 2016 purchase of a rival’s Wellington parking building.

Commission chair Mark Berry told MPs yesterday that the regulator had seen a trend in the past year of more firms initiating takeovers or mergers without first seeking a clearance or an authorisation from it.

Firms aren’t required to get approval, but those that don’t face a potential $5 million fine if the transaction reduces competition. An individual faces a fine of up to $500,000.

Berry cited the Wilson Parking case as an example of non-notified transactions that the commission has investigated in the past year.

He also cited First Gas’s purchase of 9.5 kilometres of pipelines from GasNet in Papamoa last year, and Fulton Hogan’s purchase of Stevenson Group’s construction and quarrying activities. The commission closed the latter investigation last month after Fulton Hogan excluded Stevenson’s Huntly quarry from the transaction.

Speaking after the hearing before Parliament’s economic development, science and innovation select committee, Berry said it wasn’t clear what was behind the “sudden” increase in non-notified transactions the past year and whether it would continue.

“It might be a bit of a blip. It could be that merger activity has been busy and is now coming to a slightly quieter period.”

But he noted that companies previously have almost always sought approval before implementing mergers. And he said some of the recent cases have “immediately” raised significant competition issues which have gone on the commission’s docket for investigation.

“There are some significant cases in that docket, such as the Wilson Parking case where we are prosecuting,” he told BusinessDesk.

“And there have been outcomes in other cases where we have actually preserved competition which would otherwise have been lost.”

Other transactions under investigation include London-based Datix’s planned purchase of RL Solutions’ global activities. The two firms are the sole suppliers of patient safety software in public hospitals in New Zealand, the commission noted in September.

Last month the commission began an investigation into David Ferrier’s purchase of 70 percent of Cavalier Wool Holdings, the country’s only wool scourer. It said its focus was on whether Ferrier’s control of the scourer and ownership of the country’s only wool dumping service would enable him to raise prices or lower the quality of those services.

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