November 15, 2018

Crisis-Hit Italian Bank Records Another Loss

However, the second-quarter net loss of €280 million, or $373 million, represented a significant improvement over the €1.6 billion loss the bank posted a year earlier.

“The report confirms the commitment and effectiveness of the priority actions that we undertook, the improvement of the bank’s financial profile and its operating costs,” the chief executive, Fabrizio Viola, told investors in a conference call. “We now need to make the bank solid and act so that the market perceives it.”

The bank said that it had reduced its operating costs by 10.5 percent from a year earlier and that it had already closed 360 of the 400 branches that it plans to shut down by September, cutting 1,660 jobs in the last year. A quarter of the bank’s managers have left since last summer, the chief financial officer, Bernardo Mingrone, said.

Despite the bank’s progress, economic conditions had a “significant impact” on its results, Mr. Viola said, including an increase in loan-loss provisions.

The bank has troubles that extend beyond the local economy. Last month, in a letter sent to the Italian economy minister, Fabrizio Saccomanni, the European competition commissioner, Joaquín Almunia, expressed concerns about the viability of the bank’s restructuring plan. The European Commission must give final approval to the €4.1 billion bailout that Monte dei Paschi has received from the Italian government.

On Wednesday, Mr. Viola declined to comment on what he called “such a delicate issue,” but he said that the bank was ready to make any needed improvements to the business plan.

Since January, Monte dei Paschi, the world’s oldest operating bank, has been caught up in storm that has led to the disclosure of €730 million in losses on derivatives transactions entered into by the previous management.

Lawsuits have been filed against the bank’s former executives, as well as against Deutsche Bank and Nomura, which signed the deals responsible for most of the losses.

Last week, the scandal widened when prosecutors in Siena announced that JPMorgan Chase was suspected of wrongdoing for its role in a 2008 transaction that helped Monte dei Paschi raise the funds it needed to acquire a regional bank, Antonveneta. The €9 billion takeover — at what is widely regarded as an inflated price — set off the financial strains that contributed to the bank’s decision to seek the state bailout earlier this year.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/08/business/global/crisis-hit-italian-bank-records-another-loss.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

European Union Aims to Lower Credit Card Fees

But the proposal is expected to face heavy opposition from the card companies and from other financial services companies. The measures are aimed at so-called interchange fees — behind-the-scenes fees incurred whenever consumers tap in their PIN codes or sign a credit card receipt.

The rules would also limit the surcharges imposed by some merchants on card payments for purchases, in particular airline tickets. Such sums can reach levels of around 12 euros, or about $16, on top of an individual purchase, according to commission officials.

The officials said that the measures were necessary to stop the gouging of consumers by the operators of payment systems that are vital for e-commerce and a thriving retail sector, and to make it easier for Europeans to make purchases across national borders. Officials also said the measures could encourage new companies to enter the bank card market.

“The interchange fees paid by retailers end up on consumers’ bills,” said Joaquín Almunia, the European Union’s commissioner for competition policy, referring to the fees paid by banks to one another for each card payment.

“Not only are consumers generally unaware of this — they are even encouraged through reward systems to use the cards that provide their banks with the highest revenues,” he said.

Peter Ayliffe, the president of Visa Europe, said in a statement that the proposals would be “detrimental to the innovation that will support European economic growth.” He also complained that proposals mostly exempted American Express and a number of providers of e-commerce and mobile payment systems.

About 9 percent of fees charged by American Express would be covered by the new rules, according to the commission.

MasterCard said in a statement on Wednesday that it would cooperate with the commission to make the payment systems in Europe more secure and efficient, but it said the proposals would have unforeseen and negative consequences.

The cap on fees “will actually harm and inconvenience consumers and small merchants” and will “hinder competition and innovation in the European payments landscape,” said Javier Perez, president of MasterCard Europe.

Michel Barnier, the bloc’s commissioner in charge of financial services, said Wednesday that MasterCard, in particular, had engaged in “extraordinary and unheard-of lobbying” aimed at opposing the measures. Mr. Barnier, speaking at a news conference with Mr. Almunia, insisted that the proposals “will not create supplementary difficulties for consumers.”

The European Commission, the executive agency that also serves as the Union’s consumer watchdog, has long suspected the major card companies and banks of overcharging, hurting retailers and consumers.

The rules would limit banks to charging 0.2 percent on the value of a debit card transaction and 0.3 percent on credit cards. That is important, according to commission officials, because card companies like Visa and MasterCard have, in the past, partly competed on the size of the fee that banks collect in exchange for those banks issuing their cards to consumers.

The rules would apply to transactions across borders in the European Union as soon as the law goes into force. But there would be a 22-month transition period before they went into effect for domestic transactions, which represent the vast majority of payments.

The proposal would need approval by the European Parliament and by a majority of European Union member states before becoming law.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/25/business/global/european-union-aims-to-lower-credit-card-fees.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Europe Warns Google It Could Face Further Concessions

Without those additional concessions, Joaquín Almunia, the European Union competition commissioner, told a committee meeting at the European Parliament that Google could face formal charges for violating European competition law.

Mr. Almunia’s comments, in response to a question during scheduled testimony at Parliament, highlight the pressure from rivals like Microsoft to devise a tougher set of remedies than those worked out with Google. Those proposed solutions were made public last month by the European Commission.

If critics of Google in Europe remain dissatisfied with the settlement, they could go to court. They could sue the European Commission, accusing it of failing to push hard enough for an effective solution. Final judgments in such cases can take years.

On Tuesday, Mr. Almunia told Parliament that he was still reviewing feedback from companies and organizations involved in the case. Market testing was undertaken to see if, among other issues, the proposed remedies addressed complaints that Google favored its own products in search results.

But Mr. Almunia signaled his intention to make firmer demands in some areas of the proposed settlement.

“After we have analyzed the responses we have received,” Mr. Almunia said, “we will ask Google, probably, I cannot anticipate this formally, but almost 100 percent, we will ask Google: you should improve your proposals.”

Mr. Almunia said that the period of market testing, which was to have ended on Monday, had been extended by one month at the request of some of the participants in the case.

A major element of the settlement involves Google’s showing links to the Web sites of competitors who offer specialized search services. In cases where Google sells advertising adjacent to search results for specific industries like restaurants and hotels, Google would provide a menu of at least three options for non-Google search services.

In addition, Google would label results that pointed to its own services — like Google Maps, if they displayed local businesses — as Google properties and separate them from general search results with a box, though they would still appear in the normal list of results.

Google’s agreement would be legally binding for five years, and a third party, approved by the commission, would be put in place to monitor compliance.

Al Verney, a spokesman for Google, said Tuesday that the company’s proposal already “clearly addresses the four areas of concern that were raised” by Mr. Almunia. Google was continuing to “work with the commission to settle this case,” Mr. Verney said.

Mr. Almunia also said that he expected to hold a series of “exchanges” with the search giant. Google would then need to “send us the proposals that we consider can solve the concerns,” he added. Those proposals could lead to a legally binding settlement by the end of the year. Previously, European Union officials said that a binding settlement could be reached by the summer.

Even if Google reached a binding settlement with Mr. Almunia, Google could still face a fine of as much as 10 percent of its global annual sales, which were nearly $50 billion last year, if it broke its promises. But a deal would allow Google to escape the long, expensive antitrust battles that Microsoft fought in Europe over its media player and server software during the last decade.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/29/business/global/european-union-to-press-google-for-new-concessions.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Europe Nears Antitrust Deal With Google Over Web Searches

The announcement by the European Commission that it had begun what is called market testing was intended to determine whether the remedies address complaints that Google favors its own products in search results.

The step is also a sign that Google, having already avoided antitrust charges in the United States, has offered concessions that are acceptable to the commission, thus allowing it to dodge a guilty verdict and a huge fine in the case.

“Now we have concrete proposals on the table which meet the necessary standards for us to submit to the public and to seek feedback on,” said Antoine Colombani, a spokesman for the E.U. competition commissioner, Joaquín Almunia.

The market testing would last for one month and a final settlement — which both sides have been working toward since shortly after the formal start of the case in November 2010 — could be agreed upon after the summer “in a best case scenario,” Mr. Colombani said.

Google still could face a fine of as much as 10 percent of its global annual sales, which were nearly $50 billion last year, if it fails to keep its promises. But the deal would allow Google to escape the type of lengthy and expensive antitrust battles that Microsoft faced in Europe over its media player and server software.

Even before it reached a deal with the commission, Google came under pressure to make further concessions. A prominent consumer group and groups with links to Microsoft condemned Google for failing to make sufficient changes, and some companies asked for a longer period of market testing.

There were also complaints that the new rules would only apply to Google’s national domains because Google users in Europe can also use the company’s global Web site that ends in .com rather than, say, .fr for France.

Google is “serving ads to European customers on the Google.com Web site, which is a strong indication that the remedies should apply to that Web site as well,” said David H. Wood, the legal counsel for Icomp, an industry group backed by Microsoft. “Circumvention is just one click away.”

The .com site has a 7 percent market share in the European Economic Area, which comprises the 27 countries of the Union as well as Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway, and does not offer the same quality of service for European users, according to E.U. officials, who were referring to information that was supplied to them by Google.

Asked whether the current offer by Google was final, Al Verney, a spokesman for the company, said only that “we continue to work cooperatively with the commission.”

One of the centerpieces of Google’s offer to settle the case is to show links to the Web sites of competitors who offer specialized search services.

In cases where Google sells advertising next to results for specific industries like restaurants and hotels, Google would provide a menu of at least three options for non-Google search services.

The menu plan is analogous to a system Microsoft agreed to in 2009, offering users of its Windows software in Europe a ballot screen enabling them to download other Web browser software and to turn off Microsoft’s browser, Internet Explorer. Last month, the commission fined Microsoft $732 million for lapses in adhering to that settlement.

Google would use computer code to identify the most relevant rival services for a particular query. The code would then select three of those sites to be included in the menu.

Google would also label results pointing to its own services — like Google Maps, if they display local businesses — as Google properties and separate them from general search results with a box, though they would still appear in the normal list of results. The boxes would be mandatory, and probably heavily outlined, in cases where Google makes money from advertising that appears with the search results.

Claire Cain Miller contributed reporting from San Francisco.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/26/technology/26iht-google26.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

E.U. Fines Microsoft $732 Million Over Browser

The fine, equivalent to $732 million, is first time that E.U. regulators have punished a company for neglecting to comply with the terms of an antitrust settlement, and it could signal their determination to enforce deals in other cases, including one involving Google, where such an agreement is under discussion.

“Legally binding commitments reached in antitrust decisions play a very important role in our enforcement policy, because they allow for rapid solutions to competition problems,” said Joaquín Almunia, the Union’s competition commissioner. “Of course such decisions require strict compliance” and the “failure to comply is a very serious infringement that must be sanctioned accordingly.”

The penalty imposed Wednesday brings the overall fines imposed on Microsoft by European antitrust regulators during the past decade to €2.26 billion.

“We take full responsibility for the technical error that caused this problem and have apologized for it,” Microsoft said in a statement.  “We provided the commission with a complete and candid assessment of the situation, and we have taken steps to strengthen our software development and other processes to help avoid this mistake – or anything similar – in the future,” Microsoft said.

The commission can levy a fine totaling as much as 10 percent of a company’s global annual revenue, but fines are usually much lower.

The largest fine ever levied by the European authorities in an antitrust case was €1.1 billion, or $1.4 billion, in 2009 against Intel for abusing its dominance in the computer chip market. Intel is still appealing that ruling.

Although Microsoft has appealed many of its past punishments, it may be reluctant to do so this time, preferring to focus on its rivalry with Google. Microsoft is among the companies that have complained about Google’s business practices to Mr. Almunia.

The penalty Wednesday stemmed from an antitrust settlement in 2009 that called on Microsoft to give Windows users in Europe a choice of Web browsers, instead of pushing them to Microsoft’s Internet Explorer.

Microsoft failed to offer users such a choice for more than a year — apparently without the failure’s being noticed by anyone at the company or the commission.

The company admitted the problem and apologized last year. It said the failure had been a result of a technical issue that had escaped its notice, and it updated its Windows 7 and Windows 8 software to give European users the browser choice.

The fine comes as Mr. Almunia’s office is negotiating with Google to try to resolve the commission’s concerns about that company’s dominance of the Internet search and advertising markets. Even if Google and the commission reach a settlement, a substantial fine for Microsoft would serve as a warning that a company would violate such a settlement at its financial peril.

Antitrust regulators find that “monitoring is time consuming and resource intensive” and “it looks like Microsoft was able to forget about the Internet Explorer commitments without anyone noticing,” said Emanuela Lecchi, a partner in London at the law firm Watson, Farley Williams. “So it would seem to me that the commission may wish to make an example of Microsoft.”

The European Commission has been formally investigating Google since November 2010. Mr. Almunia offered the company a settlement last May after finding that it might have abused its dominance in Internet search and advertising by giving its own products an advantage over those of others, even while maintaining that it offered neutral results.

Mr. Almunia and Google have been negotiating since then, and a final agreement may not come until later this year, suggesting that the strategy of seeking quick results in antitrust technology cases through settlements instead of lengthy legal battles could be coming undone.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/07/technology/eu-fines-microsoft-over-browser.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Europe to Fine Microsoft for Breaking Antitrust Deal

On Wednesday, the European Union is expected to impose a large fine on Microsoft for failing to give users of the company’s Windows software a choice of Internet browsers. It would be the first time that European regulators had punished a company for neglecting to comply with the terms of an antitrust settlement, and it could signal a tougher approach to enforcing deals in other antitrust cases, including one involving Google.

Microsoft and officials at the European Commission reached an antitrust settlement in 2009 that called on the company to give Windows users in Europe a choice of Web browsers instead of pushing them to Microsoft’s Internet Explorer. But Microsoft failed to offer users such a choice for more than a year — apparently without anyone at the company or the commission noticing.

Last July, the company admitted the problem and apologized. It said the failure was a result of a technical issue that had escaped its notice, and it updated its Windows 7 and Windows 8 software to give European users the browser choice.

In October, Europe’s antitrust chief, Joaquín Almunia, charged Microsoft with failing to live up to the agreement.

The amount of the fine could not be learned on Tuesday. Mr. Almunia’s office and Microsoft executives declined to comment.

The decision to fine Microsoft comes as Mr. Almunia’s office is negotiating with Google to try to resolve the commission’s concerns about that company’s dominance of the Internet search and advertising markets. Even if Google and the commission reach a settlement, a substantial fine for Microsoft would serve as a warning that a company violates such a settlement at its financial peril.

“It’s important for the commission to show it’s serious in this case because this will set a precedent, and because the commission increasingly uses settlements to help reach solutions more quickly, especially in the fast-moving technology sector,” said Nicolas Petit, a professor of competition law and economics at the University of Liège in Belgium.

“The commission also has an incentive to slap on a big fine in this case to ensure that companies, which are hard to monitor, get the message that it will be costly down the road if they get caught defying settlement orders,” Mr. Petit said.

In theory, Mr. Almunia can levy a fine totaling up to 10 percent of a company’s global annual revenue. In Microsoft’s case that could mean a penalty of $7 billion, but analysts say it is highly unlikely to reach that level.

The largest fine ever levied by the European authorities in an antitrust case was 1.1 billion euros, or $1.4 billion, in 2009 against Intel for abusing its dominance in the computer chip market. Intel is still appealing that ruling.

Microsoft has paid a long series of fines to European regulators over the past decade.

In 2008, it was fined nearly 900 million euros in so-called periodic penalties for defying a decision that regulators had imposed on the company.

The amount was subsequently reduced to 860 million euros after the company appealed to the General Court of the European Union.

Microsoft also paid fines of 497 million euros and 281 million euros for separate but related offenses, bringing the total to 1.7 billion euros during its battles so far with European regulators.

Although Microsoft has appealed past punishments, it may be reluctant to do so this time, preferring to focus on its rivalry with Google. Microsoft is among the companies that have complained about Google’s business practices to the commission.

The commission has been formally investigating Google since November 2010.

Mr. Almunia offered the company a settlement in May 2012 after finding that it might have abused its dominance in Internet search and advertising by giving its own products an advantage over those of others, even while maintaining that it offered neutral results.

Mr. Almunia and Google have been negotiating since then, and a final agreement may not come until later this year, suggesting that the strategy of seeking quick results in antitrust technology cases through settlements instead of lengthy legal battles could be coming undone.

The commission has taken a tougher line with Google than American regulators did. The Federal Trade Commission decided in January after a 19-month inquiry that Google had not broken antitrust laws. But Mr. Almunia has insisted that Google make changes to the most sensitive area of its business, online search.

The latest dispute stemmed from the settlement of a case concerning Microsoft’s dominance in Internet browsers, a dominance that the company has ceded to market forces in recent years.

In Microsoft’s settlement of 2009, the company did not pay a fine but agreed to install a system called Browser Choice Screen with Windows. It was intended to offer alternatives like Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox to counter the strength of Internet Explorer, Microsoft’s own browser.

The choice must be offered for five years, according to the agreement.

Millions of European users of the Windows 7 SP1 version of the software may not have been offered a choice of browsers from February 2011 to July 2012, Mr. Almunia said.

The company said it learned of the error when the commission sent a notification about reports it had received indicating that alternative browsers were not being offered on some personal computers.

Microsoft’s failure to comply with the European order has already resulted in financial penalties of a different sort for the company’s own executives.

In a filing with American financial regulators last October, Microsoft said that Steven A. Ballmer, the company’s chief executive, and Steven Sinofsky, then the head of its Windows division, received less than the full annual bonuses they were eligible for, in part because of the browser issue in Europe.

A month later, Mr. Sinofsky left the company in a decision that was described as “mutual” by people briefed on the matter.

Nick Wingfield contributed reporting from Seattle.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: March 5, 2013

An earlier version of this article misspelled the first name of a former executive with Microsoft. He is Steven Sinofsky, not Sinfosky.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/06/technology/europe-expected-to-levy-big-fine-against-microsoft.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Google Submits Proposal in Bid to Resolve E.U. Antitrust Case

“To be seen as a success, any settlement must include specific measures to restore competition and allow other parties to compete effectively on a level playing field,” David Wood, legal counsel for ICOMP, a group backed by Microsoft, said in a statement.

Michael Weber, chief executive of an online mapping service called hot-map.com, based in Germany, said he hoped the offer by Google was “enough to restore competition” but, “if not, we will take into account all legal options we have and we won’t hesitate to use them.”

Companies that have complained against Google in Europe will have the option to sue the European Commission, the Union’s executive arm, at the General Court of the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg for failing to push hard enough for an effective solution. Such cases can take years to reach a final judgment.

Neither the company nor European officials were willing Friday to describe the settlement proposals. But it had been expected that Google would offer revisions to the way it conducts its online search business in Europe to address regulators’ concerns that the company’s activities are unfair to other Web publishers and its online competitors.

The commission has taken a tougher line with Google than the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, which decided in January that the company had not broken antitrust laws after a 19-month inquiry into how it operated its search engine.

Joaquín Almunia, the European competition commissioner and top E.U. antitrust official, has been formally investigating Google since November 2010. He has insisted that Google make changes to the most sensitive area of its business, online search.

If Mr. Almunia ultimately accepts Google’s offer, the company would avoid further investigation that could lead to a fine of as much as 10 percent of its annual global sales, which came to about $50 billion last year. Google would also avoid a guilty finding that could restrict its activities in Europe.

“We continue to work cooperatively with the commission,” Al Verney, a spokesman for Google in Brussels, said Friday.

Antoine Colombani, a spokesman for Mr. Almunia, told a news conference Friday that Google had sent “a detailed proposal,” which the commission was analyzing before taking any further steps.

But there is no formal timeline in European antitrust cases, meaning negotiations could continue.

“I can’t anticipate the timing or the substance of the analysis,” said Mr. Colombani.

Mr. Almunia could still take a far more confrontational stance with Google by sending the company a Statement of Objections, which is the European equivalent of formal antitrust charges. But that is something Mr. Almunia has been seeking to avoid because he favors non-litigious solutions to antitrust problems, particularly in the fast-moving technology field, to prevent cases from dragging on for years.

A European antitrust case against Microsoft eventually resulted in penalties and fines totaling more than $2 billion, but the process lasted about a decade. During that period, a number of competitors complained that they were losing out to Microsoft and warned that the European process was too slow.

The next stage for Mr. Almunia in the case against Google is to assess the latest offer made by the company and then take a final view as to whether it addresses his concerns sufficiently and then invite another, formal submission from the company that would be sent to complainants for review during a period of what is known as market testing.

“We are not at this stage,” said Mr. Colombani, the spokesman, referring to the stage of market testing. “We are in discussions with Google and in the context of these discussions we have just received their proposal.”

In its deal with the F.T.C., Google agreed to make concessions in two areas that coincided with the concerns of European regulators. In one, Google will allow rivals to opt out of allowing the company to “scrape,” or copy, text from their sites. Google was expected to agree to the same terms with European authorities.

But in another area of European concern — whether Google deliberately favors its own products and services in search results — the F.T.C. did not require changes.

The European Consumer Organization, which includes consumer groups from across Europe, called last year for a settlement that would limit Google’s freedom to favor its own services, like maps and shopping sites, in search rankings.

But Google is expected to resist a solution that would tamper with the way it ranks search results that it deems most relevant to consumers. Google also is likely to be wary that any concessions it makes in Europe could lead regulators elsewhere in the world to demand much the same.

Mr. Almunia has also continued to press Google to put fewer restrictions on the way it handles advertisements that are displayed alongside search results when a user types a query in a Web site’s search box. That is another area of Google’s business that was not addressed by the settlement in the United States.

While Google is the dominant search engine in the United States, it holds even greater sway in Europe, accounting for more than 90 percent of searches in a number of major markets. That is one factor giving the Europeans greater leverage in trying to set rules on how Google ranks competing services.

Another factor is European antitrust law, which has long given competitors more protection than U.S. law provides.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/02/business/global/google-submits-proposals-to-resolve-european-antitrust-concerns.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

DealBook: Europe Leans Toward Blocking NYSE-Deutsche Borse Merger

Traders at the Frankfurt Stock Exchange.Alex Kraus/Bloomberg NewsTraders at the Frankfurt Stock Exchange.

5:26 p.m. | Updated

BRUSSELS — The European Union’s competition commissioner, Joaquín Almunia, won support on Tuesday from European government representatives on an advisory panel in his effort to block a merger between NYSE Euronext and Deutsche Börse, a move that is one of the last stages before a formal decision on the deal is made early next month.

For months, the European Commission, the union’s executive body in Brussels, has raised concerns about the creation of the world’s biggest stock exchange company, which would operate both the New York Stock Exchange and the Frankfurt Stock Exchange along with other markets.

The recommendation by the antitrust advisory panel, which is not binding, is the latest sign that the regulatory obstacles in the way of the deal may be insurmountable. The deal would put the vast majority of the European exchange-traded derivatives market, and a sizable proportion of the region’s stock trading, in the hands of one company.

A main sticking point has been the refusal by NYSE Euronext and Deutsche Börse to sell parts of their derivatives exchange businesses, which Mr. Almunia has concluded would give the combined company too much power over derivatives trading.

That issue came to a head at a meeting in Brussels on Jan. 9, when Mr. Almunia asked Duncan L. Niederauer, the chief executive of NYSE Euronext, to sell a derivatives exchange known as Liffe, based in London, or withdraw from the deal.

“Of course not,” Mr. Niederauer told Mr. Almunia, according to a person with direct knowledge of meeting who asked not to be identified because the proceedings are still continuing. “There’s no way we’ll withdraw,” Mr. Niederauer told Mr. Almunia.

Mr. Niederauer told Mr. Almunia that the analysis carried out by European investigators was “deeply flawed” because it considered the market for derivatives to be solely European, rather than global, and made it appear that the merger would reduce competition far more than would be the case in practice.

NYSE Euronext executives have repeatedly argued that they face considerable competition from the CME Group, a derivatives exchange based in Chicago, saying that it has more employees in Europe than Liffe and a larger portfolio of interest-rate derivatives than the combined NYSE Euronext and Deutsche Börse businesses.

The firm stance taken by Mr. Niederauer — and his apparent willingness to see the deal blocked formally in Europe — may be a sign that the exchanges are preparing to sue the European Commission, accusing it of wrongfully stopping the deal.

That would be a serious problem for the commission, where officials still harbor painful memories of losing a string of appeals against blocked mergers early in the past decade after the European Court of Justice ruled that those decisions had been defective.

Since the meeting between Mr. Almunia and Mr. Niederauer, the exchanges have stepped up a lobbying campaign aimed at turning members of the European Commission in their favor.

On Friday, Mr. Niederauer and the Deutsche Börse chief executive, Reto Francioni, wrote a letter to José Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission and Mr. Almunia’s superior, expressing “profound concern” that blocking the takeover “would represent a serious missed opportunity at a critical juncture for Europe.”

Mr. Niederauer and Mr. Francioni also sought to assure Mr. Barroso of “the European character of the new company,” which would generate 70 percent of its revenues in Europe and be incorporated in the Netherlands.

They also suggested that allowing the merger would further European goals of bringing changes in the financial services sector because NYSE Euronext and Deutsche Börse had “shown themselves to be a bridgehead of integrity and transparency against a tidal wave of opacity and greed that permeates the less-regulated segments of financial markets.”

Mr. Niederauer met with Viviane Reding, the European Union commissioner for justice, on Tuesday, apparently to reinforce that message.

Article source: http://dealbook.nytimes.com/2012/01/17/europe-leans-toward-blocking-nyse-deutsche-borse-merger/?partner=rss&emc=rss

Unilever and P.&G. Fined for Fixing Price of Detergent

P.G., the maker of detergent brands like Tide and Ariel, was ordered to pay 211.2 million euros, or $306 million. Unilever, whose brands include Omo and Surf, was fined 104 million euros. A German company, Henkel, escaped a fine in exchange for blowing the whistle on the cartel.

The European competition commissioner, Joaquín Almunia, said that the companies had developed the cartel to make sure none gained a competitive advantage over the others while seeking to meet environmental goals.

“They agreed to protect their respective market shares, they agreed also not to decrease prices when decreasing the size of the packages, and afterwards they even agreed a price increase,” Mr. Almunia said.

The companies formed the cartel after working on methods to reduce the weight of detergent powders and to reduce waste from boxes and bags through the Association for Soaps, Detergents and Maintenance Products, a trade association that includes other major home products companies.

The cartel operated from January 2002 until March 2005, and it affected the price of laundry detergents in supermarkets in Belgium France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain, the European Commission said.

Mr. Almunia said there was no need to punish the trade association, which he praised for promoting environmental initiatives.

Henkel said it detected the cartel in 2008 during an internal audit. The company “had to acknowledge concrete evidence of misconduct by employees” in several West European countries, Dirk-Stephan Koedijk, the chief compliance officer at Henkel, said in a statement.

Henkel also said that it had taken measures to “avoid future misconduct.”

Marina Barker, a spokeswoman for P.G., said that the activity took place from six to nine years ago, and had been solely focused on some countries in Europe.

She said that P.G. had “previously taken an appropriate financial reserve,” and that the company had already strengthened its global compliance program.

Unilever said that the size of the fine was in the range it had prepared for.

Mr. Almunia said the companies admitted involvement in the cartel in exchange for a 10 percent reduction in their fines as part of a settlement procedure.

Mr. Almunia said that where possible he favored settlements, as in two recent cases involving computer chips and animal feed, to speed up cartel investigations, but that that did not mean Europe was going soft on cartels.

“The commission will pursue its relentless fight against cartels, which are the worst violation of competition rules by extracting higher prices from consumers than they would pay when companies compete fairly and on the merits,” Mr. Almunia said.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=54adea36c319886fd5ef3750e2e8b9b5