John Durie: New-look ACCC has first merger decision on its hands with THL-Apollo deal

John Durie ACCC competition google

Source: Private Media/AAP/Dean Lewins and Lukas Coch

The new guard at the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) is set to make its first merger decision this week in the Trans-Tasman campervan and mobile home merger between Tourism Holdings (THL) and Apollo.

The two companies are the dominant players in the market controlling brands including Maui, Britz, Star and Apollo.

Both were hit hard by COVID-19 but Brisbane-based Apollo boss Luke Trouchet argues the merger will be the best launchpad for the recovery of the businesses on the local and global markets.

Apollo is listed on the ASX with a market value of $94 million, but with net debts of around the same amount.

Gina Cass-Gottlieb took the reins of the competition regulator from Rod Sims in March and this will be the first merger review in her term.

Under Sims, there were 3450 mergers that went to the ACCC, of which just 399 were subject to public reviews and only 18, or 4.5%, opposed.

The new guard has already launched two prosecutions that started under the old guard, against Honda and Mazda, with the former alleged to have engaged in misleading conduct against two small business operators who were former franchisees of the car giant. 

The tourism merger decision is due on Thursday to coincide with a New Zealand Commerce Commission decision on the matter.

Given the two companies dominate the market it would not be surprising if the decision was subject to further reviews, with a statement of issues released pending a final ruling.

While the merger market is nominally buoyant there are just nine cases publicly before the ACCC, of which four are awaiting further guidance from the merger parties.

The mergers subject to review include Pact and Synergy Packaging, Korean Air Lines and Asiana, and the acquisition of the Port of Geelong.    

Google has yet to formally seek approval from the ACCC for its $US5.4 billion ($7.51 billion) takeover of cyber security firm Mandiant, which when filed, will provide a key test to the new ACCC regime.

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