Tuesday, July 23, 2019

'Weak' Quad and LSC Offered to Shed Assets, But Feds Said No

"A printing press is a printing press."
Update: About two hours after this article was published, Quad and LSC announced they were calling the deal off. More to come.

Quad and LSC Communications offered to divest assets to win approval of their proposed merger but were unable to reach a deal with the U.S. Justice Department.

Quad (AKA Quad/Graphics) revealed the offer last week in its response to Justice’s lawsuit that seeks to block the merger of the two large printing companies on antitrust grounds.

Quad’s response denies that the deal would be anti-competitive, stating that “Quad and LSC are currently, and in the future will increasingly become, weaker competitors than they have been in the past.” And even if the deal would violate antitrust laws, Quad argues, it should not be killed.

U.S. District Court Judge Charles R. Norgle “instead should allow the proposed transaction to close, subject to the divestiture package that the Quad Defendants have proposed to the Division,” Quad’s filing says. A list of the properties that the printing companies offered to sell or spin off has not been revealed publicly.

Quad argues that printing is a single market because “a printing press is a printing press; in other words, the same equipment that is used to print the pages in a magazine can also be used to print the pages in a catalog, the pages in a trade book, and the pages in an education book. And the same equipment can also be used to print newspaper inserts, direct mail, phone books, professional books, children’s books, calendars, and commercial brochures, along with many other forms of printed products.”

That contrasts to Justice’s view that the production of magazines, catalogs, black-and-white “trade” books, and textbooks are all distinct markets – in which a combined Quad-LSC would have near monopolies.

It also ignores the reality that such factors as press configurations, paper selection, color requirements, bindery equipment, and distribution networks generally make it impractical to produce, for example, textbooks in a printing plant that specializes in magazines or to print catalogs in a directory operation.

Objecting to a dramatic chart included in Justice’s complaint (See "How the Feds Used Quad's and LSC's Own Words Against Them".), Quad claims “there is no such thing as ‘magazine and catalog presses’ and that “the chart excludes at least 140 commercial printers in the United States that also own web offset presses.”

Among other notable comments in Quad’s filing:

• “Quad and LSC Communications, Inc. (“LSC”) together represent less than 10% of the overall U.S. commercial printing industry. This industry is under assault. Between 2010 and 2018, print advertising—a category that includes magazine ads, catalogs, direct mail, and newspaper inserts—fell from a $55 billion industry to just a $19 billion one, a decline of over 65%.”

• “The Complaint . . . ignores that any attempt to raise print prices above competitive levels would only accelerate the movement of customers and products from print version to an online or digital format.” (Justice argues that, with a Quad-LSC merger, there would be no longer be “competitive levels” of pricing for some printing customers because there would be no viable competition.)

• Quad claims Justice is overly focused on multi-year printing contracts with large customers: “In actuality, the vast majority of Quad’s (and, on information and belief, its print competitors’) magazine, catalog, and book customers are relatively small customers that only buy print services on a transactional, or ‘spot’ basis, as opposed to doing so with multi-year contracts.”

• The “small number of ‘major’ customers are readily able and incentivized to protect themselves, among other ways, by sponsoring (or threatening to sponsor) competitors’ entry or expansion; by integrating (or threatening to integrate) vertically; and/or by moving (or threatening to move) all or part of their print work to other print formats or to alternative channels like digital formats.”

• Countering Justice’s claim that there are high barriers to entry for some printing markets: “To the contrary, high-quality printing and binding equipment is readily available for purchase on either a new or used basis, and can be purchased and installed in a matter of months.”

• It points out an apparent omission in Justice’s case: “Rotogravure presses are largely used for printing products like newspaper inserts.” Although a combined Quad-LSC would own every publication rotogravure press in the country, Justice failed to point out that the company would have a virtual monopoly for printing some types of newspaper and free-standing inserts.

• “Catalog customers are increasingly employing advanced personalization strategies where different versions of a catalog are customized for particular customers or customer segments or the catalog customer elects to use a direct mail product instead of a catalog . . . . This trend is driving catalog printing away from the presses traditionally used for longer-run print jobs and instead driving it towards digital presses.”

• “As more and more print customers have shifted to digital channels, Quad and LSC both have significant excess capacity; Quad therefore plans to use the acquisition of LSC to effect the orderly reduction of excess capacity in a way that (i) achieves more cost savings for customers than the two companies could achieve on their own; (ii) minimizes the burdens imposed on customers; and (iii) ensures that the best and most efficient capacity remains in operation after closing.”

• “Competing printers currently have excess capacity as well. . . . . This excess capacity in the industry will not only continue to exist after the transaction closes but will only grow as demand for printed products continues to decline.”

• “Many customers have expressed their support for the proposed acquisition.”

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