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Art of the dead deal

11 November 2016 By Jennifer Saba

Donald Trump’s election as the next American president risks morphing the era of mega-M&A into bumper breakups by command. The self-described dealmaker has already railed against AT&T’s planned $85 bln tie-up with Time Warner, wants to rip apart Comcast-NBC Universal and may have a beef with large banks. Corporate chieftains’ imperial ambitions may have to be put on hold.

The next commander-in-chief’s campaign rhetoric may, of course, be just that; his apparent lack of ideology makes it impossible to divine. And much of his ire was focused on the media, whose coverage he both craved and loathed. He described CNN news network owner Time Warner and its plans with AT&T, for example, as a “power structure” rigged against him and voters and promised his administration would not approve the deal “because it’s too much concentration of power in the hands of too few.”

The nation’s big banks also don’t get much Trump love. He aims to both get rid of the post-crisis Dodd-Frank reforms but also reintroduce Glass-Steagall, the Depression-era law that kept commercial and investment banks apart. His transition website, meanwhile, states: “The big banks got bigger while community financial institutions have disappeared at a rate of one per day.”

He’s not the only one who reckons that the current pace of corporate roll-ups should be stopped. Higher prices and fears about many assets in various industries being owned by just a handful of companies fueled not only Trump’s campaign but also that of Democratic presidential nominee Bernie Sanders.

The biggest sign of whether Trump’s intent will turn to action will come when he anoints the new heads for the Justice Department, the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Communications Commission. All three play roles in reviewing deals. The litigious Trump could nominate aggressive regulators who aren’t afraid of bringing anti-competitive lawsuits or being challenged in courts by companies seeking to merge.

He may not stop at nixing or reversing big deals, either. Trump singled out e-commerce retailer Amazon as having a “huge antitrust problem.” Founder and Chief Executive Jeff Bezos also owns the Washington Post, which has been highly critical of the president-to-be.

President Obama’s merger reviewers have hardly been slouches. They’re currently challenging Anthem’s purchase of Cigna and Aetna’s bid for Humana. If Trump’s campaign remarks are any indication, his picks could be even bigger deal slayers.

 

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