On November 5, 2015, the Romanian Competition Council launched within a Conference its Annual Report “The Romanian Competitive Environment – Developments in Essential Sectors”. The special event took place at the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Romania. This new Romanian Competition Council’s Report on competition in key sectors reconfirmed the accumulated experience by refining its working practices and delivering decisions in a timelier manner without reducing quality, improving the methodology for analysis, tackling the right competition problems and encouraging compliance, struggling to deploy resources more effectively and flexibly across its significant work.
This great conference (great content, talks, company, and conclusions) represented not only competition advocacy, but also an opportunity to improve the institution’s tools and approaches based on a more informed debate. This 7th edition of the Romanian Competition Council’s Report analyzed a series of aspects that are of interest both for the public opinion, as well as for the competition authority, i.e.: the impact of VAT reduction for food; the state’s participation in the key sectors; the issues in the motor insurance and energy sectors; the analysis of the situation in the banking system and the competition assessment at the level of several national industries via the competition indicators (as a permanent element of this kind of report); the sector analysis of concentration trends – the most important developments in the area of mergers and acquisitions (a new element, introduced in 2015).
It is worth mentioning, for example, that twenty industries in the national economy were assessed using the Aggregate Index of Competitive Pressure (AICP), thus measuring how close they are to an ideal situation, which allows the full manifestation of competition. Within this context, the competition authority: identified (based on the 2015 value) three groups of industries defined via the quartiles (position indicators frequently used in statistics); noticed the decreasing trend of AICP in the case of car distribution, the reduction of the composite index being determined by the apparent tightening of market-access conditions (even if they remain at a reasonable level), the continuation of the price aligning process to the level of other countries in the region, corroborated with a slight increase of the profitability of this activity, but also the apparent limitation of investment in marketing and communication activities at industry level; also noticed a certain AICP decrease trend for the 2013-2015 period for the industries analyzed in the insurance sector: motor hull insurance, -1.9%, life insurance, -1.3%, third-party liability insurance, -0.4% (and as this trend will continue, given the recent developments in the insurance sector, the competition authority will need to monitor this sector closely, in order to prevent possible anti-competitive behaviors).
The main sectors with merger operations analyzed by the Competition Council between 2012 and 2015 were: the retail and wholesale sector, the finance-banking sector, the energy and extraction sector, the services sector, the production sector and the real estate sector. The most active sectors in Romania, from the perspective of the number of transactions concluded between 2013 and 2014 were: the services sector, the production sector and the energy and extraction sector. On the other hand, in order to observe the evolution of prices in the food trade sector (in 2014, on average, 19.7% of the total income of households was used for purchasing food), the competition authority selected a basket of goods (consisting, in the case of modern trade, of 36 categories of goods; for traditional trade it was reduced, for logistic reasons, to 18 categories of products) considered representative for food consumption.
According to the above mentioned Report, in the food retail sector, in the case of modern trade, the market structure is close, from the point of view of its characteristics, to a Bertrand-type oligopoly (which appears when there is little differentiation or the products are actually homogeneous; should numerous producers be present in several retailer chains, and geographically there is higher overlapping of caption areas manifested by large stores, their incentives to compete through price increase considerably). That is why it is expected to witness higher competition pressure in the case of modern trade than in the case of traditional trade. And as a consequence of the reduction of food VAT as of June 1st, it has noticed a reduction of prices both in the traditional and modern trades, the decrease of prices in the modern trade being higher than in the case of traditional trade (the VAT reduction was almost fully transmitted to consumers). It was also interesting to note that: due to a specific homogeneity of the traded products (the same products are available in several retail chains in modern trade and even in the traditional trade), especially in the case of modern trade, this decrease suggests the possibility of a higher competition pressure which would stimulate competition through price; even though the reduction of prices in the traditional trade was lower, more than half of the possible reduction was transmitted to consumers (9.1% against 12.1% maximum possible), which suggests that there is a total independence between the two forms of trade and there are inter-dependencies, most probably caused, by the overlapping of caption areas.
As for what concerns the preliminary findings of the sector inquiry on the electricity market in Romania, the above mentioned showed that the competition authority conducted a large-scale sector inquiry on electric energy market, considering the following four categories of activities (each of them representing a distinct relevant market and having several segments): the electricity production and trade market; the electricity supply market; the electricity transport market; the electricity distribution market. Subsequent to this conducted analysis the competition authority formulated a series of recommendations. In the last case – the electricity distribution market (where the electricity distribution service represents a natural monopoly) – it was underlined, for instance, that there is no competition between companies operating distribution networks and the activity performed by these operators has a regulated regime. And as regards electricity transport – including distribution – the competition authority considered that the current tariff mechanism, differentiated on geographical areas, affects competition, without benefits to consumers or without being justified by the security of the National Energy System.
Without entering in other details, allow us to highlight that the President of the Romanian Competition Council, Mr. Bogdan M. Chiritoiu, underlined from the very beginning that the competition authority will continue to guard consumers’ interests and, generally, advocate market as the optimum mean for an efficient allocation of resources.
A day before Romanian Competition Council’s Annual Activity Report launch, on November 4, 2015, the meeting of the Advisory Board of the Romanian Competition Council took place. The event was hosted at the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Romania. It is well-known that the meetings of the Advisory Board of the Romanian Competition Council are a traditional opportunity to share ideas on competition policy and to receive feedback on these ideas and policy visions within the strong commitment of promoting the competition culture in full process of the effective implementation of the competition policy. This meeting of November 4, 2015 proved to be again a pragmatic exchange of views carried out between, on one hand, the President of the Romanian Competition Council, Bogdan M. Chiritoiu and the other members of the Board – Vice-President Otilian B. Neagoe, and the Competition Councilors Dan N. Ionescu and Lazlo Gyerko – and on the other hand, the majority of the Advisory Board of the Romanian Competition Council – Jonathan Scheele, Mihai Berinde, Costel Stanciu, Radu Merica, Mihai Bogza, Gabriela Tigu, Theodor Purcarea, Claudiu Paul Buglea, Viorel Munteanu, Natalia Roman, Violeta Alexandru, Florin Pogonaru, Sorin Mindrutescu, Lucian Croitoru, Anca Harasim, Steven van Groningen, Dragos Pislaru. And as usual, the technical Secretariat organizing the works of the Advisory Board of the Romanian Competition Council was ensured by Simona Barbu and George Anglitoiu with their already known rigor and professionalism.