Federal Trade Commission.
Proposed consent agreement.
The consent agreement in this matter settles alleged violations of federal law prohibiting unfair or deceptive acts or practices or unfair methods of competition. The attached Analysis of Agreement Containing Consent Orders to Aid Public Comment describes both the allegations in the draft complaint and the terms of the consent orders—embodied in the consent agreement—that would settle these allegations.
Comments must be received on or before January 23, 2014.
Interested parties may file a comment at https://ftcpublic.commentworks.com/ftc/fidelitynationalconsent online or on paper, by following the instructions in the Request for Comment part of the SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION section below. Write “Fidelity National Financial, Inc./Lender Processing Services, Inc.—Consent Agreement; File No. 131 0159” on your comment and file your comment online at https://ftcpublic.commentworks.com/ftc/fidelitynationalconsent by following the instructions on the web-based form. If you prefer to file your comment on paper, mail or deliver your comment to the following address: Federal Trade Commission, Office of the Secretary, Room H-113 (Annex D), 600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW., Washington, DC 20580.
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FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT:
Jessica S. Drake, Bureau of Competition, (202-326-3144), 600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW., Washington, DC 20580.
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Pursuant to Section 6(f) of the Federal Trade Commission Act, 15 U.S.C. 46(f), and FTC Rule 2.34, 16 CFR 2.34, notice is hereby given that the above-captioned consent agreement containing consent orders to cease and desist, having been filed with and accepted, subject to final approval, by the Commission, has been placed on the public record for a period of thirty (30) days. The following Analysis to Aid Public Comment describes the terms of the consent agreement, and the allegations in the complaint. An electronic copy of the full text of the consent agreement package can be obtained from the FTC Home Page (for December 24, 2013), on the World Wide Web, at http://www.ftc.gov/os/actions.shtm. A paper copy can be obtained from the FTC Public Reference Room, Room 130-H, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW., Washington, DC 20580, either in person or by calling (202) 326-2222.
You can file a comment online or on paper. For the Commission to consider your comment, we must receive it on or before January 23, 2014. Write “Fidelity National Financial, Inc./Lender Processing Services, Inc.—Consent Agreement; File No. 131 0159” on your comment. Your comment—including your name and your state—will be placed on the public record of this proceeding, including, to the extent practicable, on the public Commission Web site, at http://www.ftc.gov/os/publiccomments.shtm. As a matter of discretion, the Commission tries to remove individuals' home contact information from comments before placing them on the Commission Web site.
Because your comment will be made public, you are solely responsible for making sure that your comment does not include any sensitive personal information, like anyone's Social Security number, date of birth, driver's license number or other state identification number or foreign country equivalent, passport number, financial account number, or credit or debit card number. You are also solely responsible for making sure that your comment does not include any sensitive health information, like medical records or other individually identifiable health information. In addition, do not include any “[t]rade secret or any commercial or financial information which . . . is Start Printed Page 135privileged or confidential,” as discussed in Section 6(f) of the FTC Act, 15 U.S.C. 46(f), and FTC Rule 4.10(a)(2), 16 CFR 4.10(a)(2). In particular, do not include competitively sensitive information such as costs, sales statistics, inventories, formulas, patterns, devices, manufacturing processes, or customer names.
If you want the Commission to give your comment confidential treatment, you must file it in paper form, with a request for confidential treatment, and you have to follow the procedure explained in FTC Rule 4.9(c), 16 CFR 4.9(c).
Your comment will be kept confidential only if the FTC General Counsel, in his or her sole discretion, grants your request in accordance with the law and the public interest.
Postal mail addressed to the Commission is subject to delay due to heightened security screening. As a result, we encourage you to submit your comments online. To make sure that the Commission considers your online comment, you must file it at https://ftcpublic.commentworks.com/ftc/fidelitynationalconsent by following the instructions on the web-based form. If this Notice appears at http://www.regulations.gov/#!home, you also may file a comment through that Web site.
If you file your comment on paper, write “Fidelity National Financial, Inc./Lender Processing Services, Inc.—Consent Agreement; File No. 131 0159” on your comment and on the envelope, and mail or deliver it to the following address: Federal Trade Commission, Office of the Secretary, Room H-113 (Annex D), 600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW., Washington, DC 20580. If possible, submit your paper comment to the Commission by courier or overnight service.
Analysis of Agreement Containing Consent Orders To Aid Public Comment
The Federal Trade Commission (“Commission” or “FTC”) has accepted, subject to final approval, an Agreement Containing Consent Order (“Consent Agreement”) from Fidelity National Financial, Inc. (“Fidelity”) and Lender Processing Services, Inc. (“LPS”) (collectively, “Respondents”). Fidelity proposes to acquire LPS, a combination that would reduce competition in seven relevant markets in Oregon where Respondents own overlapping title plant assets. The proposed Consent Agreement remedies the competitive concerns arising from the acquisition. The proposed Consent Agreement requires, among other things, that Respondents divest: A copy of LPS's title plants covering Clatsop, Columbia, Coos, Josephine, Polk, and Tillamook counties in Oregon; and an ownership interest equivalent to LPS's share in a joint title plant serving the Portland, Oregon, metropolitan area.
On May 28, 2013, Respondents entered into an acquisition agreement under which Fidelity would acquire all of the outstanding common stock of LPS for approximately $2.9 billion (the “Acquisition”). The Commission's Complaint alleges that the acquisition agreement constitutes a violation of Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act, as amended, 15 U.S.C. 45, and, if consummated, would violate Section 7 of the Clayton Act, as amended, 15 U.S.C. 18, and Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act by eliminating actual, direct, and substantial competition between Respondents and by increasing the likelihood of collusion or coordinated interaction in the relevant geographic markets.
II. The Parties
Fidelity, a publicly traded company headquartered in Jacksonville, Florida, provides title insurance, transaction services, and technology solutions to the mortgage industry. Fidelity is the nation's largest title insurance company, operating six underwriting subsidiaries.
LPS, a publicly traded company headquartered in Jacksonville, Florida, provides transaction services and technology solutions to the mortgage industry. LPS's transaction services include title insurance underwriting provided by its National Title Insurance of New York, Inc. (“NTNY”) subsidiary.
Respondents own overlapping title plants in Clatsop, Columbia, Coos, Josephine, Polk, and Tillamook counties, Oregon. Fidelity and LPS are also partners in a title plant serving the tri-county Portland, Oregon, metropolitan area, consisting of Clackamas, Multnomah, and Washington counties.
III. Title Information Services
Lenders require assurance of title before issuing a mortgage loan, typically in the form of title insurance. Title insurance protects against the risk that a sale of real property fails to result in the transfer of clear title. Before a title insurance policy can issue, a title agent or abstractor must first conduct a title search. Title search is the due diligence process that enables title insurance underwriters to assess (and mitigate, if necessary) the risk of subsequent title challenges. The title agent or abstractor examines property-specific records to establish the chain of title and to identify any potential obstacles—such as liens or encumbrances—that might impair the transfer of title.
To facilitate the title search process, title agents and underwriters often utilize title plants. Title plants are privately-owned (either individually or jointly) databases of information detailing the title status of real property parcels. Title plants compile, normalize, and re-index county-level property records, which are often difficult to access or inefficient to search directly. Oregon law requires title insurers and title insurance producers, who are the sole users of title information services, to own an interest in a title plant in each county in which they issue policies. This law means that there are no alternatives to title plants in Oregon counties.
IV. The Complaint
The Commission's Complaint alleges that the acquisition agreement between Fidelity and LPS constitutes a violation of Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act, as amended, 15 U.S.C. 45. The Complaint further alleges that consummation of the agreement may substantially lessen competition in the provision of title information services in seven relevant markets in Oregon, in violation of Section 7 of the Clayton Act, as amended, 15 U.S.C. 18, and Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act.
The Complaint alleges that a relevant product market in which to analyze the effects of the Acquisition is the provision of title information services. “Title information services” means the provision of selected information, or access to information, contained in a title plant to a customer or user.
The Complaint alleges that the relevant geographic markets are local in Start Printed Page 136nature. Title information is generated, collected, and used on a county (or county-equivalent) level. Therefore, geographic markets for title information services are highly localized and consist of each of the counties or other local jurisdictions covered by the title plants at issue. The geographic areas of concern outlined in the Complaint are Clatsop, Columbia, Coos, Josephine, Polk, and Tillamook counties, Oregon; and the tri-county Portland, Oregon, metropolitan area, consisting of Clackamas, Multnomah, and Washington counties.
The Complaint alleges, absent the proposed relief, that the Acquisition would increase the risk of coordinated anticompetitive effects in the relevant markets. In Clatsop, Columbia, Coos, and Tillamook counties, the Acquisition would reduce the number of independent title plant owners to two. In Josephine and Polk counties, the Acquisition would leave only three independent title plant owners. In each of these six counties, each title plant has a single owner that is also the title plant's sole user. In contrast, one jointly-owned title plant serves the Portland, Oregon, metropolitan area; each co-owner has full access to this title plant. The Acquisition would leave five joint owners of that joint title plant, but would reduce the number of owners necessary to expel other owners from the joint title plant.
The Complaint alleges that entry would not be timely, likely, or sufficient to deter or counteract the anticompetitive effects of the Acquisition. De novo entry would be costly and time-consuming, requiring any potential entrant to assemble a complete and accurate index of historical property records.
V. The Proposed Consent Agreement
The proposed Consent Agreement will remedy the Commission's competitive concerns resulting from the Acquisition in each of the relevant markets discussed above. Pursuant to the proposed Consent Agreement, Respondents must divest a copy of LPS's title plants serving Clatsop, Columbia, Coos, Josephine, Polk, and Tillamook counties, Oregon, to a Commission-approved acquirer. Respondents must complete these divestitures within five (5) months of the closing date of the Acquisition. The required divestitures will eliminate the competitive harm that otherwise would have resulted in these counties by restoring the number of independent title plant owners within each county to the pre-acquisition level.
The proposed Consent Agreement also requires Respondents to divest an ownership interest equivalent to LPS's share in the joint title plant that serves the Portland, Oregon, metropolitan area to a Commission-approved buyer. Respondents must complete this divestiture within five (5) months of the closing date of the Acquisition. The proposed Consent Agreement requires that the divestiture purchaser's interest in the joint title plant, when combined with Fidelity's post-merger interest, must not equal or exceed 70 percent. The divestiture will ensure that no two joint owners of the plant could coordinate to expel other members of the joint title plant in this relevant market. The proposed Consent Agreement further prohibits Fidelity from exercising its voting rights, or influencing others to exercise their voting rights, to expel the divestiture buyer from the joint title plant for failure to conduct an active title business for a period of three (3) months.
In addition to the required divestitures, the proposed Consent Agreement obligates Respondents to provide the Commission with prior written notice of title plant acquisitions in any county in Oregon in three sets of circumstances: (1) If the acquisition would result in three or fewer title plants covering the county; (2) if the acquisition would result in three or fewer owners of a joint plant; and (3) if the acquisition would result in Fidelity controlling a 50 percent or greater share in a joint plant. Each of these circumstances would raise competitive concerns in the market for title information services, and could reduce competition in the market for title insurance underwriting in Oregon. These transactions likely would not come to the Commission's attention without the prior notification provision.
VI. The Order To Maintain Assets
The Decision and Order and the Order to Maintain Assets obligate Fidelity to continue to update and maintain the individual title plants, the Portland Tri-County Plant interest, and the Portland Tri-County Plant until the required divestitures are complete. This will ensure that the divested assets remain viable sources of title information to support the title insurance underwriting operations of the acquirer or acquirers. The Order to Maintain Assets explicitly requires Fidelity not to compromise these assets' ability and suitability to meet Oregon's requirements for title insurers and title insurance producers.
VII. Opportunity for Public Comment
The Consent Agreement has been placed on the public record for thirty (30) days for receipt of comments by interested persons. Comments received during this period will become part of the public record. After thirty (30) days, the Commission will again review the Consent Agreement and the comments received and will decide whether it should withdraw from the Consent Agreement, modify it, or make it final.
By accepting the proposed Consent Agreement subject to final approval, the Commission anticipates that the competitive problems alleged in the Complaint will be resolved. The purpose of this analysis is to invite and inform public comment on the Consent Agreement, including the proposed divestitures. This analysis is not intended to constitute an official interpretation of the Consent Agreement, nor is it intended to modify the terms of the Consent Agreement in any way.
Statement of the Federal Trade Commission
Today the Commission is taking remedial action with respect to the proposed acquisition of Lender Processing Services, Inc. by Fidelity National Financial, Inc. We believe Fidelity's acquisition of LPS, which would combine the two firms' title plants, among other assets, is likely to reduce competition that benefits title insurance consumers in nine counties in the state of Oregon. Our proposed remedy is tailored to counteract the likely anticompetitive effects of the proposed acquisition without eliminating any efficiencies that might arise from the combination of the two companies.
Fidelity is a leading provider of mortgage and other services to the mortgage industry and is the largest title insurance underwriter in the United States. LPS's underwriting activity is small by comparison, a complementary operation to LPS's key business as a leading provider of technology solutions, transaction services, and data and analytics to the mortgage and real estate industries.
Our competitive concerns arise from a limited aspect of the $2.9 billion combination of Fidelity and LPS: the title plant assets each company uses to support its title insurance underwriting activities in certain Oregon counties. Both Fidelity and LPS own title plants covering Oregon's Clatsop, Columbia, Coos, Josephine, Polk, and Tillamook counties. Both firms are also joint Start Printed Page 137owners of a title plant covering the tri-county Portland metropolitan area.
Title insurance underwriters require access to county-level title information contained in title plant databases. In Oregon, state law requires title insurance underwriters or their agents to own a title plant in each county in which they issue policies. As a result, any firm offering title insurance underwriting in Oregon must obtain an ownership interest in an existing title plant or build one from scratch. Fidelity and LPS compete for title insurance customers in the nine Oregon counties of concern. The proposed acquisition will eliminate one of only a few underwriters available in each relevant market,
and the Commission has reason to believe that no timely entrant is likely to replace the competition lost in these counties.
Although price competition in title insurance underwriting occurs at the state level, underwriters compete on the basis of service as well. For example, underwriters compete on the turnaround time from title order to settlement, enabling consumers to close on mortgage transactions more quickly. Moreover, the costs of entering the title insurance underwriting business are higher in Oregon because of the requirement that underwriters operating in the state own an interest in a title plant rather than merely purchase title information from a third-party provider. No other states where both Fidelity and LPS compete have a similar requirement. For these reasons, we have reason to believe that the proposed acquisition is likely to result in a loss of competition and harm title insurance customers.
We respectfully disagree with Commissioner Wright that our action is based solely on the fact that the merger will decrease the number of underwriters operating in the relevant markets and that it is inconsistent with the 2010 Horizontal Merger Guidelines. Substantial increases in concentration caused by a merger play an important role in our analysis under the Guidelines because highly concentrated markets with two or three large firms are conducive to anticompetitive outcomes. The lens we apply to the evidence in a merger that reduces the number of firms in a market to two or three is, and should be, different than the lens we apply to a merger that reduces the number of firms to six or seven. In the former case, as in the merger here, a presumption of competitive harm is justified, under both the express language of the Guidelines and well-established case law.
However, we did not end our analysis there. We also considered whether other market factors, such as the possibility of entry, might alleviate our competitive concerns. In most of the markets we considered, even where the merger would reduce the number of title plant operators from three to two, we concluded that the transaction was unlikely to lessen competition because the evidence demonstrated that alternative sources of title information beyond proprietary title plants existed. That is not the case in Oregon. We are also not persuaded that price regulation in Oregon is sufficient to address our concerns about potential competitive harm. The evidence showed that competition between underwriters occurs on nonprice dimensions, supporting our view that the transaction was likely to harm competition in the identified nine counties.
Consistent with the approach the Commission has taken in previous merger enforcement actions involving title plants,
the proposed consent order addresses these competitive concerns by requiring divestiture of a copy of LPS's title plants in each of the affected counties and an ownership interest equivalent to that of LPS in the tri-county Portland-area joint plant. With the divested assets, the acquirer or acquirers will have the title plant ownership interest necessary to overcome the most significant legal impediment to compete in underwriting, thereby preserving the competition that would be lost as a result of the acquisition. There is no evidence that the proposed consent order would eliminate any efficiencies resulting from the transaction or otherwise burden the parties.
Merger analysis is necessarily predictive and requires us to make a determination as to the likely effects of a transaction. Where, as here, we have reason to believe that consumers are likely to suffer a loss of competition, and there are no countervailing efficiencies weighing against the remedy, we believe the public interest is best served by remedying the competitive concerns.
By direction of the Commission, Commissioner Wright dissenting.
Dissenting Statement of Commissioner Joshua D. Wright
The Commission has voted to issue a Complaint and Decision & Order against Fidelity National Financial, Inc. (“FNF”) to remedy the allegedly anticompetitive effects of FNF's proposed acquisition of Lender Processing Services, Inc. (“LPS”). I dissented from the Commission's decision because the evidence is insufficient to provide reason to believe FNF's acquisition will substantially lessen competition for title information services in the Oregon counties identified in the Complaint in violation of Section 7 of the Clayton Act. I commend staff for their hard work in this matter. Staff has worked diligently to collect and analyze a substantial quantity of evidence related to numerous product and geographic markets within the U.S. mortgage lending industry. Based upon this evidence, I concluded there is no reason to believe the proposed transaction is likely to lessen competition in the Oregon counties identified in the Complaint. It follows, in my view, that the Commission should close the investigation and allow the parties to complete the merger without imposing a remedy.
I. Mortgage Lending Industry Background
Title insurance protects against the risk that a sale of real property fails to result in the transfer of clear title. Before a title insurance policy can issue, a title insurance underwriter must evaluate the risk that a subsequent title challenge will be made against the property. Title plants are privately owned repositories of real estate Start Printed Page 138records that help underwriters examine property-specific title information in order to establish chain of title and identify any potential obstacles—such as liens or encumbrances—that could impair the transfer of title. In recent years, third-party title information services have begun to offer an alternative to title plants by providing access to the necessary data and records on a transactional or subscription basis. However, in Oregon, state law requires all title insurance underwriters to own an interest in a title plant in each county in which it issues policies. This law therefore effectively precludes a market in third-party provision of title information services.
II. Coordinated Effects Analysis Under the Horizontal Merger Guidelines
The Commission's theory of anticompetitive harm in this matter is based solely upon a structural analysis. In other words, the Commission seeks to satisfy its prima facie burden of production to demonstrate the merger will substantially lessen competition based exclusively upon a tenuous logical link between the reduction in the number of firms that own title plants in each of the Oregon counties identified in the Complaint and a presumption that the merger between FNF and LPS will increase the likelihood of collusion or coordinated interaction among the remaining competitors for the sale of title information services.
It is of course true that a reduction in the number of firms in a relevant market, all else equal, makes it easier for the remaining firms to coordinate or collude.
However, this is true of any reduction of firms, whether it be from seven to six or three to two, and therefore that proposition alone would have us condemn all mergers. The pertinent question is whether and when a reduction in the number of firms, without more, gives reason to believe an acquisition violates the Clayton Act.
The Horizontal Merger Guidelines (“Guidelines”) clarify that the focus of modern coordinated effects analysis is not merely upon the number of firms but rather “whether a merger is likely to change the manner in which market participants interact, inducing substantially more coordinated interaction.” 
The key economic issue underlying coordinated effects analysis is to understand how the merger changes incentives to coordinate, or, as the Guidelines explain, to examine “how a merger might significantly weaken competitive incentives through an increase in the strength, extent, or likelihood of coordinated conduct.” 
Consistent with the focus on changes in post-merger incentives to coordinate rather than mere structural analysis, the Guidelines declare the federal antitrust agencies are not likely to challenge a merger based upon a coordinated effects theory of harm unless the following three conditions are satisfied: (1) “the merger would increase concentration and lead to a moderately or highly concentrated market”; (2) “the market shows signs of vulnerability to coordinated conduct”; and (3) “the Agencies have a credible basis on which to conclude that the merger may enhance that vulnerability.” 
Although market structure is relevant to assessing the first and second conditions, the Guidelines require more than the observation that the merger has decreased the number of firms to satisfy the third condition. This is the correct approach. And it is no less correct for mergers that reduce the number of firms from three to two. Of what relevance is market structure if the Commission does not allege or otherwise describe the relevance of the reduction in the number of firms to post-merger incentives to coordinate? There is no basis in modern economics to conclude with any modicum of reliability that increased concentration—without more—will increase post-merger incentives to coordinate.
Thus, the Guidelines require the federal antitrust agencies to develop additional evidence that supports the theory of coordination and, in particular, an inference that the merger increases incentives to coordinate.
For example, the Guidelines observe that “an acquisition eliminating a maverick firm . . . in a market vulnerable to coordinated conduct is likely to cause adverse coordinated effects.” 
In short, the Guidelines correctly, and consistent with the modern economics of collusion, require the Commission to do more than point to a reduction in the number of firms to generate inferences of likely competitive harm. Although the acquisition of a maverick is not necessary for a coordinated effects theory, a theory consistent with the Guidelines must include a specific economic rationale explaining why—above the mere reduction in the number of firms attendant to all mergers—the acquisition of this rival is likely to eliminate or reduce a constraint upon successful coordination and thus lead to increased incentives to coordinate, or alternatively, some evidence supporting structural inferences in the context of the specific transaction.
III. Insufficient Evidence To Conclude an Increased Likelihood of Coordination Exists Post-Merger
In my view, the Commission's coordinated effects theory and the evidence to support it do not provide a credible basis for concluding the merger between FNF and LPS will enhance incentives to coordinate. There is no evidence beyond the mere increase in the concentration of title plants in the Oregon counties identified in the Complaint that provides a reason to believe that the merger will increase the likelihood or coordination or collusion for title insurance underwriting and thereby substantially reduce competition for the same.
Significantly, because insurance rates are generally set at the state level and also Start Printed Page 139because Oregon is a “prior approval” state in which underwriters must request specific rates that the regulator then approves or amends, it is unlikely that concentration in title plant ownership at the county level can increase the likelihood of collusion or coordinated interaction and thereby result in an increase in price.
There also is no evidence that FNF's acquisition of LPS will eliminate a maverick that is currently a constraint upon successful coordination. Furthermore, there is no evidence that title insurance underwriters can effectively coordinate on non-price factors, such as service and turnaround time. Lastly, there is no empirical evidence demonstrating that similar levels and changes in concentration in other title information service markets have resulted in a reduction in price or non-price competition.
Section 7 of the Clayton Act requires that the Commission first find that a merger likely will substantially lessen competition prior to agreeing to enter into a consent agreement with merging parties. Because there is insufficient evidence to conclude that the proposed transaction will substantially lessen competition, I respectfully dissent and believe the Commission should close the investigation and allow the parties to complete the merger without imposing a remedy.
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[FR Doc. 2013-31331 Filed 12-31-13; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 6750-01-P