GCR 100 - 17th Edition

New Zealand

10 January 2017

New Zealand

New Zealand’s compact competition bar mirrors the country’s similarly compressed economy, as the practice of antitrust remains largely the remit of a handful of practices.

Elite

The Bell Gully competition group, led by Torrin Crowther and Jenny Stevens, draws from the firm’s corporate and litigation practices to round out its team and help to advise clients in the two areas where New Zealand’s Commerce Commission (ComCom) most often operates: merger enforcement and cartel litigation. Simon Ladd in Auckland handles speciality litigation, and he’s appeared before the High Court on behalf of competition clients. Otherwise, the competition group wins work on its own and backs the firm’s M&A group when deals require antitrust notification.

Crowther and Phil Taylor, Bell Gully’s senior consultant, helped to guide Cavalier Wool Holdings through its merger-to-monopoly with rival New Zealand Wool Services, despite a third-party court challenge from carpet maker Godfrey Hirst. That case ended after a five-day hearing at the High Court, a rare development in New Zealand. The firm is also advising Nuplex in its proposed tie-up with Allnex, both of which make resins used in paints. China’s Ministry of Commerce approved the deal in May but other regulatory hurdles remain. Elsewhere, the firm acted for Vocus in its successful merger with M2 and advised Fletcher Building in its purchase of road builder Higgins, which the ComCom cleared.

Otherwise, lawyers at the firm say they are busy with a considerable amount of counselling, such as helping to advise airlines before the transport minister on renewing their revenue-sharing alliances.

Chapman Tripp remains a stalwart of the country’s competition bar and one of the strongest groups in the country. Partner Neil Anderson leads the practice from Wellington, and he’s joined by Matt Sumpter in Auckland. They’re backed by senior consultant Grant David and partner Andy Nicholls, who handles some competition work from the economic regulatory group.

The firm has a significant merger practice, and Anderson and his team have guided multiple deals through in-depth reviews in recent months. He advised Z Energy in its merger with Chevron, which was cleared after the companies agreed to divest 19 petrol stations – despite the objections of one commission member. It was the longest case ever to go through a ComCom in-depth investigation and be approved. David advised complainant Godfrey Hirst in the contested Cavalier/New Zealand wool deal. Meanwhile, Anderson lined up for Connor Healthcare in a hospital tie-up that was blocked in the first instance, then cleared in an amended form with a divestiture package.

In behavioural matters, Chapman Tripp has been involved in all of the ComCom’s major investigations. PPG Wrightson is also a client; the firm represented the agriculture company in a ComCom investigation of alleged price fixing in the implementation of a cattle tracking scheme.

Sarah Keene leads a talented team at Russell McVeagh, which balances a considerable amount of contentious local work with a steady stream of multinational deals that require clearance in New Zealand. Keene is the only pure competition partner, but she’s backed by a group of associates and consultants, along with two partners in the firm’s regulatory economics practice.

Though competition litigation is rare in New Zealand, Keene and her team attract it, and it keeps her and partners from the firm’s litigation group busy. Over the past year, the firm has acted for Trade Me, the popular listing site that alleged it was targeted by a conspiracy among real estate agents to stop listing properties on the site in response to a price hike. Keene and her team also took the lead for Kiwibank in the High Court when rival E-Trans accused the bank of closing its currency exchange account in order to unfairly force E-Trans from the currency exchange market. The court in May ruled that Kiwibank’s decision to exclude money remitters as customers, despite competing with them downstream, did not violate competition law.

The team is equally busy handling major deals before the Commerce Commission. The firm is guiding both Fairfax Media and APN through their recently announced tie-up that would create one of the largest media companies in New Zealand. The team also advised Spark New Zealand – formerly Telecom, the largest communications company in the country – on the purchase of radio spectrum, a contentious purchase that won ComCom approval in March. Keene is also counselling a host of international deals, including Dow/DuPont, FedEx/TNT Express and Pfizer/Allergan.

Last year, Andrew Matthews left his position at Minter Ellison to start Matthews Law, New Zealand’s first competition law boutique. Since then, he’s built his practice with a combination of longtime clients, new work, and referrals from major international law firms and locals who can’t take a case for one reason or another. His team has been instructed by Clifford Chance, Hogan Lovells, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Morrison & Foerster and other major global firms, as well as by commercial or M&A boutiques in New Zealand that have no competition group of their own. Unfortunately, Nicko Waymouth left the firm to go in-house at Two Degrees mobile; at the moment the firm is only Matthews and associate Gus Stewart.

Cartel work abounds. Matthews advises two groups involved in the ComCom’s real estate investigation: the Real Estate Association of New Zealand and online property listing site realestate.co.nz; neither has been accused of wrongdoing. In the cattle tagging case, the firm advises another industry association, the New Zealand Stock and Station Agents Association. On mergers, the firm acted for Interwaste in an unsuccessful attempt to close a merger-to-monopoly with its only rival for medical waste disposal on the south island. Other major clients include Steel & Tube, Barclays, Hawaiian Airlines, Petro-Pak and Monsanto.

Rivals speak highly of the strong practice at Minter Ellison Rudd Watts, led by former Telecommunications Commissioner Ross Patterson in Auckland. Patterson’s competition group, joined by well-regarded partner Oliver Meech, handles local competition work for a big and bustling Australian firm with offices in London, Hong Kong and elsewhere. As such, the team tends to handle a combination of local and international cases. Cartel work is quiet at the moment, Patterson says, but mergers continue apace.

The firm acted for Coty in its purchase of dozens of Procter & Gamble beauty product brands, which the company combined with its own line of beauty products. It also advised third-party UPS in the contentious FedEx/TNT Express deal. The firm also has five mergers on its books that should eventually turn into applications to the Commerce Commission, but at the moment remain under consideration, Patterson says. Meanwhile, the Minter Ellison group acted for Rural Livestock on the commission’s livestock tagging investigation, and Shell remains a major client.

Anne Callinan leads a sizeable team at litigation powerhouse Simpson Grierson, where partner James Craig is also a core member of the competition group; both are known for their extensive cartel defence and courtroom experience. They’re joined by partners Peter Hinton and Tim Stephens, in the litigation and M&A groups respectively, who assist on competition matters when the workload necessitates it. Four senior associates round out the team.

As a practice that has built its reputation on cartel work, much of its current client list remains non-public until the ComCom decides whether to act. However, Craig is advising defendant LJ Hooker in the commission’s high-profile real estate price-fixing case. Otherwise, merger matters have dominated the group’s time recently. The firm is acting for a third party in the Z Energy/Chevron retail petrol merger, and for Novartis in deals with GlaxoSmithKline, including the purchase of its oncology business and the creation of the Consumer Healthcare joint venture. The firm is working on another major pharma merger it declined to mention by name, and other regulatory matters. Clients also include BP Oil, Korean Airlines and DHL.

Several other firms boast considerable antitrust groups in New Zealand. Hayden Wilson in Wellington leads a small but busy group at Kensington Swan, and Ian Denton and Gary Hughes continue to pick up major representations at Wilson Harle. Buddle Findlay remains a major practice as well, advising Unique Reality in the real estate case and Chevron in its tie-up with Z Energy. DLA Piper is also active in the market.

Firm

Head(s) of competition

Size

Who’s Who Legal nominees

Clients

Elite

Bell Gully

Torrin Crowther

Jenny Stevens

2 partners

1 senior associate

3 associates

1 senior consultant

Torrin Crowther

Jenny Stevens

Cavalier Wool Holdings, Nuplex, Vocus, Fletcher Building, Air New Zealand, Vodafone

Chapman Tripp

Neil Anderson

2 partners

3 senior associates

4 associates

1 senior consultant

Neil Anderson

Matt Sumpter

Grant David

Z Energy, Godfrey Hirst, Connor Healthcare, Amcor, PPG Wrightson

Russell McVeagh

Sarah Keene

1 partner

2 senior associates

Sarah Keene

Trade Me, Kiwibank, Fairfax Media, APN, Spark New Zealand, Pfizer, Dell, Staples, FedEx, Actavis, The Dow Chemical Company

Highly recommended

Matthews Law

Andrew Matthews

1 partner

1 associate

Andrew Matthews

Monsanto, Petro-Pak, Barclays, Hawaiian Airlines, Steel & Tube, The Real Estate Association of New Zealand

Minter Ellison Rudd Watts

Ross Patterson

2 partners

1 senior associate

1 consultant

3 lawyers

None

USP, Coty, Rural Livestock

Simpson Grierson

Anne Callinan

2 partners

4 senior associates

None

LJ Hooker, Novartis, BP Oil, Korean Airlines, DHL

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