GCR 100 - 15th Edition

The Economics 21

04 December 2014

There are those who say, albeit somewhat blithely, that merger reviews, antitrust investigations and litigation all essentially now come down to a battle between opposing economists.

Many of those people are lawyers, and for the legal community to make such a comment indicates how economics has moved from the periphery to the very core of competition law issues. GCR’s annual ranking of the world’s top firms for competition economics this year includes an extra nominee in an otherwise stable list.

The Economics 21 is GCR’s assessment of the world’s leading economic consultancies. Each entrant is measured using several criteria, including size of practice, number of nominations to Who’s Who Legal: Competition, reputation and work over the past year. Ordinarily the list is capped at 20 firms, but given the incredibly tight margins between those consultancies GCR deems among the best in the world, a newcomer has been added without the withdrawal of any of the others.

Edgeworth Economics makes its inaugural appearance in the GCR Economics 21, and certainly has the credentials to feel at home among its 20 counterparts.

The work of competition economists garners greater praise and importance with each passing year as almost all of the big-ticket cases require heavy input from economists. That’s why this year, for the first time, we asked firms to provide details about the work they’ve done over the past year, including case-by-case breakdowns in mergers, cartels and behavioural matters. We asked firms to differentiate between their expert testimony work and their consulting practices, and say how their work helped drive the outcome of a case. We believe this information will give readers a better understanding of the 21 firms that appear in our listings. And, in future years, we believe this information will become the basis of our first-ever formal ranking of the world’s top competition economics consultancies.

The success or failure of many merger cases rests on the strength of economic data. US Airways/American Airlines was 2014’s GCR Matter of the Year, a deal which came to the very brink of trial, but was averted through a remedies package that required extensive economic analysis to put together. Similar arguments can be made for Office Depot/Office Max, Holcim/Lafarge and several others.

Similarly in the behavioural arena, the entire spectrum from cartels to dominance to market inquiries is heavily reliant on economic analysis. That these cases are becoming increasingly global means companies are dependent on sophisticated economic arguments that cater to each jurisdiction, something several firms are now capable of offering. The complexity of cases such as the Google online search probe, Libor, auto parts and Forex are testing the capabilities of even the finest economists, helping break new ground in competition law policy and economic modelling.

The addition of Edgeworth Economics aside, the firms in this year’s list are the same as those in the 2013 edition. In terms of staff, Charles River Associates (CRA) and Compass Lexecon continue to dwarf the others; the next nearest are Bates White Economic Consulting, Berkeley Research, NERA Economic Consulting and RBB Economics. However, size is not everything and all the firms, from Case Associates with its five economists to CRA, have sterling reputations.

The competition economics market has always been a fluid one with many people moving shop, and this year is no different. CRA added significant depth to its ranks by welcoming former European Commission chief economist Kai-Uwe Kühn back as an affiliate and hiring Philip Kalmus from Compass Lexecon. In return, Gregor Langus moved from CRA to Compass Lexecon, which also hired its first Chinese competition economics expert in academic Wei Tan. AlixPartners lost former head Maria Maher to a rival and replaced her with Matthew Hunt from Frontier Economics, while Cornerstone brought former US Department of Justice antitrust division economic adviser Kenneth Elzinga on board in a new role.

Some firms also took the opportunity to expand their footprints this year as competition economics is embraced in ever more antitrust regimes across the globe. RBB Economics opened new offices in Madrid and Stockholm, while NERA Economic Consulting opened in Mexico and forged an alliance with Mexican firm Agon Economía y Derecho, which is headed by the former head of Mexico’s Federal Commission for Economic Competition and chair of the International Competition Network, Eduardo Pérez Motta.

A consultancy’s reputation is primarily based on the work and talent of its staff, and a decent barometer of individual ability is the economic consultants nominated to GCR’s sister publication Who’s Who Legal. Again, CRA and Compass Lexecon tower above the competition, with 33 and 29 nominees respectively. RBB Economics comes next with 15 nominees, three more than the previous year, and NERA and Frontier Economics have a healthy representation. Moreover, despite Oslo Economics having just 10 competition economists, four of them are Who’s Who Legal: Competition entrants.

While the list has remained stable this year, GCR continues to keep its eye on several burgeoning economic consultancies, including Fingleton Associates, AMC Economics, FA Consultoria Econômica and Navigant.

A guide to the Economics 21

Global head

This indicates the leader of each consultancy’s competition practice. In several instances, there is more than one individual listed.

Home jurisdiction

This indicates the country where the consultancy first operated.

Total size of the firm

This indicates the total number of economists at the consultancy.

Number of competition economists

This figure indicates the total number of economists specialising in competition economics. A specialist is someone who spends at least 60 per cent of his or her billable time working on competition matters. Economic consultancies use different terms to refer to senior and junior specialists. As such, we have grouped the competition specialists at each consultancy in the same way.

  • Group one: equivalent to a partner in a law firm, who leads major matters.
  • Group two: equivalent to a non-equity partner in a law firm, who leads cases but is not in a top level position.
  • Group three: equivalent to an associate with at least six years’ experience in a law firm, and who is on track for the second group.
  • Group four: equivalent to an associate within a law firm, with less than six years’ experience.

Percentage of the firm specialised in competition

This figure indicates the ratio of economists at the consultancy who specialise in competition economics, compared with the firm as a whole.

Number of Who’s Who Legal nominees

This indicates the number of economists who appear in GCR’s sister publication, Who’s Who Legal: Competition.

Number of lateral hires

This figure indicates how many competition specialists joined the consultancy at group one or group two level between 31 July 2013 and 1 August 2014.

Number of departures

This figure indicates the number of group one or group two-level competition specialists who left the consultancy between 31 July 2013 and 1 August 2014. This does not specify the reason for leaving but does include retirement.

Number of internal promotions

This figure indicates how many competition specialists were promoted to group one between 31 July 2013 and 1 August 2014.

Commentary

This section provides a picture of the largest matters that each consultancy handled between 31 July 2013 and 1 August 2014, though we make every effort to include significant developments since the end of this period, in the interests of making the publication as relevant as possible. We asked every consultancy in the Economics 21 to tell us about their headline cases of the last year, as well as any other interesting work that did not attract as much press coverage.

Senior hires, departures and promotions

Consultancy Lateral Hires
Economists Incorporated 7
Tendências Consultoria Integrada 4
Copenhagen Economics 4
Consultancy Departures
Berkeley Research Group 4
Compass Lexecon 4
Charles River Associates 3
Copenhagen Economics 3
Consultancy Internal Promotions
Compass Lexecon 21
RBB Economics 12
Oxera 5
Competition Economists Group 5

Copenhagen Economics had perhaps the busiest year in terms of staffing changes, with a significant number of lateral hires and departures. The consultancy also reported a good number of internal promotions. However, this number does not rival the number reported at Compass Lexecon, which dwarfs the competition. RBB Economics also saw a great deal of promotions. Coupled with the fact the group reported no departures this year, it is clear the team at RBB Economics is expanding considerably.

Other consultancies that saw notable growth this year include AlixPartners, Bates White Economic Consulting, The Brattle Group, Economists Incorporated and Tendências Consultoria Integrada. In contrast, Berkeley Research Group had a more volatile year. The group tops the list for greatest number of departures, with four, but only saw two lateral hires.

It has been a quieter year at the top level for NERA Economic Consulting, which last year made six lateral hires and five internal promotions and saw five departures. This year, the consultancy’s single departure was balanced with one lateral hire.

Most Who’s Who Legal nominees

Consultancy Who’S Who Legal Nominees
Charles River Associates 33
Compass Lexecon 29
RBB Economics 15
Frontier Economics 10
Bates White Economic Consulting 8
NERA Economic Consulting 8
Oxera 6
Cornerstone Research 5

Once again the firms with the two top spots in this year’s survey in terms of Who’s Who Legal nominees are CRA and Compass Lexecon. Both firms underwent mergers last year: CRA bought a large portion of Navigant’s economics practice, while Compass merged with Princeton Economics, which boosted their respective Who’s Who Legal tallies. Elsewhere, RBB gained three nominees this year, while Frontier Economics gained four, a development that sees them overtake both Bates White Economic Consulting and NERA Economic Consulting.

Most competition specialists

Consultancy Competition Specialists
Compass Lexecon 337
Charles River Associates 152
NERA Economic Consulting 117
Berkeley Research Group 98
Bates White Economic Consulting 92
Cornerstone Research 85
Frontier Economics 67
RBB Economics 67
PricewaterhouseCoopers 54
The Brattle Group 52

The table is occupied by the same consultancies that appeared last year, although the order has changed a little. Compass Lexecon and Charles River Associates continue to be a class apart in terms of size, thanks in part to recent mergers. Competition between the groups below them, however, is fierce, with a growing number of consultancies boasting between 50 and 100 competition specialists.

In general, competition economics firms continue to flourish. Berkeley Research Group and Bates White Economic Consulting are moving ever closer to NERA Economic Consulting in terms of size. Further down the table, Cornerstone Research, Frontier Economics, RBB Economics and PricewaterhouseCoopers all reported strong growth. The Brattle Group’s numbers remain steady, but Oxera is not far behind.

Most specialised consultancy

Consultancy % Of Competition Economists
Case Associates 100
E.CA Economics 100
LEAR 100
RBB Economics 100
Compass Lexecon 77
Edgeworth Economics 77
Bates White LLC 68
Economists Incorporated 67
AlixPartners 63
Competition Economics Group 60

Four firms in our survey remain entirely focused on competition economics: Case Associates, E.CA Economics, LEAR and RBB Economics. Compass Lexecon and Edgeworth Economics continue to be highly specialised consultancies, with almost 80 per cent of their economists working on competition matters. Some of the largest and most prestigious firms in the survey, including NERA and CRA, remain out of the list as they combine their antitrust groups with large practices active outside the field of competition economics.

While most consultancies included in this year’s Economics 21 report that they are acting in between five and 10 government investigations, a few participants overshadowed the competition. Copenhagen Economics and RBB Economics both reported a healthy year in government investigations, working on 10 and 13 cases respectively.

However, two firms stand head and shoulders above the rest. NERA Economic Consulting racked up an impressive body of work, participating in 17 government investigations. Libor, auto parts and drug patent settlements are just a few of the government investigations the group is advising on. However, none of the firms even begin to rival Oxera. The firm is advising on a whopping 45 government investigations, including the Libor probe and another on credit default swaps.

As with the table charting government investigation work, NERA Economic Consulting and Oxera dominate the table for antirust litigation work. NERA Economic Consulting rises to the top in this table, however, working on 52 litigations. It is followed closely by Oxera, which has 45 litigations on its books. In third place is Bates White Economic Consulting with 30.

Although these three firms lead the pack, the figures show that competition at the lower end of the scale is fiercer, with three firms participating in 10 litigations each. Edgeworth Economics narrowly beats these firms, however, taking part in 13 litigations.

When it comes to Phase II merger work, NERA Economic Consulting emerges as the top consultancy, with 16 cases on its books, most of which took place in the United States. The figures, however, are not quite as stark as those in the two previous tables. The firm is closely followed by RBB Economics, which acted in 15 Phase II merger control cases including the cleared Huntsman/Rockwood transaction and the big-ticket Eurotunnel/SeaFrance deal.

Again, the numbers at the lower end of the scale are stable, with six firms working on between five and eight Phase II merger cases. Of the firms that reported their amount of Phase II merger work, PricewaterhouseCoopers is bottom of the pack, working on a single case: the mnicell/SurgiChem deal, which was cleared by the United Kingdom’s Competition and Markets Authority.

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