Multiple competition regulators questioned Uber-Grab deal

Reviewing Uber’s proposed sale of its Southeast Asia business to Grab, the Competition Commisison of Singapore (CCS) announced that it is looking into the transaction.

Broadly, CCS said the proposed transaction would bring “substantial lessening of competition in relation to the chauffeured personal point-to-point transport passenger and booking services market in Singapore.” CCS therefore required Uber and Grab to maintain their pre-transaction pricing, policies, and products, and not to exchange any confidential information.

After CCS’s statement of concern, Malaysia’s Land Public Transport Commission also announced that it would examine the proposed transaction. The Philippines’ anti-trust agency, the Philippine Competition Commission, then stated similar concerns: “There are reasonable grounds that the said acquisition may likely substantially lessen, prevent, or restrict competition.”

Coverage from TechCrunch and prior critique from the author of this site.

Overlapping investor SoftBank sought to reduce competition

As Uber announced its sale of Southeast Asia assets to Grab, some flagged the overlapping investor that facilitated the transaction. In particular, SoftBank (a Japanese investment firm) held shares in both Grab and Uber. Owning part of both companies, SoftBank stood to profit no matter which one prevailed in the markets where both operated — but stood to lose if the firms engaged in continued competition with each other.

Furthermore, SoftBank specifically sought to broker peace between Grab and Uber: When investing in Uber in December 2017, SoftBank sought a discount exactly because it could influence Uber’s competitors across Asia.

Similar concerns arose from SoftBank holding shares in both Uber and Ola, a ride-hailing competitor in India. Discussing those overlapping holdings, SoftBank told the Economic Times of India: “we are hoping that we make peace between them at some point.” Such a “peace” could raise competition concerns in so far as it entailed competitors agreeing not to compete.

See Edelman’s critique of SoftBank’s role as well as economist Martin Schmalz’s tweet on the impact of cross-ownership.

Poised to sell Southeast Asia assets to Grab

Uber announced plans to sell its Southeast Asia assets to Grab, the dominant ride-hailing firm in that region. This transaction raised competition concerns because Grab plus Uber jointly controlled the overwhelming majority of ride-hailing service in the region. The transaction thus created an effective monopoly for Grab — allowing the company to charge higher prices and fees, to the detriment of both drivers and passengers.

Sold Chinese assets to Didi

Rather than continuing to compete with Didi Chuxing, the dominant ride-hailing service in China, Uber sold its Chinese assets to that firm — essentially ending competition in ride-hailing in that country.

This transaction raised several concerns. One, Didi and Uber jointly controlled the overwhelming majority of ride-hailing service in China. The nearest competitor had just 3.3% market share as of the time of the transaction. The transaction thus created an effective monopoly for Didi — allowing Didi to charge higher prices and fees, to the detriment of both drivers and passengers.

Two, as part of the transaction Uber received 17.5% ownership of Didi, and Didi in turn held an investment in Lyft. So the Didi-Uber deal made Uber a part owner of its biggest US competitor.