In a statement of issues on Thursday, the ACCC raised “significant preliminary competition concerns” about the proposed acquisition of Link Administration Holdings by Dye & Durham.
The concerns outlined by the competition regulator relate to Link’s 42.77 per cent shareholding in PEXA Group which D&D would gain if the takeover goes ahead.
D&D currently provides information broking services, conveyancing and legal practice management software, and manual property settlement services in Australia, while PEXA facilitates digital conveyancing settlements through its Electronic Lodgment Network.
“It is the potential vertical integration of D&D’s operations and PEXA that gives rise to the competition concerns,” the ACCC said.
“The proposed acquisition would align PEXA, a near monopoly provider of Electronic Lodgment Network services, with D&D, a significant supplier of software to lawyers and conveyancers, significantly increasing vertical integration in this industry.”
The ACCC said that the conveyancing sector was currently going through a transitional period with a move towards electronic conveyancing and digitalisation.
The company noted that conveyancing was a critical element of Australian property markets that affects financial settlement and title transfer.
“Consumers may not be familiar with these companies in name, however this acquisition is relevant to anyone buying or selling property,” said ACCC deputy chair Mick Keogh.
“We have significant preliminary concerns that this transaction would enable D&D and PEXA to engage in mutual preferential dealing that would hinder existing competition or raise barriers to entry in one or more markets in the conveyancing workflow.”
The ACCC also indicated that it would closely scrutinise any transaction that would result in vertical integration between PEXA and other industry participants.
D&D’s bid for Link was originally announced in December last year with Link shareholders being offered $5.50 per share as part of the proposal.
In a statement to the ASX, Link noted that the ACCC’s statement of issues represented its preliminary view and was not a final decision.
“The Link Group board continues to unanimously recommend that Link Group shareholders vote in favour of the proposed acquisition, in the absence of a superior proposal and subject to the independent expert continuing to conclude that the scheme is fair and reasonable and in the best interest of Link Group shareholders,” the company said.
“Accordingly, Link Group will continue to work closely with D&D to progress the competition approval process and all other regulatory approvals required for implementation.”
Shareholders will vote on the proposed acquisition on 13 July, while the ACCC is expected to announce its final decision on 8 September.
Jon Bragg is a journalist for Momentum Media's Investor Daily, nestegg and ifa. He enjoys writing about a wide variety of financial topics and issues and exploring the many implications they have on all aspects of life.