Anyway, Bloomberg has the gen:
Five German breweries, including the country’s largest family-owned beer maker, and seven people were fined 106.5 million euros ($145.5 million) for illegally colluding to raise the price of beer.This is reminiscent of the old airline price-fixing scandal which was all done by CEOs on the telephone as I remember.
Anheuser-Busch InBev NV (ABI) escaped a fine for being first to report the cartel, which triggered the investigation, Germany’s antitrust watchdog said in a statement today. A probe into two other companies continues, the office said.
“Our investigations have allowed us to prove there were agreements between the breweries based mainly on purely personal and telephone contacts,” Andreas Mundt, president of the German cartel office, said in the statement.
The breweries fined include family-owned Krombacher Brauerei GmbH, Bitburger Braugruppe GmbH, C. & A. Veltins GmbH & Co. KG, Warsteiner Brauerei Haus Cramer KG and Privatbrauerei Ernst Barre GmbH. The companies had their penalties reduced for cooperating with the probe.
There is not a lot a economics professor can add to this, the motivation and benefit of price fixing is pretty clear - if we all agree to keep price high we can get monopoly-like rents. Yeay. But economists also know that price fixing is very hard to sustain because there is always the individual incentive to cheat. If all others companies keep their prices high, the best individual strategy is to undercut their price slightly. So these types of arrangements actually are a lot harder than they sound.
But the fact that they engaged in this illegal activity tells us a lot about the competitive nature of the German beer market. There is so much competition that rents are hard to acquire. And, once again, the specter of economies of scale mean that it is hard to sustain a number of smaller breweries in this environment. Just like what happened in the US, the beer industry's natural tendency is consolidation and scale. So this is evidence that all breweries are feeling the pressure.