Parallel Pricing In California (Antitrust Law)
Because parallel pricing in an oligopolistic industry is equally consistent with independent action as with the product of a conspiracy, it alone does not permit an inference of the requisite agreement. (In re Babyfood Antitrust Litigation, supra, 166 F.3d at p. 122.)
The reason parallel pricing, standing alone, lacks probative value of an agreement was explained by the court in Clamp-All Corp. v. Cast Iron Soil Pipe Institute (1st Cir. 1988) 851 F.2d 478. the Clamp-All court stated that a showing of parallel pricing
". . . may reflect no more than an industry concentrated enough for each firm to set prices 'interdependently' (each firm, aware that competitors will quickly match price cuts, may keep its prices high) . . . .
". . . a firm in a concentrated industry typically has reason to decide (individually) to copy an industry leader. After all, a higher-than-leader's price might lead a customer to buy elsewhere, while a lower-than-leader's price might simply lead competitors to match the lower price, reducing profits for all.
One does not need an agreement to bring about this kind of follow-the-leader effect in a concentrated industry. . . .
"Although the Sherman Act prohibits agreements, the courts have almost uniformly held, at least in the pricing area, that such individual pricing decisions (even when each firm rests its own decision upon its belief that competitors will do the same) do not constitute an unlawful agreement under section 1 of the Sherman Act. Citations." (Id. at pp. 483-484, original italics.)
California is in accord with the federal courts. (Biljac, supra, 218 Cal. App. 3d at pp. 1428-1429 "Parallel movement of prices was not enough by itself" to support inference of agreement because "market forces were as likely as not the reason for the complained-of parallel prices . . . .".)