The European Commission can confirm that on 16 November 2009 it sent a Statement of Objections (SO) to Standard & Poor's (S&P). The SO outlines the Commission’s preliminary view that S&P is abusing its dominant position, by requiring, as the sole-appointed National Numbering Agency (NNA) for US securities, financial institutions and information service providers (ISPs) to pay licensing fees for the use of International Securities Identification Numbers (ISINs) in their own databases.
ISINs are the global identifiers for securities and are governed by International Standardisation Organisation (ISO) standard 6166. They are indispensable for a number of operations that financial institutions carry out (for instance, reporting to authorities or clearing and settlement) and cannot be substituted by other identifiers for securities.
S&P is the sole-appointed NNA for US securities and therefore the only issuer and first-hand disseminator of US ISIN numbers. The Commission’s preliminary conclusion is that S&P is abusing this monopoly position by enforcing the payment of licence fees for the use of US ISINs by (a) banks and other financial services providers in the EEA and (b) information service providers in the EEA.
This preliminary finding is based on, inter alia, a comparison with the charging policy of other NNAs that either do not charge any fees at all or, if they do, do so only on the basis of the distribution cost as opposed to usage, according to ISO principles. According to the Commission's preliminary findings, S&P does not incur any costs for the distribution of US ISINs to financial service providers because the latter do not receive the ISINs from S&P but from information service providers such as Thomson Reuters or Bloomberg.
S&P has 8 weeks to reply to the SO, and will then they have the right to be heard in a Hearing. If the preliminary views expressed in the SO are confirmed, the Commission may require S&P to cease the abuse and may impose a fine.
The Commission opened a formal investigation into S&P in January 2009.
A Statement of Objections is a formal step in the EC antitrust investigations, in which the Commission informs the parties concerned of the objections raised against them. The parties can then reply to the Statement of Objections, setting out all the facts that are relevant to their defence against the objections raised by the Commission. They may also request an hearing to present its comments on the case.
The Commission may then take a decision on whether the conduct addressed in the Statement of Objections is compatible or not with the EC Treaty’s antitrust rules. Sending a Statement of Objections does not prejudge the final outcome of the procedure.