Margrethe Vestager. Picture: REUTERS
Margrethe Vestager. Picture: REUTERS

Paris — Asustek Computer Inc. and Royal Philips NV were among four companies fined a total of €111m by European Union antitrust regulators for preventing online retailers from setting prices that undercut traditional stores.

Asus received the largest fine, about €63.5m, while Philips owes nearly €30m, the European Commission said on Tuesday in a press release. Pioneer got a €10.2m penalty and Denon & Marantz was fined €7.7m. All companies got significantly reduced fines after co-operating with regulators.

"As a result of the actions taken by these four companies, millions of European consumers faced higher prices for kitchen appliances, hair dryers, notebook computers, headphones and many other products. This is illegal under EU antitrust rules," European Commissioner for Competition Margrethe Vestager said in the statement.

The fines for three Asian and one European company come a day before EU Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker meets US President Donald Trump to try to calm a trade dispute. Trump tweeted last week that the EU was "taking advantage" of the US with a record $5bn penalty for Google last week.

It is the first in a series of EU investigations into manufacturers’ efforts to prevent online retailers undercutting main street shops. Asustek chief financial officer Nick Wu broke the silence over the case at an earnings conference call from Taipei in May, saying that he expected a fine of €65m.

Philips spokesman Steve Klink said the company accepted the fine, and has co-operated with the probe from the beginning. Asus, Pioneer and Denon & Marantz did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Asus, Denon & Marantz, Philips and Pioneer engaged in so-called "fixed or minimum resale price maintenance" by restricting the ability of their online retailers to set their own retail prices for widely used consumer electronics products such as kitchen appliances, notebooks and hi-fi products, according to the EU.

The manufacturers intervened with online retailers that offered their products at low prices, issuing threats or handing out sanctions such as cutting off supplies. All in all, the price interventions limited effective price competition between retailers and led to higher prices with an immediate effect on consumers, the commission said on Tuesday.