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The Economics of Pay What You Want

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

People do care about fairness, social norms and not just about a cold calculation of marginal cost and marginal benefit. In this excellent short interview on BBC World, Joe Gladstone, Behavioural Scientist at the University of Cambridge, discusses the new form of "Pay What You Want" pricing. This means consumers can decide themselves how much they want to pay for a good or service. The catalyst is that several French hotels are experimenting with a pay what you like approach for their guests.

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MTR wins London CrossRail Operating Franchise

Monday, July 21, 2014

An important part of the CrossRail project has been decided with the news that the £1.4bn contract to run the new Crossrail service through London from 2018 has been awarded to Hong Kong-based MTR Corporation.

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Siemens Boss on possible redindustrialisation of the UK economy

Sunday, July 20, 2014

This interview with Jurgen Maier of Siemens is well worth reading on several different levels. It challenges the conventional wisdom that UK will always lag behind Germany in terms of high value added manufacturing; it refers to the economics risks of Brexit (Britain leaving the EU) and it also stresses the importance to the UK of foreign investment from German businesses many of which have been in the Uk since well before the first World War - Siemens and Bosch are two well-known examples.

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Shareholder activism at the Royal Mail

Shareholder activism regarding executive pay is covered in this article from the Guardian. Note too the emergence of TNT Post as a competitor in the cities for final mile delivery of business and household mail - the mail market is becoming more contestable.

The Royal Mail's latest market report is an interesting read for those who want to study market dynamics in more details - for example the continued growth (but high contestability) in parcels contrasted with a trend decline in the volume of letters sent through the post - click here for the 2014 market overview: http://ar2013-14.royalmailgroup.com/overview/marke...

Calculation time! CMA recommends banks provision of current accounts should be investigated

Friday, July 18, 2014

Today’s announcement that the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) are recommending that the High Street Banks’ provision of current accounts should be investigated for lack of competition may not surprise many. The case study may be valuable when looking at competition in oligopolistic markets and a report can be found from this link.  The BBC take on the story can be found from this link.

I also thought it offered a chance to do some calculations! Given my current theme of bringing the new levels of assessment of numeracy and quantitative methods in the 2015 specifications of A level economics ever increasingly to the attention of our teaching community, where better to do some number work than when looking at market share in the banking industry!

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Price Cap introduced for the UK Payday Loans Market

The UK Financial Conduct Authority has announced direct interventions in the market for payday loans - the high cost short term loans market which has expanded rapidly in recent years led by businesses such as Wonga. The decision is the result of a detailed assessment of the industry which had flagged up a number of market failures.

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Universities, Business and the UK Economy

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Here is a short video featuring Mike Kitson from Cambridge University explaining the role universities play in knowledge exchange with businesses

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Dropbox and the failures behind it

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

According to some sources, Dropbox was the 37th online storage solution to be developed for the web - but despite early failures and late entry it has emerged as the cloud storage product of choice for over 300 million people. The firm is now estimated to be worth about £5.9bn.

This BBC article looks at the background to the story. Article can be found here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-27579790

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Contestable Markets - A New Retail Landscape

Monday, July 07, 2014

Here is a short FT background video on the challenges facing established food retailers in the UK. The supermarket is under pressure. They face competition from both hard discounters and upmarket retailers. The FT's Andrea Felsted visits Romford, on the outskirts of London, to examine how supermarkets are adapting to their new retail landscape. The Guardian's articles in changing competition in the food retail sector provide some excellent background pieces - click here to access: http://www.theguardian.com/business/supermarkets

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Transport: competition in the cross channel market

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

When the Channel Tunnel opened in May 1994 bosses of many ferry companies were glum. But it was the backers of the channel tunnel who lost a fortune: according to The Economist (the source of the graph above), the train through the tunnel was meant to carry 28m passengers a year by 2010. Ferries were expected to lose foot passengers, cars and lorries. Like many predictions in business, this soon came to seem wrong; now it seems wrong only in the timing. Now it looks like competition in the market may be about to collapse, with ferries coming under increasing pressure.

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Paul Ormerod: Innovation, Job Losses and Living Standards

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Here is your starter for ten. What do the Uber app and David Ricardo have in common? Ricardo, I hear you ask. Scarcely known outside academic economics, he ranks equal with Adam Smith and Keynes as the greatest ever British economist. His classic Principles of Political Economy was published in 1816. He made millions of pounds on the stock market, at a time when a million was a vast amount of money.

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​Disruptive technology: Uber

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Technology always disrupts markets. It provides dynamic efficiency improvements, creates new markets, destroys old ones, and in some cases destroys monopolies and in others, creates new monopolies.

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Unit 3 Micro: Should Tesco be broken up?

Saturday, June 07, 2014

The supermarket giant Tesco is under increasing pressure! Tesco is Britain’s biggest retailer (it has 29% of the UK groceries market) and the biggest private-sector employer, and it runs about 7,000 stores worldwide. But it is facing significant commercial challenges from discount retailers such as Aldi and Lidl and seems to be squeezed in the middle as other shoppers look for the value proposition in stores such as Waitrose. Their recent trading figures made for sorry reading. For the three months to 24 May 2014, Tesco said like-for-like UK sales including VAT and excluding petrol fell 3.7%.

Is there a case for breaking up Tesco and getting the business to re-focus on what it does best? Two journalists from the Financial Times argue it out in the video below:

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Transport Economics: The Return of Trams - Benefits and Costs

Sunday, June 01, 2014

Trams have been experiencing a revival in a number of towns and cities in the past few decades. Edinburgh is the latest city to invest in trams, and hopes they will boost local economy. But do the benefits outweigh costs? Manchester, Sheffield, Blackpool, Nottingham, Newcastle and Croydon have all installed trams / light rail and others are considering investment. 

The Edinburgh trams at running (at last) but the jury will remain out for a long time about their net impact on economic activity, traffic congestion and the broader health of Edinburgh and the local environs.

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Unit 3 Micro: Ban on Eurotunnel ferry service confirmed by CMA

Friday, May 30, 2014

An important judgement from the newly established Competition and Markets Authority (CMA). They believe that competition is best served by having three major cross-channel service operators - namely EuroTunnel (rail) and two ferry operators.

The CMA has ruled against EuroTunnel being able to cross-subsidise the loss-making MyFerryLink on the Dover to Calais service because in doing so, it is likely to lead to the market exit of a rival provider and ultimately cause higher prices for consumers.

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Unit 3 Micro Business Economics Revision Guide

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Until the 3rd of June we are making available in streamed format the Unit 3 Business economics revision companion - a superb resource for AQA and ExExcel in particular

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World of Business: Focus on Business Pricing

What do prices mean and how are they set. A recent BBC World of Business podcast explored this and other issues.

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Reducing Contestability using the ‘sardines’ technique

Thursday, May 15, 2014

A good article in The Economist recently, arguing that firms may be cramming markets in order to keep rivals out. Raising barriers to entry serves to reduce the levels of competition in markets, or makes them less ‘contestable’.

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UK Economy: The Economics of Falling Real Wages

Thursday, May 01, 2014

The prospects of significant wage increases for typical UK workers are bleak, according to Professors David Blanchflower and Stephen Machin writing in the Spring 2014 issue of CentrePiece magazine.

It is quite clear that the economy is still well below full employment and there is a large amount of slack in the labour market, they say. There is little evidence of widespread skill shortages, which would push up wages; and public sector pay freezes with continuing redundancies continue to push down on workers’ bargaining power.

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Cost Benefit Analysis - The Crossrail Project

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Here is a streamed version of a revision presentation on the Crossrail project, a good example to use when teaching transport economics and the main principles and issues governing a cost benefit analysis approach to infrastructure investment appraisal. It is designed for use with AS and A2 economics students.

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Unit 3 Micro: Tanzania’s cola wars

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Tanzanian cola producers are taking on Coca Cola and making headway in the battle for market share. Despite economic growth, there is a fragile middle class vulnerable to changes in world commodity prices and unstable employment and wages. This opens up an opportunity for indigenous food and drinks manufacturers who might be able to supply products at a lower price harnessing environmental aims such as recycling the majority of plastic bottles used.

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Policies to reduce collusion

Friday, April 18, 2014

Investigating and understanding price fixing and collusion are an important part of analysing behaviour in oligopolistic markets. Not all of these corrupt practices are headline grabbers: most are in such unglamorous areas as ball-bearings and cargo rates, which go on unnoticed for years, quietly bumping up the end cost to consumers of all manner of goods and services.

What steps can be taken to undermine the incentives for business to engage in these illegal activities?

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Unit 3 Micro: Business Objectives, Costs, Revenues and Profits

Monday, April 14, 2014

This blog entry brings together some of our revision resources on these crucial aspects of the theory of the firm. Scroll down below for revision notes, presentations and online quizzes for your to check your understanding.

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Unit 3 Micro: Some Key Diagrams for Business Economics

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Here is a selection of key diagrams for the Unit 3 business economics course

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Unit 2 Macro: Fiscal Policy to improve Net Trade

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Here is a good applied example of how fiscal policy can be used to help improve the UK's net trade position. Export finance is often a problem especially for small and medium sized businesses looking to expand beyond the domestic economy to new export markets. Improving the trade position is a key aspect of re-balancing the economy and make the recovery more sustainable.

Read: www.gov.uk/government/organisations/uk-exp...

Unit 1 Micro: Toyota Plans to Replace Robots with Craftsmen

Here is an example of reverse capital-labour substitution! A hat tip to Dave Sowden for spotting this one! Read through the article and consider the motivations, opportunities and challenges facing Toyota with this change of approach.

Read: How Toyota plans to build a better car company by replacing robots with humans

Lancashire and London have dominated the Premier League.  Can it last?

Thursday, April 03, 2014

The Premier League season draws to an exciting close. It is by no means clear who will be champions, or who will gain the coveted top five European qualifying spots. There could even be a surprise. If Liverpool win, for the first time since 1995 a team from outside Manchester and North London will be crowned. Even then it was Blackburn. In the previous 21 seasons of the Premier League, all the winners have come from either the North West or London. So a Scouse victory would not alter this.

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Unit 4 Macro: Economic Benefits of EU Membership

Membership of the European Union (EU) has had a big positive effect on average incomes in all but one of its member countries. That is the central finding of research by Nauro Campos, Fabrizio Coricelli and Luigi Moretti, to be presented at the Royal Economic Society’s 2014 annual conference. They also find that the more financially developed countries have grown significantly faster after joining the EU.

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Carpet, bed and sofa retailers promise ‘genuine prices’ after OFT investigation

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

According to the Guardian, Carpetright and four other flooring and furniture retailers have promised to clean up their pricing after reaching a settlement with the Office of Fair Trading (OFT). It looks like a good example of the potential for market failure arising out of asymmetric information.

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Together They Fall, Divided they Stand

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Today, the world's largest mining company, BHP-Billiton, has signalled that it is considering demerger and slimming the business, as a way of improving productivity and performance. However, is there more to this than meets the eye?  

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Unit 3 Micro: Energy firms face competition inquiry

Friday, March 28, 2014

The big six energy firms in the UK - who account for more than ninety per cent of suppliers to UK household, commercial and industrial consumers - will be subject to another investigation by the competition authorities.  

A report by regulator Ofgem has called for an investigation by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) which could take nearly two years to complete - effectively pushing the issue into the long grass well beyond the date of the next election. 

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Unit 3 Micro: Royal Mail - Industry Extracts

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Here is a selection of short extracts on the Royal Mail and the changing structure of the industry. I have been using them when teaching Unit 3 business economics - it strikes me as an excellent case study for revising lots of parts of the course. I have added some links below to recent media coverage of Royal Mail stories.

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UCAS and Oxbridge - Delving into Management

A number of students have been asking me about suggested reading for and introductions to the study of management as they look ahead to a UCAS application in the autumn. Here are some thoughts.

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F585 Pre-Release Resources (and F583, F582 & F581 too)

Sunday, March 23, 2014

I thought it worthwhile sharing my resources which I have been collecting for students (and teachers alike). I have been promoting them on Twitter (@Economics_KSF) through scoop.it but for those of you not on there, the link for the scoop.it boards are here:

http://www.scoop.it/u/economics-kcsf

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How Coal Shortages Might Impact Indian Growth

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The development of India, or its non-development relative to China, is an interesting topic, and one that Bob Hindle has already been blogged about in relation to its tax system.

However, there are other aspects of the Indian economy that will also impede its ability to grow, notably its lack (or should that be 'lakh'?) of coal.

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Elinor Ostrom and A Level Economics

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Elinor Ostrom was the first and so far only women to win a Nobel Prize in Economics (strictly speaking the Swedish bank prize) in 2009 for her work on commons. According to the biologist Garrett Hardin, in an example familiar to A level economic students, unowned or collectively owned resources, say a fishing ground, tend to get trashed because of over use. 

The 'tragedy of the common' happens because people may over fish or destroy environments because of the free rider effect. One person who fishes less is discouraged from doing so because others may simply fish more, until the fish stocks run out. Ostrom looked at how local communities could organise to stop such over exploitation without government regulation. She found that instead of 'tragedy' sometimes the commons worked quite well.

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Unit 2 Macro: Structural Decline in the UK Steel Industry

If you are looking for a solid example of a manufacturing industry that experienced deep long term structural contraction then the UK steel sector is a good one to use.

Global steel output has more than doubled in the last four years but what remains of the UK steel industry is battling against rising costs and the challenge of meeting stringent climate change policies. The Financial Times visits Celsa's plant in Cardiff to find out if UK steelmakers still have a viable future. Can British producers take advantage of a rebound in steel output and profits if the European Union economy shows signs of a more durable and stronger recovery?

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Unit 2 Macro: Hurdle Rates and New Housebuilding

The government wants more new homes to be built, so too do hard-pressed home-buyers facing a continued problem of low property affordability. But cautious construction companies are reluctant to press ahead favouring share buy-backs (returning money to their shareholders) and only a limited expansion of new building.

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Unit 2 Macro: Ageing Infrastructure and Economic Growth

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Here is a revealing quote from a special study published in March 2014

"Simply put, too much of the city’s essential infrastructure remains stuck in the 20th Century—a problem for a city positioning itself to compete with other global cities in today’s 21st Century economy."

Which city do you think this report was referring to?

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Unit 3 Micro: Pop Up Shops on the Underground

In recent times, pop up shops (retail outlets available on very short term leases) have grown in popularity. In part this has been because of the increase in vacant retail space during and in the aftermath of the last recession. But increasingly other organisation are thinking about using their locations as opportunities to attract small retailers and/or retail start-ups. 

Transport for London is one such example. TfL owns more than 1,000 retail properties and this week TFL has signed a deal with Appear Here, an ‘online property agency’, to allow pop-up shops and restaurants in its tube stations. Consider the business potential for this kind of retail investment. Old Street is earmarked for this experiment - it is just a short walk from Silicon Roundabout in Shoreditch - the home of hundreds of emerging tech start up businesses.

Economies and Diseconomies of Scale at PepsiCo

Friday, March 14, 2014

This topic is very helpful when analysing the benefits or drawbacks arising from internal growth. Over the last couple of years the Economist has kept referring back to the case study of PepsiCo, and how the huge corporation has tried to control diseconomies of scale.

Here’s the latest update – a proposed break-up of the company.

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Oligopoly price wars - who will be the winner?

Thursday, March 13, 2014

There are two useful articles here for A2 economists about the news that Morrisons has made a £176m pre-tax loss for the year to February 2, and the strong impact that their plans to compete hard with the discount retailers has had on the stock market value of Tesco and Sainsburys. 

We often cite the UK supermarket industry as an example of oligopoly, and today's news around Morrisons (Britain's 4th biggest supermarket) gives plenty of scope for students to use some stakeholder analysis to look at what is going on in that market - who wins and who loses?

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Unit 2 Macro: UK R&D Spending Remains Low

For years the government has tried to lift research and development spending as a share of national income - but seemingly to no avail. The latest data finds that the UK is spending less on R&D than any other EU country. What might this mean for the supply-side competitiveness of the economy? 

The data finds that

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Unit 3 Micro: Merger of Chiquita and Fyffes

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

A mega merger is creating the world’s largest banana company - it has been announced that Chiquita of the USA and Dublin-based Fyffes will be merging to form a giant banana distribution company.

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Price Regulation in Industries

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Regulation of prices through price capping has been a feature of regulation of the utilities in the UK for many years – although this is now being phased out as most utility markets have become more competitive.

Price capping systems

  • Price capping is an alternative to rate-of-return regulation, in which utility businesses are allowed to achieve a given rate of return (or rate of profit) on capital.
  • In the UK, price capping has been known as "RPI-X". This takes the rate of inflation, measured by the Consumer Price Index and subtracts expected efficiency savings X. So for example, if inflation is 5% and X is 3% then an industry can raise their prices on average by only 2% per year
  • In the water industry, the formula is "RPI - X + K", where K is based on capital investment requirements designed to improve water quality and meet EU water quality standards. This has meant increases in the real cost of water bills for millions of households in the UK.

Advantages

Capping is an appropriate way to curtail the monopoly power of “natural monopolies” – preventing them from making excessive profits at the expense of consumers

Cuts in the real price levels are good for household and industrial consumers (leading to an increase in consumer surplus and higher real living standards in the long run).

Price capping helps to stimulate improvements in productive efficiency because lower costs are needed to increase a producer’s profits.

  • The price capping system is a tool for controlling consumer price inflation in the UK.

Disadvantages

Price caps have led to large numbers of job losses in the utility industries

Setting different price capping regimes for each industry distorts the price mechanism

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Quiz on the Index of Economic Complexity

Sunday, March 02, 2014

The Atlas of Economic Complexity is a new book (perfect for the coffee table) from Richard Hausmann and Cesar Hidalgo. It maps out the degree of complexity of individual economies around the world and provides a hugely visual and interesting insight into the importance of knowledge in shaping the future prosperity of countries in the global economy. I have put together a 10 question quiz on some of their key results - a useful activity I hope for students interested in the commodity composition of trade of developed and developing countries. Have a go!

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Paul Ormerod: Forward guidance needed for companies, not consumers!

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Most of the commentary on the UK’s economic recovery focuses on consumers. Are they taking on too much debt again to finance their spending? Is there a bubble in house prices, as people get excited about bricks and mortar again? Certainly, in terms of its sheer size, spending by consumers is by far the biggest component of GDP, making up around 60 per cent of total domestic expenditure.

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New evidence of persistent gender bias at the UK’’s top companies

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The UK’s biggest companies remain biased when appointing women to their boards, according to new research by Dr Ian Gregory-Smith and colleagues, published in the February 2014 issue of the Economic Journal

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Executive Pay: Shareholders have failed to curb excesses

Despite public calls for shareholders to get tough on executive pay, a new study of the UK’s highest paid company directors reveals that shareholders are overwhelmingly inclined to approve the pay packets of top directors, just as they were before the crisis

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Unit 3 Micro: Facebook Buys WhatsApp

Friday, February 21, 2014

In a bold move in the continuing battle between Facebook and Google to dominate the next phase of digital / mobile growth, Mark Zuckerberg's listed business has agreed an £11bn acquisition of WhatsApp - a deal to be paid in a combination of cash and shares.

The total value of the deal is staggering high for a business that employs just over 50 people.

  • The price Facebook is paying for WhatsApp is more than ten times what Google spent on YouTube
  • It is more than 20 times what Facebook paid for Instagram
  • The $19bn paid for WhatsApp works out at $40 for each of its 450m users!
  • The $19bn deal to buy WhatsApp is more than 10% of the annual value of Ukranian GDP

What are some of the justifications for such a mega-priced deal?

read more...»

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