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Michael O’Leary, CEO of Ryanair has called it the ‘best decision in the history of aviation ever.’ Colin Matthews, Chief Executive of BAA has slammed it as ‘flawed’. The Competition Commission has delivered a report which suggests that BAA should see three of its UK airports including two in London and one at either Edinburgh or Glasgow.read more...»
Much has been written about the factors behind the success of the GB cycling team in the Beijing Olympics. Some commentators are drawing parallels with the World Cup winning team in the Rugby World Cup of 2003 and for students of economics, there are some useful insights into what determines competitive advantage in markets.read more...»
Every month there is a torrent of macroeconomic data for the city scribblers to unwind and analyse. It was once said that God invented decimal points to make macroeconomists look interesting! This feature on the BBC news site is welcome because it reminds us of the wide margin for error when calculating huge numbers such as a nation’s gross domestic product. Policy making is difficult enough without the drag of using inaccurate, incomplete and out-of-date information on the economy.
“Counts and measurements swamp the news - of everything from the growth (or slump) of the economy to the extent of yobbish behaviour. They’re often reported as if straightforward child’s play, like counting your toes. That couldn’t be more wrong - the world is a massive mess; the task more like counting an ocean of mushy peas.”
Hamish McRae welcomes the boost in Economics uptake in schools and colleges
“The economic news may be troubling but there was some good news last week about economics as a subject. Amid the mass of stories about A-level students – the best pass rate ever, the grade escalation and so on – that that economics is becoming a much more popular subject rather escaped notice.”
Here is a story that highlights the monospony power of a business when set against the determination of farmers to get a better price for their product. For some time sugar beet producers in the UK have been battling with British Sugar to reach an agreement for the contracted price for their beet harvest in 2009.
Countryfile is one of my favourite television programmes - a rich source of background on the ever-evolving rural scene and the challenges and opportunities facing the UK farming industry. Last Sunday featured a programme on the growing demand for and use of bio-solids in food production in the UK. It provides a good example of cross-price elasticity of demand!
The San Francisco Chronicle reports that gas coupons and barter auctions are replacing notes as a medium of exchange in the hypinflation-ridden Zimbabwean economy. Private financial institutions say Zimbabwe’s inflation rate was about 12,5-million percent in May 2008 and has risen further since.
“Zimbabweans face acute shortages of local currency. Already gas coupons can be used to pay some household accounts. Many businesses also pay workers part of their earnings in scarce foodstuffs, or demand dollars for purchases, which is illegal.”
One of the key issues during this downturn is the extent to which recorded unemployment will rise back towards the two million mark - a reversal of more than a decade of strong labour market trends which has left the UK with one of the lowest jobless rates in the European Union together with one of the highest employment rates.
David Smith in the Sunday Times considers the state of the labour market
Labour isn’t working again
The BBC news report looks at prospects for graduates leaving university this year
Graduate jobs market stays strong
This Guardian article allows you to trace the UK’s unemployment figures all the way back to the dark days of mass unemployment close on three million people in the early 1980s
UK jobless figures
The Independent reports on last week’s big jump in unemployment
Jobless total jumps by 60,000
A healthy dose of realism in the market or a panic response to the absence of buyers, Rightmove finds that asking prices for London properties coming onto the market have fallen by over 5% in just one month - equivalent to shaving more than £20,000 off the asking value of housing. The asking price trend is a good indicator of the balance between supply and demand in the property market.
With mortgage finance drying up, falling demand is creating a glut of unsold houses on the market - the balance of power is switching firmly to potential buyers providing they have the finances behind them to buy.
And in this particular game of cat and mouse, if you are desperate to sell (i.e. you are a forced seller rather than a discretionary seller) then the pressure is on to drop the asking price to encourage some interest.
For many - the desperate state of the market is leading them to instruct estate agents to rent out their properties rather than settle for a much lower price when the transaction is finally achieved.
Selected info from the August Rightmove report:
Average UK Property Asking Price £229,816
% Change in Month -2.3%
% Change in Past Year -4.8%
Average unsold stock of property per estate agency branch = 78
Average property asking price = £379,162
% Change in Month -5.3%
% Change in Past Year -3.8%
The Economic Naturalist Robert Frank - writing in the New York Times - criticises the use of explicit fuel subsidies (common in many emerging market countries) and also takes a stab at the hidden subsidies that occur when a government does not tax products that create pollution sufficiently highly to reflect the external costs. Many countries are now reining back on such subsidies - a recent example was Vietnam - where the subsidy cut prompted a spike in oil prices for consumers. It is a well written piece and one that could be used when discussing government intervention, allocative efficiency and possible government failure.
“By one estimate, countries with fuel subsidies accounted for virtually the entire increase in worldwide oil consumption last year. Without this artificial demand stimulus, world oil prices would have been significantly lower. Earlier this summer, for example, world oil prices fell by $4 a barrel on news that reduced subsidies would increase Chinese domestic fuel prices by about 17 percent.”
The rest of his article can be found here
Last week’s Analysis was on sport and considered whether we should invest so much in sport. Our success in the Olympics suggests that the investment has paid off in one way at least. But is investment in the 2012 London Olympics worthwhile? Listen by clicking on this link
On the same evening, Investigation looked at the reasons for high oil prices. Listen to this here
Our Food, Our Future is a short series looking at food production and prices. Some of the recent programmes can be found on the website and there is a useful slide show here:
BBC radio 4 analysis has an archive of past programmes.
For well over a decade, the British pound has been viewed as one of the strongest and most stable currencies around. But events this summer seem to be changing this picture. In recent weeks, the pound has depreciated to its lowest level since 1996 and sterling has fallen by more than 12 cents (or more than 5 per cent) against the US dollar since the start of August.read more...»
Ok - it does depend on which measure one is using - but the number of people out of work in the UK jumped by over 60,000 in the 3 months to the end of June according to new figures from the Labour Force Survey. And claimant count unemployment also moved higher by 20,000. This BBC news article looks at some of the reasons. Once growth slows below two per cent, it is highly likely that the jobless total will start to climb - we are seeing this now. The key issue - especially in a week when the Bank’s latest Inflation Report was particularly gloomy on growth prospects for 2009 - is how bad will it get?
Many thanks to Promit Anwar who has kindly allowed us to publish his prize-winning essay for the 2008 RES Young Economist Competition…read more...»
Great news for Economics teachers from today’s A Level statistics. The numbers show what departments have been telling us for over a year - that A Level Economics is on the up…read more...»
Business with a Social Purpose - Andrew Mawson on Social Entrepreneurship
It is all about the people not the structures. This seemed to me to be the core message from a tremendous talk by Andrew Mawson, the renowned social entrepreneur and cross-bench peer in the House of Lords who is renowned for his pioneering work since the mid 1980s at the Bromley by Bow Centre in East London, which became the UK’s first integrated nursery and Healthy Living Centre. And which is now fast becoming a beacon in providing the way ahead when it comes to building a legacy for the east end of London post 2012.read more...»
This BBC news article asks whether the recent surge in food prices has brought benefits to the UK farming industry - a sector that has been in relative decline for many years and which now accounts for less than 1% of our Gross Domestic Product. Farmgate prices for milk have risen but the profit margins remain wafe thin because of rising input costs. New EU environmental standards also threaten to create higher costs for farmers. Total farm incomes have risen by more than 10% this year and the price of agricultural land has also headed higher - but the article reinforces the fragile nature of the industry and a widening gap in the fortunes of cereal producers and those in livestock farming. There is some excellent microeconomics here.
The BBC’ Business Editor Robert Peston offered a rapid fire tutorial in the credit crunch in his address to the Edinburgh Book Festival today. Some people have perhaps unfairly labelled him as “Pessimistic Peston”, the man who first revealed the state of the liquidity crisis at the Northern Rock in early September 2007. But he delivered an engaging and witty talk to a large group of the well heeled of Edinburgh who clearly have weighty financial issues on their minds.read more...»
The courtyard of the Pleasance at the Ediinburgh fringe is a great place to observe the impact of feedback loops in shaping consumer preferences.read more...»
Jimmy Chung’s in Edinburgh occupies a prime location between Waverley Station and Prince’s Street - it appears to thrive on a fast flow through of customers eager for a quick fill of chinese food - it needs the high footfall to pay what must be a hefty rent. An obvious approach is to engage in some price gouging - serving fixed price meals at different prices according to the time of day - all prominently displayed as shown. I will use this with my introductory Economics students in a few weeks time.read more...»
Every recession is different - both in terms of the initial causes and also the differential impact that it has on consumers, businesses, industries and regions. Deutche Bank’s latest UK economic forecast is pretty gloomy - they are now pencilling in economic growth of just 1.2% in 2008 and 0.3% in 2009. House prices are now expected to fall 25% in nominal terms (35% in real terms) from peak to trough.
In their research they produce a rather natty chart showing how quarterly growth rates of the various output and expenditure components of GDP have behaved during previous UK recessions. On average the level of real national output declines by 0.7% for each quarter of a ‘technical recession’ - but capital investment tends to fall by much more - it might be worth asking students why this happens? Why - on the basis of previous experience - does the industrial sector seem to bear the brunt of recessionary conditions? Why does government spending continue to rise and that of the farm sector?
If a recession happens in 2008-09 - which industries are most likely to feel the full force of the decline in real activity? Presumably construction and financial services will be badly affected - from where I am sat in an Edinburgh hotel at the peak of the Festival season it looks like the tourism and leisure industry is also having a rough ride too!
Karen Ward, UK economist at HSBC, takes over from Stephen King in the Independent’s Monday economics column this week and her attention is focused on the asymmetric effects of the housing slump. The Bank of England seems set to keep rates on hold for a few months to come (the inflation numbers out this week could be horrendous) and their unwillingness to match the US in aggressive interest rate cuts is built partly on a different belief in how the housing market feeds through to the real economy. But Karen Ward is sceptical that the re-balancing of the UK economy away from consumption towards investment and exports can happen when the Euro Zone economy is weakening so rapidly. Emerging market economies are unlikely to be much help - only 3% of UK exports go to China, India and Russia.
An excellent piece for AS and A2 economists - available here
In a similar vein, the team at Deutsche Bank released a report hinting that the Euro Zone economy and the UK are both likely to go into recession:
“The large trade exposure that each has with the other should reinforce this external drag. Domestically, declining housing markets, the credit crunch and de-leveraging have to be absorbed by both economies. For consumers, we are not convinced that lower commodity prices will outweigh tighter credit, negative wealth effects and weaker labour markets.”
It sounds like a classic case of price gouging or price discrimination and it is a bitter blow for non-regulars at the pub owned by Madonna and Guy Ritchie. Several newspapers have relished the news that the Punchbowl in Mayfair has been charging different prices to different customers for the same drink - segmenting the market between regulars and occasional visitors. The Telegraph reports that Brian Richardson, 52, who has been a customer for 12 years, was charged £3.50 for a pint one day, and £3.90 the next. He said: “I was shocked. I complained to staff. They have got two prices - regulars prices and non-regulars prices.”
It is not often that I link to the business stories covered in the Daily Mirror - but here we go!
BBC business editor Robert Peston speaks to Hector Sants, the chief executive of City watchdog, the Financial Services Authority in this edition of Leading Questions available on the BBC web site. I am enjoying reading Alex Brummer’s new book on the credit crunch and I have just got to the chapter which looks at the regulatory failures of the FSA. My review will be posted on the blog in a few days.
The latest edition of the Economic Journal contains new research by Paolo Epifani and Gino Gancia that focuses on the skills preium for highly skilled workers in an age of globalisation. Whilst increasing economic integration between countries has undoubtedly contributed to a process of income convergence across nations, one of the paradoxes it that it can also lead to greater pay and earnings inequalities within countries - this research helps to explain why.
“Since the mid-1970s, the wage gap between high-skilled and low-skilled workers has widened. At the same time, world trade has increased dramatically: between 1980 and the late 1990s, the share of countries ‘open to trade’ rose from 35% to 95%, and the volume of trade of the average country rose from 59% of national income to 74%....Globalisation increases the size of the market firms can access. Some industries can take advantage of a larger market more easily than others as they benefit from ‘economies of scale’.The study argues that those industries that take advantage of a larger market are more likely to employ skilled workers, and so the wages of skilled workers will rise faster than unskilled workers in a period of globalisation.”
The rest of the media briefing on this new research is available here
A new report by Paul Stevens for Chatham House the international affairs think-tank argues that unless there is a collapse in global oil demand within the next five to ten years (presumably the result of a severa global slowdown or sizeable shift to oil substitutes) there will be a serious oil ‘supply crunch’ because of inadequate investment by international oil companies (IOCs) and national oil companies (NOCs). An oil supply crunch is where excess crude producing capacity falls to low levels and is followed by a crude ‘outage’ leading to a price spike. If this happens then the resulting price spike will carry serious policy implications with long-lasting effects on the global energy picture. The Stevens report can be downloaded in pdf format from this link.. Paul Stevens is Senior Research Fellow for Energy at Chatham House and Emeritus Professor at Dundee University.
The Trades Union Congress (TUC) is lobbying for the UK government to extend the statutory minimum wage to cover apprentices as an intervention designed to improve incentives and combat employer exploitation of younger workers. Their submission to the Low Pay Commission can be found here. What was striking to me about their report was the low completion rates for apprenticeship schemes for those workers not covered by pay floor legislation. And also the persistent gap in apprenticeship pay between males and females. It is an area of the labour market where monopsonistic employment practices are prevalent and damaging to the long term skills base of the economy.
“The TUC believes that bringing all apprentices under the NMW enforcement regime is the most effective way of addressing low pay and tackling the minority of employers that treat apprentices as cheap labour. Recent Government data revealed that five per cent of apprentices received less than £80 a week and 12 per cent received no pay at all.”
The current minimum wage rates are £3.40 for 16-17 year olds, £4.60 for 18-21year olds and £5.52 for people aged 22+.
Tucked away in between a report on financial stability in Moldova and standards and codes of business in Azerbaijan lies the latest health check on the UK economy from the International Monetary Fund. There is plenty of decent macroeconomics in there for A2 economists preparing for the Bank of England competition later on this autumn - but the IMF is true to its traditions - preaching fiscal and monetary policy orthodoxy during these turbulent times.read more...»
The FT is running a series on the Credit Crunch which started one year ago. Well worth looking at, especially for students applying to university this Autumn. It can be viewed at Big Freeze
The AA isn’t happy. Standing up for hard pressed motorists is part of its daily remit and their latest salvo is directed at the petrol retailers for failing to pass on reductions in the price of crude oil on world markets to drivers who have been getting used to spending over £75 to fill up their tanks. Oil prices are indeed on the slide - how much further can the declines go? Will speculative activity accelerate the decline towards $110 or lower? But the AA claims that the major petrol retailers have been slower to reduce prices than they were to raise them when the cost of crude was heading northwards. Edmund King is reported in the Telegraph as saying “We calculate that retailers should be cutting a penny a litre off diesel and petrol with each two dollar fall in oil prices. The AA calculates that this should have meant petrol falling from 119.7p to 106.2p a litre and diesel dropping from 133.35p to 119.75p. Instead the latest pump price for petrol is about 115.25p, while motorists are still paying 128.42p for diesel.”
Inevitably there are time lags between changes in crude prices on global markets and the price we pay for petrol. Expect the supermarkets to move things along in the next couple of weeks with another bout of vigorous price competition. Profit margins for retailers of petrol and diesel are actually wafer thin - most of the money is made at earlier stages of the supply chain from oil exploration and refining.
Another country joins the list of economies tilting into recessionary headwinds. Data for the second quarter of 2008 is expected to show that the New Zealand economy has entered a recession for the first time since the fall-out from the 1997-98 emerging markets financial crisis. Consumer and business confidence has declined and rising inflation has hit household real incomes. The New Zealand Treasury reports that
“The fall in profitability, both experienced and expected, is due to weakening demand from households and increasing cost pressures. More firms are now reporting demand as the main constraint on production as opposed to supply factors such as labour, finance and capital.”
This 27 year old from Essex hits the nail on the head when discussing the problems facing first time buyers in the housing market - a lucid and spot on description of the impact that the housing bubble has had on housing affordability, and effective demand for people willing to save for a sizeable deposit.
The government has been reverting to type this week by floating a series of possible palliative interventions for the housing market - centred around reductions in or holidays on paying stamp duty. Why cannot they just realise that house prices need to fall? The market had become dangerously over-priced and creation a money-for-nothing illusion of wealth that contibuted heavily to the credit crunch. Let prices fall, let the market adjust - stop pretending that poorly thought-out and rushed government intervention can make a difference.
It is impossible to miss - the giant Drax coal-fired power station that straddles the A1 near Ferrybridge in Yorkshire and dominates the landscape for miles around is the largest in Western Europe and supplies about 7 per cent of the UK’s electricity. Of course generating electricity from coal necessitates plenty of carbon emissions - figures show that every six months Drax creates nearly 10 million tonnes of CO2 and, under the terms of the EU’s carbon trading scheme, it must not only pay for coal but also purchase emission allowances.
It has just announced that the combined cost of coal and CO2 permits has nearly doubled over the last year from £222m to £413m.read more...»
The final result of the Royal Economic Society Young Economist Essay Competition has just been announced by the RES. Details from the Press Release are provided here with thanks to the RES…read more...»
Every once in a while you come across a free application that really fires the imagination, for teacher and student alike…read more...»
Not doing anything to dispel the ridiculous notion that we at tutor2u have a bizarre toilet fetish, I thought that I’d write a quick note about something I saw last week. Coming out of Embankment tube station (on the left hand side towards the riverbank for those who would like a visit), I was curious to discover a sign next to a bar reading “Public toilets 100 feet” with an arrow pointing up ahead. So being the economist that I am, I figured it would be a good time to conduct my own little scientific experiment. I walked 100 feet and there was indeed a public toilet, free and surprisingly well-kept (maybe this will contribute to that previous discussion). But what I found most interesting of all was the how the bar took their own initiative to put up a helpful sign directing bursting passers-by, and how it’s a marvellous example of the Coase theorem in action.
Twelve months on from the onset of the global credit crunch here is a selection of comment and analysis pieces on one of the defining moments in economics and finance of the last couple of decades - I will add more over the coming days
The Independent - The credit crunch one year on
How did the credit crunch start? (BBC news video)
Polly Toynbee and David Walker from the Guardian have a new book out this week - available on Amazon - which looks at the depth of inequality in modern Britain.
“The top 10% of income earners get 27.3% of the cake, while the bottom 10% get just 2.6%. Twenty years ago the average chief executive of a FTSE 100 company earned 17 times the average employee’s pay; now it is more than 75 times. Since Labour came to power in 1997 the proportion of personal wealth held by the top 10% has swelled from 47% to 54%.”
A gross income of just under £40,000 is sufficient to get you into the top decile of the income distribution (making an adjustment for household size). The book will be a timely reminder that - eleven years into a Labour government committed to a mild form of redistribution through policies such as New Deal, tax credits and the minimum wage, there are incredibly powerful forces that drive inequality higher in modern economies. One way of measuring income inequality is to use the gini coefficient - the latest figures for the UK are available here..
Is the ageing of the US population a contributing factor to a shrinking of the USA’s trend growth rate? Yes according to Stephen King writing in the Independent today.
“As the proportion of people in retirement swells, so the burden on workers tends to increase, as does competition over resources. Whether or not people have funded pension schemes, the ultimate problem relates to claims on output. If there are fewer people in work, there may simply not be enough output to satisfy all the competing claims.”
A shrinkage of the trend growth rate will have serious implications for the rate at which living standards can rise but the essence of King’s piece is that it will also contribute to growing inflationary pressures unless the USA can raise its game on productivity and/or become less unfriendly when it comes to net inward migration. It is a reminder that the root causes of inflation are not always on the demand-side.
Nokia has increased its market share for handsets from 38.4% to 40.9% according to second quarter data from CCS Insight and reported in an article in the Times yesterday. The intense battle for market share is resulting in periodic price wars and the economic downturn seems to have precipitated another one - Nokia is reducing prices by up to 10% .
The mobile phone handset industry is best described as an oligopoly. In the second quarter of 2008 the leading five manufacturers accounted for 83% of world sales.
Sony Ericsson 8.2
The global mobile phone market grew by 12.3 per cent year-on-year in the first half of 2008 with shipments reaching 584 million units - the economies of large scale production in this kind of industry must be absolutely enormous. The power of the brand and the impact of achieving lower costs per unit are two of the key competitive drivers that impact on consumer prefereces.
Few sectors of the economy are immune to the impact of the credit crunch and the market for independent education in the UK is no exception. This week six school closures have been announced and the reality is many of the smaller private schools are under intense financial pressures as a new academic year looms.read more...»
Matthew Taylor from the RSA considers what might be behind the growth of shareholder activism. Some interesting insights here for students wanting to broaden their understanding of the principle agent problem arising from the divorce between ownership and control in modern businesses.
“We are entering an era of investor activism. There are at least three broad shifts that will compel investors to enter the market as more than merely consumers.”
The Yahoo - Carl Icahn relationship is definitely one worth following!
The London Mayor Boris Johnson has issued a report that raises the ‘living wage’ in London to £7-45 an hour. It is an interesting example of a policy designed to create an informal pay floor for thousands of low-paid workers throughout London which is higher than the UK national minimum wage and which reflects the increased cost of living in the capital.read more...»
It is a bitter blow for the licensed trade but 1.2 million fewer pints of beer are being drunk every day in Britain this year compared to last and over twenty pubs a week are calling last orders for the final time.read more...»
Sony has released results showing that it has sold 14.4 million PS3 machines worldwide since it went on sale late 2006 but this might not be enough to prevent Nintendo from overtaking them as the world’s biggest seller of computer games consoles in 2008. This classic oligopolistic market continues to see vigorous price and non-price competition between the three dominant players - Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft. This week - all ten of the top UK selling computer games are either for the Wii or Nintendo DS and five of the chart toppers are produced by Nintendo themselves. The company has sold more than 10 million Wii consoles and 70 million DS handheld machines worldwide.
More background available here “Consoles look to hit their stride”
An excellent piece from BBC’s Woman’s Hour in which Jenni Murray interviews Rachel Lomax about her career including her stint as a deupty governor of the Bank of England and member of MPC and the changes she has seen in the UK economy. Hat tip to Penny Brooks for alerting me to the interview.
The BBC website has updated developments in restrictions introduced by national governments for the movements of workers within the European Union. The free movement of labour is one of the key foundations of the single market but in the wake of EU enlargement, many governments have introduced limits often in the form of quotas - funny how these ‘temporary’ controls often become semi-permanent! And any form of restriction creates an incentive to by-pass the control. There is more detailed background information available from the EurActive website.
This BBC news video is excellent at looking at some of the causes of the economic slowdown in the UK economy and features a brief cameo appearance by my old director of studies at university - Martin Weale from the National Institute. In a related article, the International Monetary Fund reports that the worst of the credit crunch is not yet over.
I’ve been very busy so I haven’t been writing nearly as much as I’d like but since I’m working at The Economist Group I couldn’t resist the chance to slip in a shameless plug. This week’s edition features an excellent article on a relatively new branch of economics: “neuroeconomics”, going beyond simple theories from behavioural economics and into real empirics by examining brain activity via MRI scanning. Groundbreaking stuff that can change the face of Homo economicus forever, especially with regards to how it interprets rational choice theory (apparently there are two states in which we make decisions?!). Used correctly, it promises to introduce inductive reasoning into a deductive science. Read all about it here.
The BBC reports that one of Scotland’s fastest growing coffee houses has gone into administration as bottom-line losses became unsustainable. Beanscene’s 14 shops are spread across Scotland from Ayr to the border town of Hawick to the old town in Leith.read more...»