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A hat tip to my colleague Tom Allen for spotting this excellent macro article in the Guardian.
As one company after another lays off its workers, Tim Webb, Heather Stewart and Nick Mathiason report on the crisis faced by struggling British households.
There is no doubt that millions of people have genuine fears of being made redundant. I read of one survey this week which put the figure at fifteen million. Concerns over job security are not always borne out by reality, but they deepen the sense of economic gloom and are likely to lead to further cutbacks in non-essential consumer spending.
How much longer will China’s export machine - built on selling low cost manufactured products to the rest of the world - continue to grow at double digit rates? In an important article in today’s Sunday Times, Michael Sheridan argues that
“The fabled “China price” of cheap consumer goods has kept global inflation low, undercut workers in every industrialised nation and brought millions of Chinese peasants into a raw capitalist economy. That phase of globalisation may now be coming to an end, economists say. The export machine that powered China’s spectacular growth is slowing as the cost of manufacturing in China and shipping goods to Britain goes up daily.”
Rampant wage inflation, the huge rise in global shipping costs and an appreciating currency - all of these are having an impact on China’s cost competitiveness. The OECD for example is forecasting that the annual growth of Chinese exports will halve in 2008 and 2009.
My Chinese economy chartroom poster set is now available.read more...»
Bear Stearns, Lehman Bros, Merrill Lynch - investment banks with incredible exposure to the sub-prime monrtgage crisis, over-extended banks with toxic bad debts exploding all over the place. At 5-44am this morning UK time, Lehman bros filed for chapter 121 bankruptcy - the 4th largest investment bank in the world has gone bust. It is going to be one hell of a garage sale as the remaining assets are sold off frantically to anyone who wants a piece of the action.
“Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. (“LBHI”) announced today that it intends to file a petition under Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code with the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York.”
Barclays took a look at Lehman Bros and has pulled out. There is no doubt – the collapse of Lehman Bros is one of the biggest collapses in global financial history. They said thet Lehman Bros was too big to fail - they were wrong. In related news Merrill Lynch, another iconic investment bank is to be bought by Bank of America. So the 5 huge investment banks have now become 2. Next in line is AIG.
Share price chart
Marks and Spencer and Primark take the top two places in the retail clothing market - and behind them the major supermrkets have been engaged in a fierce battle for the low-price, high volume segment of the market beloved of households who replace tee-shirts and underwear rather than wash and iron them. So who is winning? Most people would figure Tesco was in the lead, the latest figures suggest something different.
One year on from the collapse of Northern Rock, the fall out from the financial distress is proving to be much deeper and persistent than most people expected. The Financial Times is running a special series of articles on the Northern Rock twelve months on ... well worth dipping into especially for A2 students wanting to understand more about how the credit crunch has impacted on the UK. Here is Chris Giles from the FT:
“What seemed last September to be a nasty, but limited, financial crisis morphed into a global downturn that has repeatedly buffeted the economy with three interlinked hammer blows: a deep financial crisis in advanced economies on both sides of the Atlantic; a commodity boom squeezing real incomes; and a housing crash in those economies with the most precarious property markets. Britain is also having to deal with an exchange rate tumble as steep as that of 1992, when sterling was unceremoniously ejected from the European exchange rate mechanism.”
I usually have Sky news running in the background and this week their newsroom has been running a series of reports on the condition of the National Health Service and the financial pressures facing state health care in a world of ever-changing health needs and wants, the emergence of new treatments and the daily inevitability of health care rationing. Many of the features are ideal for those using health care as a case study in scarcity, resource allocation, cost benefit analysis, positive and normative economics and market demand and supply of health services. Here is the main link Among the articles and videos is an emotional one with the darts legend Andy Fordham, who is battling to have a liver operation.
The Guardian has been critical of the EU carbon trading system in the past and a new report available here claims that some of Britain’s biggest polluters are set to reap a windfall gain because of an over-allocation of C02 permits in the first phase of the EU-ETS. The early fault-lines in the EU_ETS system are tantamount to government failure. The Guardian’s special reports on emissions trading provide a good point of reference for students and teachers.
Profit is a matter of opinion, cash is a matter of fact.
Willie Walsh, CEO of British Airways has warned that up to thirty airlines could go bust by the end of 2008 as the industry continues to battle the most difficult trading conditions in a generation. This week XL collapsed and left thousands of passengers stranded. It is fast becoming a familiar story - in this case an integrated travel company and airline struggling to cope with the impact of rising fuel costs and the squeeze on demand caused by the credit crunch which has a decimating effect on their cash-flow. Paddy Power has been taking bets on the next airline or travel operator to fail!
“The travel sector is particularly vulnerable at this time of year because operators have to begin paying suppliers, such as hoteliers just as the number of bookings begins to dwindle. This year, however, is especially difficult because the UK’s economic slowdown has begun to damage sales. At the same time, the costs of airlines and other travel companies remain high, primarily because of the hugely inflated price of jet fuel, which has doubled in a year.”
BA’s own fuel costs have risen by nearly £1bn this year and the business has not been slow in introducing cost-saving measures. The company will cut scheduled flights during the winter, raise air fares, reduce capital spending on new aircraft and cut the payroll by not replacing staff who retire. Yesterday they announced too that they have decided to give managers and senior managers the option to apply for voluntary severance.
Desperate times call for decisive action. No airline is safe. Alitalia looks to be the next in line - the airline has been on the ‘condition critical list’ for some time it has said that it is running of the bare cash needed to guarantee the fuel needed to pay for flights in the next few days.
This is a heart-warming story from the BBC about the rebirth of Hatfield Main colliery which is back in action once more, coal-mining having been made economically viable by the soaring world price of coal.read more...»
“Don’t change your lifestyle, change your supermarket”
Food market share
% sales of total grocers in 12 weeks to 12 August 2008
That is the Aldi strap-line as it seeks to change the shopping habits of price conscious consumers across the UK. The dramatic sales growth from the deep-discount food retailers is one of the big stories of 2008 and German-owned Aldi is planning to add one new store a week to its portfolio in a significant bid at organic growth and rising market share. The Telegrpah provides this analysis of the rise of the Aldi chain and how their retail model is radically different from the 24-hour, sell it all mentally of the likes of Tesco. Is the apparent shift from status to value a product of the times in which we live? or evidence of a longer-lasting change in consumer preferences. I have never set foot in an Aldi or a Lidl store, it might not be long before I do!
How many of you downloaded and installed Google’s new web browser Chrome? For the first time I now have four web browsers on my desktop and to be honest it makes a neat change to have the option when loading up for some web searching. The five way battle for web browsers provides a useful mini case study in the essence of contestable markets.read more...»
When the rise in the price of a commodity is described as unsustainable it is probably because it cannot be sustained! The price of crude oil has continued its steep descent in recent days and some futures prices for oil have now dipped below $100 a barrel, presumably a psychologically important moment for the market.read more...»
Since we’re all going to be swallowed up by that Swiss black hole tomorrow, I thought it’d be useful for us to learn how to sound more Josh Hartnett-convincing in our “If I die tomorrow, I want my last night to be spent with you.”read more...»
Could we end the smoking of tobacco in the Uk within a generation. On first glance it looks like one of those utterly grandiose targets that New Labour used to launch (and re-launch) such as abolishing Child Poverty by 2020. But this ultra-ambitious target comes from the Royal College of Physicians who argue that radical measures are needed to curb smoking. They argue that “The primary objective of regulation of smoked tobacco should be to make smoking and smoked tobacco products as unappealing, unattractive, unaffordable and unavailable as possible, as quickly as possible.”
The measures include:
Increase the tax on tobacco by 10% every year
License tobacco retailers and prohibit the sale of smoked tobacco in premises where children are admitted
Crack down on tobacco smuggling, and apply Class A drug penalties for tobacco smuggling and under-age sale
Encourage sale of low cost single day nicotine packs, available from any retail outlet
Permanently exempt medicinal nicotine from VAT
Provide free medicinal nicotine for all smokers on the NHS, not just those on a smoking cessation programme
What do you think?
Ending Tobacco Smoking in Britain is available here
This BBC article focuses on the ways in which the Brazilian government is seeking to use the revenue from oil exports to boost the economy’s long run economic growth potential and reducing poverty. There is a neat line in here about the importance of value added - from moving away from dependence on exporting crude oil to selling derivatives of oil that carry a higher value in world markets. Yet another country looks poised to establish a sovereign wealth fund to manage some of the assets that come from selling black gold to the rest of the world.
Containerisation has long been regarded as one of the key drivers of the current wave of globalisation. And now the BBC is putting together a series of video reports entitled The Box to demonstrate the impact that containerisation is having on our lives. Here Declan Curry finds out how the container box has transformed the way cargo moves around the world and in this report, Declan explains why such containers are so important in the modern world.
The series is inspired by the recent book by Marc Levinson “The Box How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger” and seems destined to produce and tremendously rich vein of news clips for us over the next year. Hat tip to John Richards for alerting me to this.
These brief notes are designed to illustrate how I have tried to build the Moodle system into my teaching and assessment for both AS and A2 Economics students. Moodle itself is constantly evolving and the community forums often provide a rich source of ideas and help from fellow users. The notes are download in pdf format.
Tutor2u Economics VLE
Behavioural economics is becoming increasingly fashionable. Does it represent a revolution in economic thinking? Or does it merely provide a few handy insights into the more irrational behaviours of individuals - Prospect Magazine brings together two well known authors to debate. Available here Hat tip to Louis Barclay for flagging this up.
I jotted down a few economics and business news questions for my new groups this morning and was pleasantly surprised at how many of my new economists within the facebook generation got pretty close to the answers in many cases .... anyway here they are with the answers in parenthesisread more...»
The date for the 2009 Economics Teacher National Conference has been announced together with an attractive departmental deal for colleagues who want to come as a group to the premier Economics CPD event of the year…read more...»
But Alistair Darling’s performance on The World at One yesterday was nothing short of pathetic. Rarely have I sat by a radio and listened to someone plagued by such nervousness and self-doubt, he stuttered his way through the interview and it was incredibly painful to listen to. His performance on BBC later on in the day was a touch better. But when the Chancellor cannot display confidence in his own abilities then there is something seriously amiss.read more...»
The RICS suggests instead that environmentally conscious people wanting to cut fuel bills should insulate lofts and cavity walls, install efficient light bulbs and seal windows.
This is a good example to use when illustrating the principle of opportunity cost, allocative efficiency and the related cost-benefit principle. The payback time for cavity wall insulation etc can be as little as three years. Here is an article on the research in today’s Telegraph.
Is this just another example of an independent bookseller finding it impossible to survive amid the deep-discounting of the online bookstores or increasing retail dominance of the supermarkets who focus on a selection of best-sellers? Actually the answer is no.read more...»
Ordinarily a depreciation in the exchange rate ought to provide a welcome boost to the competitiveness of UK industries exposed to international trade - providing a useful cushion of extra demand at a time of economic weakness. But Roger Bootle’s analysis in his latest Deloitte Economic Review provides a timely and really useful piece of work for A2 students wanting to deepen their understanding of the impact of a lower exchange rate on output, trade, inflationary pressures, profits and jobs.
Bootle argues the the lower pound will help to re-balance the economy - but depreciation has come at an earlier stage of the economic slowdown than that seen in 1992, which came after a major recession. Accordingly, the inflationary dangers of a weaker exchange rate might appear to be greater this time - one of the reasons why the Monetary Policy Committee appears reluctant to cut interest rates.
Within the nine members of the Monetary Policy Committee, a clear divide has opened up between two of the members - at present they appear to be both on their own with little support from the remainder of the interest-rate setting panel. Who will gather enough support to move interest rates in their preferred direction?read more...»
It is manna from heaven for the Chancellor to give Economics teachers such a juicy headline to work with right at the start of teaching a macroeconomics course because it allows us to ask students just how we measure the performance of an economy and test the extent to which this is perhaps the most profound downturn in the post-war period?
GDP growth is stagnant, inflation is more than double the government’s own target of 2% 9with inflationary expectations also heading north) and unemployment as measured by the claimant count and the labour force survey is starting to pick up fast amid a wave of redundancies.
But even a cursory glance at macroeconomic data stretching back to the 1950s and 1960s tells us straight away that the economy is not in the same perilous position than it was in the stagflationary days of the 1970s and early 1980s.read more...»
William Bernstein writes in a guest spot for the Freakonomics blog and considers how extreme income and wealth inequality can hinder growth and development in the long run. Quite apart from the increased burden of spending on defensive expenditure such as home security, prison guards and home and contents insurance - when the gap between the haves and the have-nots reaches staggering levels there is a real fear that respect for property rights is fundamentally undermined.
“The paradox of economic growth is that the same mechanisms that create great wealth –secure property rights and rule of law guaranteed by an independent judiciary — also give rise to great inequalities in its distribution. Private property provides a powerful incentive to produce wealth for oneself while simultaneously denying that same wealth to others. Wealth does trickle down to the rest of the population, but often not fast enough to avoid political strife and worse.”
Two excellent examples in recent days of businesses moving quickly to combat a slump in demand and sales. Both Land Rover and Toyota have decided to scale back on production at their manufacturing plants in the UK. Toyota has a huge plant at Burnaston in Derbyshire second only to Nissan in Sunderland for the annual output of vehicles. The Times reports that Toyota plans to reduce the number of daily shifts on the plant’s Auris production line from two to one this year. Over at Land Rover, some of the assembly workers will have longer weekends after a decision to make Land Rover and Discovery vehicles on four days a week, from Monday to Thursday.
These decisions are pro-active in the sense that businesses cannot afford to build up too high a stock of unsold cars - and with the credit crunch continuing to bite, demand for cars from consumers and from the fleet sector is weakening rapidly. The lower pound ought to make UK manufactured cars more competitive in western European markets - but with the Euro Area teetering on the brink of recession, the negative income effect on demand for new vehicles is offsetting the competitive boost from a lower currency.
tutor2u’s new digital Course Companions are now available for the new AQA, Edexcel and OCR AS Economics specifications…read more...»
This isn’t a gentle correction of house prices towards a sustainable long run position - the fall in UK property values is now steeper than at any time since the Nationwide Building Society first published their house price survey. Prices were 10.5% lower in August than they were a year ago. Prices fell by 1.9% compared with July and the average home now costs £164,654, which is more than £19,000 cheaper than the average price one year ago. Things are pretty bad in Spain too as this BBC news video from Hugh Pym illustrates. This week Taylor Wimpey announced a loss of £1.54bn in the six months to 30 June, saying it faced “very challenging” conditions.
Ordinarily the slump in prices ought to improve affordability and bring more first time buyers into the market - but with expectations for prices so pessimistic and mortgages remaining very difficult to get hold of, that glint of silver lining is unlikely to come to the rescue to the property sector for the time being.
PowerPoint version of the chart
I almost spat out my breakfast this morning when I read this piece of news: Rat meat in demand as inflation bites. Apparently with the price of beef at £2.50 per kilo, the poor in Cambodia can no longer afford it and have to resort to rodent meat, despite that being four times what it cost a year ago. We’ve all learnt about bread and potatoes in our lessons about Giffen goods but this is a rather peculiar example which might not quite make it to the textbooks just yet.
I am about to hit the motorway this morning to return home for a new school year - so the front page of the Independent made for interesting reading. Trafficmaster has released figures which seem to indicate that congestion on Britain’s major roads is easing for the first time in over a decade. It offers firm evidence that motorists are responding to the effects of higher fuel prices when making their travel decisions.read more...»
The Guardian has a nifty interactive graphic on the troubles facing the UK building industry during the property slump. Housing is one of the classic examples of an industry where cyclical changes in demand feed through very quickly into the number of jobs on offer in construction - a sizeable number of workers do not have permanent contracts, and this applies right the way through the industry from builders to the building supply sectors. The BBC considers whether London 2012 will provide a sufficiently big boost to demand and jobs to partly offset the current downturn.
Perhaps fearful of a steep slowdown in exports to a weakening global economy, the Chinese monetary authorities appear to be engaging in another bout of active manipulation of the Yuan in the foreign exchanges.read more...»
Sarah Harper, Professor of Gerontology at Oxford and director of the Oxford Institute of Ageing offers this optimistic view of the economic and social spill-overs from our ageing population. Apparently - currently, every hour we live adds five minutes to our life expectancy.
The article seems to be in response to figures released last week that the number of people aged over 60 in the UK now outnumbers children for the first time.
Much of the newsflow in recent months has been about the possible return of stagflation to western economies - with prices driven higher by a combination of rising energy and food prices allied to the risk of a wage-price spiral. But when asset price bubbles burst - as they are doing spectacularly in the US and UK property markets and elsewhere, the reduction in the value of wealth can expose big holes in personal balance sheets especially when millions of households have gorged themselves on borrowing.
Do sales of chocolate rise as consumer confidence ebbs away? Market demand for chocolate appears to be growing strongly even as the credit crunch bites and prices rise on the back of increasing cocoa and oil prices.
Chocolate’s long-deserved reputation as a comfort food or snack at times of distress and worry seems to be well founded according to this excellent BBC video report from Nigel Cassidy. Goods whose demand rises during economic downturns have been coined as “counter-cyclical products”. Sean O’Grady writing in the Independent looked back to the emergence of the giant confectionery businesses during the Great Depression of the 1930s.
“During most previous slumps – and especially in the Great Depression of the 1930s – sales of chocolate have bucked the general trend. Indeed, the “Hungry Thirties” were a golden age for chocolatiers. Some famous names were invented then, including Marathon (now Snickers, 1930) and Maltesers (1936, then known as “energy balls”).”
Inexpensive treats are often the last thing we give up when our budgets are under pressure.
How many of us still teach about conglomerates when teaching the economics of business growth? Rentokil Initial is one of the few remaining genuine conglomerates in British business.
The business which started life as a glorified pest controller has diversified over the years and famously - under former CEO Clive Thomson - clung onto a target of growing by 20 per cent a year until a recent downgrading of expansion prospects.
The Rentokil group now includes business that range from pest control to catering, e-security, washroom hygiene and landscape gardening and conferencing - but a series of botched takeovers and restructuring costs seem to have done them no favours as profits have declined. The BBC reports that nderlying profits for the first half of the year fell 55% to £39.3m.
The Guardian reports on their current difficulties and the pressure for some of their businesses to be sold off to protect shareholder value. The City Link parcel delivery business looks to be under real pressure given the increasingly competitive environment and the impact of sharp increases in transportation costs.
It was a surprise at breakfast today to read the following in the births, deaths and marriages column of my newspaper
Then on closer inspection I realised I was reading the A-Bit_Chewy column
This pun reminds me of the cost pressures that confectionery manufacturers are under. Mars is the latest chocolate monalinth to report that the rising cost of ingredients is having a negative effect on their profit margins and that they will be looking to push through higher prices to wholesalers - this will feed through pretty much direct to chocolate-lovers in the days and weeks ahead.
This BBC report looks inside the Bournville chocolate factory in Birmingham
Most students starting their economics courses this autumn have never known what it is like to live through a recession since the last time Britain went into a downturn was in the early 1990s. In fact, there have been only five recessions since the end of the Second World War: in 1974, 1975, 1980, 1981 and 1991.Is this all about to change? Yes.read more...»
This really is an excellent BBC news interview with the Chief Executive of Vestas one of the leading manufacturers of wind turbines in Europe. With rising demand for renewable energy supplies driven in part by persistently high oil prices - the pressure is on companies such as Vestas to deliver sufficient wind turbines to meet demand. The lead times between ordering a wind turbine and it becoming operational are long - including testing for wind strength and design of the wind farm site - a good example to use when considering elasticity of supply.
The Vestas web site provides a mine of good background information. The company claims to have close on 25% of the market share in wind turbines and has produced 35,500 of them in recent years. Vestas faces cost pressures of its own including the rising price of steel on world markets and increased transportation costs. Bottlenecks in the supply of key components also affects their ability to deliver orders on time. Vestas is committed to organic growth and is investing in a new blade technology factory in the Isle of Wight although only a few days ago the company announced the closure of a wind turbine tower factory in Campbeltown in Scotland.
New-generation wind farms inevitably create political controversy in the areas in which investment in wind farms is targeted - this scheme in Cornwall in no exception.
Students preparing to head to university in a few weeks time should be warned that the inflation rate they face is well above the official rate for the consumer price index - according to a new student price index calculated by the an economist working for the Open University. Economist Alan Shipman finds that for those in higher education, inflation for full-time students is nearly 7% because students spend a far higher proportion of their budget on items that have risen in price fastest over the past year – food, housing, travel, and the additional cost of tuition fees.
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.”