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Welcome to the Sloman Economics News Site. This blog contains links to topical stories in the news discussing key economic issues and concepts.

Each news item starts with an introduction to the issue. This is followed by several links to relevant news articles – some to videos or podcasts. The item finishes with discussion questions that can be used either for self-testing or for use in class.

Scroll down below to read the latest articles posted, or use the search facilities on the left-hand side to search the articles by date, keyword and your chosen textbook.

Most of the postings are by Elizabeth Jones, John Sloman, Dean Garratt, Matt Olczak, Jon Guest and Alison Wride.

We also welcome guest posts from lecturers using one or more of the books in their teaching – see the About this Site section on the left for more details.

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Postman Pat

Calls for an independent Scotland have focused on a variety of economic issues. These have included taxation, government spending, currency, fiscal policy and monetary policy. However, the BBC News article below looks at another factor which may be affected by a ‘yes’ vote – the price of stamps.

Having just returned from 10 days in the Highlands, I certainly agree with the BBC article that it would be an expensive business to deliver to the remotest parts of Scotland and would definitely require ‘trains, planes, ferries, Land Rovers and vans’ and, in an extreme case, a fishing boat.

So is the price we pay for postage to less rural areas of the UK used to subsidise the higher costs of delivery to the remotest parts of Scotland and, in particular, to the small islands off the Scottish coastline? What would a ‘yes’ vote mean for the cost of stamps in Scotland and in the remainder of the UK? The following articles consider this rather odd question.

Why postage should be cheaper in UK if Scots vote ‘Yes’ BBC News, Brian Milligan (19/4/14)
Tories warn over post service costs The Courier (6/4/14)

Questions

  1. What happened when the Royal Mail was privatised?
  2. What are the benefits and costs of privatisation?
  3. Using a cost and revenue diagram, explain how the different costs of delivery between urban parts of the UK and the remotest parts of Scotland should be reflected in different prices of postage.
  4. If the price of postage is the same for delivery everywhere in the UK, use your diagram to explain how this happens.
  5. What does your diagram suggest will happen to the price of postage stamps if a ‘subsidy’ is no longer available?
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What does ‘fair play’ mean for the big teams in Europe?

Officials of the Club Financial Control Body (CFCB) of UEFA met on Tuesday 15th April and Wednesday 16th April to decide the fate of a number of European clubs. The job of the CFCB is to implement UEFA’s Financial Fair Play (FFP) rules. Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) are said to be nervously awaiting the outcome of these meetings.

UEFA’s FFP rules apply to teams who want to play in either the Champions League or the Europa League. In order to be eligible to compete in these competitions teams not only have to perform well in their domestic league they also have to obtain a license from UEFA. The application process normally takes place midway through the current season for entry into either the Champions League or Europa League for the following season.

UEFA’s FFP rules cover a broad range of issues such as requirements for clubs to pay taxes, transfer fees and players’ wages on time in order to receive a license. However it is the ‘Break Even’ requirement that has caught the attention of a number of economists. This provision limits the size of the financial losses that team can incur before they become subject to sanctions from UEFA. Some of the stated aims of the policy are to:

- Introduce more discipline and rationality in club football finances
- Encourage clubs to operate on the basis of their own revenues
- Encourage responsible spending for the long-term benefit of football
- Protect the long term viability and sustainability of European club football.

The Royal Economic Society held a special session on the potential impact of the ‘Break Even’ requirement at its annual conference in April of this year.

One key way in which the UEFA rules differ from the rules imposed in the Championship in England is that the financial performance of the clubs is judged over a 2/3 year period rather than just one. The initial assessment period is over 2 seasons – 2011-12 to 2012-13. After this the monitoring period is over 3 seasons. Teams can make an initial loss of €5 million in total over the first two year period but this can increase to a maximum permitted loss €45 million over the two years – approximately £37 million – if the team’s owner is willing to fund this loss out of their own money. Certain categories of expenditure are exempt such as the cost of building a new stadium/stand or spending on youth development and the local community.

Manchester City made a total financial loss of £149 million over the last two seasons, far in excess of the permitted £37million, but these losses are falling which may count in their favour. They made losses of £97.9 million in 2012 and £51.6 million in 2013. Also some of the club’s expenditure will have been on some of the exempted categories so that the actual losses subject to FFP will be lower. Chelsea made a profit of £1.4million in 2011-12 and a loss of £49.4million in 2012-13. Although the losses over the two seasons were greater than £37 million, once adjustments were made for exempted expenditures the club was within the maximum permitted loss so was not subject to a full investigation.

In order to implement its FFP regulations UEFA created the Club Financial Control Body (CFCB). The CFCB has two departments – an investigatory chamber and an adjudicatory chamber. The investigatory chamber does the bulk of the work by investigating the accounts of all the 237 clubs that play in UEFA competitions. It was initially reported that the accounts of 76 clubs were being investigated in some detail because it was thought that they might have failed to meet FFP guidelines. However after further investigations in February it was reported that this number had fallen to below 20 teams. The investigatory panel met on Tuesday 15th April and Wednesday 16th April in order to make its final decisions which will be announced May 5th. The body can choose from one of the four following options in each case:

- Dismiss the case
- Agree a settlement with the club – effectively putting it on probation
- Reprimand and fine the club up to €100,000
- Refer the club to the CFCB adjudicatory chamber

The last option is the most serious as the adjudicatory chamber has the power to issue more serious penalties such as

- A deduction of points from the group stages of UEFA competitions.
- Withholding of revenues from UEFA competitions.
- Restrictions on the number of players that a club can register for participation in UEFA competitions.
- Disqualification from future UEFA competitions.

One issue that concerned UEFA was the possibility that very wealthy team owners might try to artificially inflate the revenues their club’s generate so as to circumvent the rules and make it look as if the team was meeting the FFP guidelines. In particular deals might be struck between other organisations that the club owner has an interest in and the football club at rates far in excess of the normal market level. For example some concerns have been expressed about the nature of the back-dated sponsorship deal of £167 million/year signed by PSG with the Qatar Tourism Authority. PSG are owned by Qatar Sport Investment which itself is a joint venture between the Qatari government and the Qatari Olympic Committee. The CFCB have said that they will analyse these types of deals and adjust club accounts if necessary so that they reflect true market rates.

May 5th could prove to be a very significant day for some of the biggest and most wealthy clubs in Europe.

Webcast
The Economics of “Financial Fair Play” (FFP) in European Soccer (EJ Special Session) Royal Economic Society (7/4/14)

Articles
UEFA probes ‘fewer than 20′ clubs over financial fair play rules Sky Sports, (14/4/14)
Manchester City confident of satisfying Uefa financial fair play rules The Guardian (15/4/14)
Uefa’s Financial Fair Play rules explained The Telegraph (15/4/14)
Man City sweating over sanctions as UEFA prepare to rule over excessive spending Daily Mail (15/4/14)
How Bosman’s lawyer is plotting another football revolution BBC Sport (2/10/13)
Manchester City await fate as Uefa’s financial rules kick in BBC Sport (16/4/14)
Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain face financial fair play fate The Guardian (14/4/14) .

Questions

  1. In standard economic theory it is assumed that both consumers and producers act rationally. What precisely does this mean?
  2. One of the stated aims of UEFA FFP is to ‘introduce more discipline and rationality in club football finances’. Why might the owners of a football club act in an irrational way?
  3. Consider some of the advantages and disadvantages of assessing the financial performance of a team over 3 years as opposed to 1 year.
  4. One of the major arguments made against the UEFA FFP rules is that they will lead to a ‘fossilisation’ of the existing market i.e. the current top clubs are more likely to maintain their leadership. Explain the logic of this argument in more detail.
  5. Which of the possible sanctions for breaking FFP regulations do you think would hit the clubs the hardest in terms of the revenue they would lose? i.e. Which of the sanctions would they most like to avoid?
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How to play fair: The rules of the game for the owners of teams in the Championship.

As Leicester City celebrated promotion to the English Premier League (EPL) last Saturday (5th April) it also became the first club in England that will probably have to pay a new Financial Fair Play (FFP) Tax. This tax is not paid to the government, but is effectively a fine imposed by the English Football League (EFL) on teams who break FFP regulations.

On Tuesday 8th April 2014 representatives from all the Championship clubs met with officials from the English Football League (EFL) in order to discuss the implementation of FFP. It had been reported in February that a number of teams were unhappy about the implementation of the FFP rules and were threatening to take legal action against the league. Unsurprisingly, one of these clubs was rumoured to be Leicester City.

In April 2012, 21 out of the 24 clubs in the Championship agreed on a set of new FFP regulations. These rules place a limit on the size of any financial losses that a team can incur in a given season before punishments, such as a tax, are imposed on them. The English Football League (EFL) stated that the aim of the FFP regulations was to

reduce the levels of losses being incurred at some clubs and, over time, establish a league of financially self-sustaining professional football clubs.

Under the agreed set of rules, all teams in the Championship have to provide a set of annual accounts by 1st December for the previous season: i.e. the first reporting period was in December 2012, when clubs had to submit accounts for 2011–12. No penalties were applied for the first two reporting periods as teams were given time to adjust to the new FFP framework. However sanctions come into effect for the 2013–14 season.

For the 2013–14 season the FFP rules set a threshold of £3 million as the size of the pre-tax financial losses that a team can incur before having to face any sanctions. If a team incurs a pre-tax loss of greater than £3 million but less than £8 million then punishments from the league can be avoided if the team’s owner invests enough money into the club so that the loss is effectively limited to £3 million: i.e. if the club reports a loss of £7 million then the owner would have to invest a minimum of £4 million of his/her own cash to avoid any sanctions.

The club is not allowed to finance the loss by borrowing or adding to the level of the team’s debt. If the owner cannot/refuses to make the investment or the pre-tax loss is greater than £8 million then the team is subject to one of two possible sanctions depending on whether it is promoted or not.

First, if the club is not promoted to the EPL, then it is subject to a transfer ban from the 1st January 2015: i.e. it will be unable to sign new players at the start of the transfer window. The ban remains in place until the club is able to submit financial information that clearly shows that it is meeting the FFP guidelines.

Second, if the club is promoted to the EPL then instead of a transfer embargo it has to pay the FFP Tax. The amount of tax the firm has to pay to the league depends on the size of the financial loss it has incurred. The larger the loss, the greater the tax it has to pay. The marginal rate of tax also increases with the size of the loss.

In order to help illustrate how the tax works it is useful to take a simple example. Leicester city reported a pre-tax loss of £34 million in 2012–13. If the club managed to reduce its pre-tax losses to £15 million in 2013–14 then, given its promotion, it would be subject to the tax. If we also assume that the owners are willing and able to invest £5 million of their own money into the club then the rate of tax the team would have to pay is based on the size of its losses over £8 million in the following way:

1% on losses between £8,000,001 and £8,100,000
20% on losses between £8,100,001 and £8,500,000
40% on losses between £8,500,001 and £9,000,000
60% on losses between £9,000,001 and £13,000,000
80% on losses between £13,000,001 and £18,000,000
100% on any losses over £18,000,000

Therefore with a loss of £15 million the FFP tax that Leicester would have to pay is £4,281,000 (£1,000 + £80,000 + £200,000 + £2.4million + £1.6million). If the club instead made a pre-tax financial loss of £30,000 in the 2013–14 season, then the FFP tax it would have to pay increases to £18,681,000 (£1,000 + £80,000 + £200,000 + £2.4million + £4 million + £12 million).

It was originally agreed that the revenue generated from the FFP tax would be shared equally by the teams in the Championship who managed to meet the FFP regulations. However the EPL objected to this provision and the money will now be donated to charity by the EFL.

Based on the financial results reported in 2012–13, about half the clubs in the Championship would be subject to either a transfer ban or FFP tax in January 2015. It was reported in the press in February that a number of clubs had instructed the solicitors, Brabners, to write to the EFL threatening legal action.

One particular concern was the ability of the clubs in the Championship subject to FFP rules to compete with teams relegated from the EPL. When the original FFP regulations were agreed, the teams relegated from the EPL received parachute payments of £48 million over a 4-year period. Following the record-breaking TV deal to broadcast EPL games, the payments were increased to £59 million for the 2013–14 season.

Following the meeting on Tuesday 8th April a spokesman from the EFL said

Considerable progress was achieved on potential improvements to the current regulations following a constructive debate between the clubs.

It will be interesting to see what changes are finally agreed and the implications they will have for the competitive balance of the league.

Articles
Why Championship clubs are crying foul over financial fair play The Guardian (26/2/14)
Wage bills result in big losses at Leicester City and Nottingham Forest The Guardian (5/3/14)
Financial fair play: Championship clubs make progress on talks BBC Sport (10/4/14)
Financial Fair Play in the Football League The Football League (25/4/12)
Loss leaders – Financial Fair Play Rules When Saturday Comes (25/4/12)
Richard Scudamore: financial fair play rules unsustainable in present form The Guardian (14/3/14)

Questions

  1. To what extent do you think that the implementation of the FFP regulations will either increase or decrease the competitive balance of the Championship?
  2. An article in the magazine ‘When Saturday Comes’ made the following statement “Last season’s champions, QPR, lost £25.4m and would have been handed a ‘tax’ of at least £17.4m based on 2013-14 thresholds”. Explain why this statement is not accurate. What mistake has the author made when trying to calculate the level of FFP tax payable?
  3. Nottingham Forest reported pre-tax financial losses of £17 million in 2012-13. If they made the same losses in 2013-14 and were promoted to the EPL, calculate how much FFP tax they would have to pay under current regulations.
  4. To what extent do you think that the money generated by the FFP tax should be equally distributed between the teams in the Championship who meet the FFP regulations.
  5. Why do you think team owners might need regulations to restrict the level of losses that they can make. Why might sport be different from other sectors?
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Cause for optimism?

The IMF has just published its 6-monthly World Economic Outlook report. The report is moderately optimistic, arguing that ‘global activity has broadly strengthened and is expected to improve further in 2014–15′. World growth is expected to rise from 3.0% in 2013 to 3.6% in 2014 and 3.9% in 2015,

Much of the impetus for an acceleration in growth is expected to come from advanced countries. Growth in these countries is expected to average 2¼% in 2014–15, a rise of 1 percentage point compared with 2013. Part of the reason is that these countries still have large output gaps and thus have considerable scope to respond to rises in aggregate demand.

Monetary policy in advanced countries remains accommodative, although the USA has begun to taper off its quantitative easing programme. It is possible, however, that the ECB may make its monetary policy more accommodative, with signs that it might embark on quantitative easing if eurozone growth remains weak and if the risks of deflation rise. If the average price level in the eurozone does fall, this could dampen demand as consumers defer consumption until prices have fallen.

As far as emerging economies are concerned, growth is projected to ‘pick up gradually from 4.7 percent in 2013 to about 5 percent in 2014 and 5¼% in 2015′. Although predicted growth is higher in emerging countries than in advanced countries, its acceleration is less, and much of the predicted growth is dependent on rising export sales to the advanced countries.

Global growth, however, is still fragile. Emerging market economies are vulnerable to a slowing or even reversal of monetary flows from the USA as its quantitative easing programme winds down. Advanced countries are vulnerable to deflationary risks. ‘The result [of deflation] would be higher real interest rates, an increase in private and public debt burdens, and weaker demand and output.’

The UK is predicted to have the strongest growth (2.9%) of the G7 countries in 2014 (see above chart). But the IMF cautions about being too optimistic:

Growth has rebounded more strongly than anticipated in the United Kingdom on easier credit conditions and increased confidence. However, the recovery has been unbalanced, with business investment and exports still disappointing.

Articles
IMF: World economy stronger; recovery uneven USA Today, Paul Davidson (8/4/14)
Emerging markets feel the pressure The Telegraph, Szu Ping Chan (8/4/14)
IMF cuts downturn danger to near zero Financial Times, Chris Giles (8/4/14)
IMF warns eurozone and ECB on deflation threat RTE News (8/4/14)
Recovery strong but risk shifts to emerging markets: IMF CNBC, Kiran Moodley (8/4/14)
IMF: World economy is stronger but faces threats Bloomberg Businessweek, Christopher S. Rugaber (8/4/14)
IMF: UK economic growth to reach 2.9% in 2014 BBC News (8/4/14)
IMF: UK economic growth to reach 2.9% in 2014 BBC News, Hugh Pym (8/4/14)
Five signs that the global economic recovery may be an illusion The Guardian, Larry Elliott (6/4/14)

Report and data
World Economic Outlook (WEO) International Monetary Fund (8/4/14)
World Economic Outlook Database IMF (8/4/14)

Questions

  1. Why does the IMF expect the world economy to grow more strongly in 2014 and 2015 than in 2013?
  2. What are the greatest risks to economic growth for (a) advanced countries; (b) developing countries?
  3. What geo-political events could negatively affect economic growth in (a) the eurozone; (b) the global economy?
  4. In what ways is the UK’s economic growth unbalanced?
  5. How much credence should be given to economic forecasts?
  6. Should countries’ economic performance be judged primarily by their growth in GDP?
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A full employment target

Unemployment and employment are concepts that are often talked about in the media. Indeed, the 7% unemployment target referred to by the Governor of the Bank of England has been a constant feature of recent headlines. However, rather than targeting an unemployment rate of 7%, George Osborne has now called for ‘full employment’ and believes that tax and welfare changes are key to meeting this objective.

Reducing the unemployment rate is a key macroeconomic objective and the costs of unemployment are well-documented. There are obviously big costs to the individual and his/her family, including lower income, dependency, stress and potential health effects. There are also costs to the government: lower income tax revenues, potentially lower revenues from VAT through reduced consumer expenditure and the possibility of higher benefit payments. There are other more ‘economic’ costs, namely an inefficient use of resources. Unemployment represents a cost to the economy, as we are operating below full capacity and we therefore see a waste of resources. It is for this reason that ‘full employment’ is being targeted.

Traditional economic theory suggests that there is a trade-off between unemployment and inflation, illustrated by the well-known Phillips curve. In the past, governments have been willing to sacrifice unemployment for the purpose of reducing inflation. There have also been attempts to boost the economy and create jobs through increased borrowing. However, George Osborne has said:

Unemployment is never a price worth paying, but artificial jobs paid for with borrowed money doesn’t work either.

A figure representing full employment hasn’t been mentioned, so it remains unclear what level of unemployment would be acceptable, as despite the name ‘full employment’, this doesn’t mean that everyone has a job. There are several definitions of full employment, in both an economic and political context. In the period of reconstruction after the Second World War, William Beveridge, architect of the welfare state, defined full employment as where 3% of people would be unemployed.

In more recent times, other definitions have been given. In the era of monetarism in the 1970s, the term ‘natural rate of unemployment’ was used to define the unemployment rate to which economies tend in the long run – after inflationary expectations have adjusted. Keynesians use the term the ‘non-accelerating-inflation rate of unemployment (NAIRU)’, where unemployment is confined to equilibrium unemployment and where there is no excess or deficiency of aggregate demand. Both the natural rate and the NAIRU relate to the rate of unemployment at which the long-run Phillips curve is vertical.

In its Economic and Fiscal Outlook of March 2013, the Office for Budget Responsibility estimated the UK’s NAIRU to be 5.4%. George Osborne has not specified a particular rate. Rather, his speech refers to creating the ‘highest employment rate of any of the world’s leading economies’. He said the ambition was to make the UK:

…the best place in the world to create a job; to get a job; to keep a job; to be helped to look for another job if you lose one…A modern approach to full employment means backing business. It means cutting the tax on jobs and reforming welfare.

Therefore, while it appears that there is no target figure for unemployment, it seems that a new Conservative objective will be to focus on sustainable job creation and eliminate disequilibrium unemployment. This represents a move very much into Labour territory. Meeting the objective will be no easy task, given the past few years and such high levels of youth unemployment, as Labour were quick to point out, but the unemployment figures are certainly moving in the right direction. The following articles consider the objective of full employment.

Britain’s Osborne changes tone on economy with “full employment” target Reuters, William James (31/3/14)
George Osborne commits to ‘fight for full employment’ BBC News (including video) (1/4/14)
What does full employment mean? The Guardian (1/4/14)
What is full employment? The Telegraph, Peter Dominiczak (31/3/14)
’Jobs matter’, says George Osborne as he aims for full employment Independent, Andrew Grice (31/3/14)
Liam Bynre: Labour would aim for ‘full employment’ BBC News (17/5/13)
Osborne pledges full employment for UK Sky News (31/3/14)
Osborne commits to full employment as election looms Bloomberg, Svenja O’Donnell (31/3/14)
Whatever happened to full employment? BBC News, Tom de Castella and Caroline McClatchey (13/10/11)

Questions

  1. What is meant by full employment?
  2. Is it a good idea to target zero unemployment?
  3. Using a diagram, illustrate the difference between disequilibrium and equilibrium unemployment?
  4. How can full employment be achieved?
  5. What are the costs of unemployment?
  6. Use a diagram to illustrate the natural rate of unemployment and explain what it means in terms of the relationship between unemployment and inflation.
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