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Tax inversion, Botox and Viagra

On Monday 23rd November, the US based pharmaceutical business Pfizer (producer of Viagra) announced that it had reached a $160 billion deal to acquire the Irish based pharmaceutical business Allergan (producer of Botox). If it is successful it will be the third largest deal in takeover history.

In a previous blog on this website a number of reasons were discussed to explain why businesses may engage in mergers and acquisitions (M&As) Are large mergers and acquisitions in the interests of the consumer . These include market power, access to growing markets, economies of scale and reducing x-inefficiency. One of the interesting things about the Pfizer and Allegan deal is the importance of another factor that was not discussed in the article – tax avoidance.

Rates of corporation tax vary considerably between countries and may deter some businesses from operating in the US where it is at the relatively high level of 35%. This compares with a rate of 20% in the UK, 12.5% in Ireland and 0% in Bermuda. The global average rate is 23.7% whereas the average across EU countries is 22.2%.

However, a far bigger incentive for a US firm to merge with or acquire businesses in other countries is the unusual way the US authorities tax profits. Most countries use a territorial system. This means that tax is only paid on the profit earned in that country. For example if a UK multinational business has subsidiaries in other countries it only pays corporation tax in the UK on profits earned in the UK. The profits earned by its subsidiary businesses would be taxed at the rate set by the government in the country where they were located.

The US authorities use a worldwide system. This means that profits earned by a subsidiary in another country are also taxed in the US. This is best explained with the help of a simple numerical example.

Assume a US multinational earns $100,000 in profits from a subsidiary based in Ireland. These profits will be taxed in Ireland at the rate of 12.5% and the company would have to pay $12,500 to the Irish government. If that profit was returned to the US it would be taxed again at a rate of 22.5%: i.e. 35% – 12.5%. The company would have to pay the US authorities $22,500.The worldwide system means that the total rate of tax paid by the firm is 35% but it is split between two different countries. If the territorial system was used, the firm would only pay the $12,500 to the Irish government.

So how could M&As change things? If an M&A enables a US multinational business to change its country of incorporation (i.e. move the address of its headquarters) from the US to another country that operates a territorial system its payments will fall. This is sometimes referred to as tax inversion. As the Bloomberg columnist Matt Levine stated:

If we’re incorporated in the U.S., we’ll pay 35 percent taxes on our income in the U.S. and Canada and Mexico and Ireland and Bermuda and the Cayman Islands, but if we’re incorporated in Canada, we’ll pay 35 percent on our income in the U.S. but 15 percent in Canada and 30 percent in Mexico and 12.5 percent in Ireland and zero percent in Bermuda and zero percent in the Cayman Islands.

As a result of the merger with Allergan, Pfizer will move the address of its headquarters to Ireland even though its global operations and executives will still be based in New York. It has been estimated that this will generate a one off tax saving of $21 billion as Pfizer would avoid having to pay US taxes on $128 billion of profits generated by its non US subsidiaries.

A number of US politicians have condemned the proposed deal. For example Hilary Clinton stated:

This proposed merger, and so called inversions by other companies, will leave US taxpayers holding the bag.

Twenty US companies have moved their headquarters to countries that operate a territorial system of taxation since 2012. These include Burger King’s move to Canada and Medtronic’s move to Ireland.

The US government has tried to tighten the rules but the two major parties disagree about how to deal with the problem.

Articles
Pfizer Seals $160bn Allergan deal to create drugs giant BBC News,(23/11/15)
Pfizer’s $160bn Allergan deal under pressure in the US BBC News,(24/11/15)
Pfizer set to buy Allergan in $150bn historic deal The Telegraph,(23/11/15)
Pfizer and Allergan poised to announce history’s biggest healthcare merger-corporate-tax The Guardian,(22/11/15)
Pfizer takeover: what is a tax inversion deal and why are they so controversial? The Guardian,(23/11/15)

Questions

  1. The newly merged business would jump above Johnson and Johnson to become the world’s largest biotech and pharmaceutical company in the world. Who are the other biggest eight Biotech and pharmaceutical businesses in the world?
  2. What exactly is a subsidiary? Give some real-world examples.
  3. How have the US authorities changed the rules in an attempt to deter tax inversions?
  4. Assume that a US multinational makes $1 million profit in the US and $1 million profit from its subsidiary in Ireland. Explain how changing its country of incorporation from the US to Ireland will alter the amount of corporation tax that it has to pay.

Are large mergers and acquisitions in the interests of the consumer?

Global merger and acquisition deals with a combined value of £2.7 trillion ($4.06 trillion) have taken place so far this year (1 Jan to 3 Nov). This is a 38% increase on the same period in 2014 ($2.94 trillion) and even surpasses the previous record high for the same period in 2007 ($3.93 trillion) (see the chart from the Dealogic article linked below).

Measured by dollar value, October was the fifth biggest month in Mergers and Acquisitions (M&As) history with the announcement of $514bn of actual or proposed deals. These included:

the proposed £71 billion deal to acquire SABMiller (the world’s second largest brewer) by AB InBev (the world’s largest brewer);
the $67bn takeover of network storage provider EMC by Dell (the world’s third largest computer supplier);
the proposed deal to acquire Allergan (producer of Botox) by Pfizer (the producer of Viagra).

Although the dollar value of M&As was extremely large in October the actual number of deals, 2177, was significantly lower than the average of 3521 over the previous 9 months.

Are these large M&As in the interests of the consumer? One advantage is that the newly combined firms may have lower average costs. Reports in the press, following the announcement of most M&As, often discuss the potential for reductions in duplicate resources and rationalisation. After the successful completion of a takeover two previously separate departments, such as finance, law or HRM, may be combined into one office. If the newly integrated department is (i) smaller than the previous two departments added together and (ii) can operate just as effectively, then average costs will fall. This is simply an example of an economy of scale.

Average costs will also decrease if x-inefficiency within the acquired business can be reduced or eliminated. X-inefficiency exists when an organisation incurs higher costs than are necessary to produce any given output. In other words it is not producing in the cheapest possible way. In a number of takeovers in the brewing industry, AB InBev has gained a fearsome reputation for minimising costs and removing any waste or slack in acquired organisations. In an interview with the Financial Times, its chief executive, Carlos Brito, stated that:

“In any company, there’s 20 per cent that lead, 70 per cent that follow and 10 per cent that do nothing. So the 10 per cent, of course, you need to get rid of.”

If any reduction in costs results in lower prices without any lessening in the quality of the good or service, then of course the customer will benefit. However, when two relatively large organisations combine, it may result in a newly merged business with considerable market power. With a fall in the price elasticity of demand for its goods and services, this bigger company may be able to increase its prices and make greater revenues.

An important responsibility of a taxpayer-funded competition authority is to make judgements about whether or not large M&As are in the public interest. For example, the Competition and Markets Authority in the UK investigates deals if the target company has a UK turnover that exceeds £70 million, or if the newly combined business has a market share that is equal to or exceeds 25 per cent. If the CMA concludes that an M&A would lead to a substantial lessening of competition in the market, then it could prohibit the deal from taking place. This has only happened on 9 occasions in the last 12 years. If competition concerns are identified, it is far more likely that CMA will allow the deal to go ahead but with certain conditions attached. This has happened 29 times in the last 12 years and the conditions are referred to as remedies.

The CMA has recently published a report (Understanding past merger remedies) that attempts to evaluate the relative success of the various remedies it has used in 13 M&A cases.

Articles
Are big mergers bad for consumers? BBC News, Daniel Thomas (30/10/15)
Mergers and acquisitions madness may be about to stop The Guardian (11/10/15)
M&A deal activity on pace for record year The Wall Street Journal, Dana Mattioli and Dan Strumpf (10/08/15) [Note: if you can't see the full article, try clearing cookies (Ctrl+Shift+Delete)]
Global M&A Volume Surpasses $4tr in 2015 YTD Dealogic, Anthony Read (04/11/15)
M&A Volumes Weaken in October despite Megadeals Financial Times, James Fontanella-Khan and Arash Massoudi (01/11/15)
The merger of Dell and EMC is further proof that the IT industry is remaking itself The Economist (12/10/15)

Questions

  1. Using a cost curve diagram, explain the difference between economies of scale and x-efficiency.
  2. Explain why a takeover or merger might reduce the price elasticity of demand for the goods or services produced by the newly combined firm.
  3. Explain how the CMA determines the size of the appropriate market when calculating a firm’s market share.
  4. Draw a diagram to illustrate the simultaneous impact of greater market power and lower average costs that might result from a horizontal merger. Consider the impact on consumer, producer and total surplus.
  5. What is the difference between a structural and a behavioural remedy?

The City Code on Takeovers and Mergers

The proposed $100 billion takeover of SABMiller by AB InBev is the third largest in history. It provides a good example of how the UK Panel on Takeovers and Mergers operates.

Economics textbooks often discuss competition authorities such as the Competition and Markets Authority but they rarely mention the UK Panel on Takeovers and Mergers (The Panel).The Panel is an independent body that was established in 1968. It has up to 35 members who all have professional expertise on the subject of takeovers i.e. they are usually employees of or have been seconded from (i) law and accountancy firms (ii) corporate brokers (iii) investment banks.

The Panel’s main responsibility is to implement the City Code on Takeovers and Mergers. This code sets out a number of ground-rules that companies must follow if they are involved in a merger or takeover. These rules became statutory in 2006 following the Companies Act of that year. The following objectives underpin the code:

 •  To ensure that the shareholders of the target company in a proposed takeover are treated fairly and are given the opportunity to make an informed decision about the relative merits of the takeover.
 •  To ensure that the whole takeover/merger process operates in a structured and systematic manner.

The Panel does not make any judgements on the commercial case for the takeover or merger. This is left to the management and shareholders of the companies involved. It also does not get involved with competition issues such as whether the newly established firm would have significant market power. These decisions in the UK are left to the Competition and Markets Authority. If the merger has a European element/dimension to it then it is investigated by the European Commission.

The rules that made up the code remained largely unchanged from 1968 until some important changes were made in September 2011. This followed the controversial takeover of Cadbury by the US food company Kraft. Kraft had first announced its intention to make an offer to acquire Cadbury in September 2009 but a deal was not agreed by the management of Cadbury until January 2010. Concerns were expressed at the time that this long and protracted takeover had made it very difficult for Cadbury to run its business effectively because of the uncertainty it created. It was also argued that the rules gave the acquiring company a significant tactical advantage in the takeover process and made it too easy for them to succeed.

One important change is that a targeted company must publicly announce the name of any companies that have made an approach about a possible deal. This announcement then activates a 28 day bid deadline period known as ‘pusu’ which stands for ‘put up’ (the money: i.e. make a formal bid) or ‘shut up’ (and walk away). This means that if the potential acquirer has not made a formal bid by the end of this 28-day period it is prohibited from making a bid for another 6 months. A request can be made to the Takeover Panel for an extension to this initial 28-day period, but this can only be done with the agreement of the target company.

Therefore SABMiller was obliged to announce on 15th September 2015 that

“Anheuser-Busch InBev SA/NV (AB InBev) has informed SABMiller that it intends to make a proposal to acquire SABMiller. No proposal has yet been received and the Board of SABMiller has no further details about the terms of any such proposal.”

The timing of this announcement made 14th October the official deadline by which AB InBev had to make a formal offer. After rejecting five bids, an offer of £44 a share by AB InBev was agreed in principle by the SABMiller management team on 13th October. Given the size and complexity of the deal (i.e. AB InBev is financing the deal by borrowing over $70 billion from 21 different banks), an initial two-week extension until 28th October was granted by the Takeover Panel. This could only have been granted with the agreement of SABMiller. Another one-week extension was agreed and then, on 4th November, SABMiller management made the following announcement.

“In order to allow SABMiller and AB InBev to finalise their discussions and satisfy the pre-conditions to the announcement of a formal transaction, the board of SABMiller has requested that the Panel on Takeovers and Mergers further extends the relevant deadline until 5pm November 11, 2015.”

One major issue has been the potential impact of the takeover on the level of competition in the US market. AB InBev and SABMiller already have market shares of 46% and 27% respectively. SABMiller’s strong presence in this market is a result of its joint venture, MillerCoors, with Molson Coors. One reason behind the last request for an extension is to grant enough time for a deal to be finalised for the sale of SABMiller’s 58% stake in MillerCoors to Molson Coors. Without this sale the US competition authorities would not approve the takeover.

Most observers believe that it will take a year for the deal to be completed and it will be interesting to chart its progress over the next 12 months.

Postscript: AB InBev announced on 11th November that it had made a formal offer of £71 billion to acquire SABMiller and SABMiller’s share in MillerCoors had been sold to Molson Coors for $12 billion.

SABMiller to seek another Takeover Panel extension for AB InBev takeover The Telegraph, Ben Martin (04/11/15)
AB InBev and SABMiller allay concerns about 68bn MegaBrew deal The Telegraph, Ben Martin (28/10/15)
AB InBev, SABMiller extend takeover deadline to Nov.4 Reuters, Philip Blenkinsop (28/10/15)
SABMiller agrees AB Inbev takeover deal of £68bn The Guardian, Sean Farrell (13/10/15)
SABMiller is AB Inbev’s toughest takeover yet. It may not be its last The Economist (14/10/15)
Brewery Battle: AB Inbev and the Craft Beer Challenge BBC News, Peter Shadbolt (13/10/15)
Beer Giants AB Inbev and SABMiller Agree Takeover Terms BBC News (13/10/15)

Questions

  1. The proposed takeover of SABMiller by AB InBev would be the third largest in history. What are the two biggest deals?
  2. The European Commission investigates ‘large’ mergers that have an ‘EU dimension’. On what basis does the European Commission judge if a merger is large or has an EU dimension?
  3. On what basis are mergers judged by the Competition and Markets Authority in the UK?
  4. What is a ‘virtual bid’ period? How did the ‘pusu’ bid deadline operate before the changes were introduced in 2011?
  5. Pfizer’s bid for Astrazeneca did not succeed in May 2014. Some people blamed the collapse of the deal on the 28-day ‘pusu’ deadline and rule 2.5 (i) of the code. What is rule 2.5 (i) and how did it contribute towards the failure of this deal?

The profitability of teams in the English Premier League

Deloitte recently published its 24th Annual Review of Football Finance and it contained some surprising results. Historically, most teams in the English Premier League (EPL) have made accounting losses with any increases in revenues being offset by higher wage costs. However, this report found that in 2013–14 most teams in the EPL actually made accounting profits.

The Deloitte’s review reported that the combined operating profits of clubs in the EPL increased from £82 million in 2012–13 to £614 million on 2013–14 – an enormous increase of 649%. Nearly all of the teams (19 out of 20) in the league made an operating profit while 14 also reported pre-tax profits. Dan Jones, head of Deloitte’s Sports Business Group, commented that:

“The change in club profitability in 2013–14 was more profound than anything we could have forecast.”

Why has the profitability of teams in the EPL suddenly improved so dramatically? One important factor was the significant increase in revenue. The combined income of the teams was £3.26 billion in 2013–14 – an increase of £735 million, or 29% on the previous year. Although match-day and commercial revenue both increased, the majority of this growth in income (nearly 80%) came from the sale of broadcast rights. The 2013–14 season was the first year of a new three-year contract that raised over £1.7 billion per year from the sale of these rights in both the UK and overseas.

However, clubs in the EPL have received big increases in revenue from TV deals before and still made substantial accounting losses. For example, the broadcasting contract that ran from 2010–13 generated over £1.1 billion per season – a £243 million per annum increase on the previous deal. Significantly, in the first year of this deal (2010–11), 81% of this increase in revenue went straight into higher player salaries, whereas in 2013–14 this figure was only 16%. The ratio of wages to turnover also fell from 71% in 2012–13 to 58% in 2013–14

So why did a smaller proportion of the increase in revenue go to the players compared with previous years? The explanation appears to be the impact of two new controls and regulations that were implemented by the EPL at the beginning of the 2013–14 season.

One of these has received considerable media attention and is similar to UEFA’s Financial Fair Play regulations. The Profitability and Sustainability Rules allow the clubs to make a maximum cumulative loss of £105 million over three seasons before having to face sanctions from the league. The size of the permissible loss is significantly higher than in the UEFA regulations.

The other control that has received far less attention is called Short-Term Cost Control (STCC). This regulation places limits on the extent to which clubs can increase their total wage bill. It operates from 2013–14 to 2015&ndash16: i.e. it covers the same three years as the current TV deal. For the 2013–14 season it worked in the following way.

If teams had a wage bill of less than £52 million they faced no restrictions on their spending on players’ salaries. Only Crystal Palace (£46 million) and Hull City (£43 million) fell into this category. Unsurprisingly, the five biggest spending clubs, Man Utd, Man City, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool, had much greater wage bills of £215m, £205m, £192m, £166m and £144m respectively.

Any of the 18 teams that exceeded the £52m limit would still not face sanctions if their wage bill increased by £4 million or less. For example, Stoke City’s wage bill only increased from £60m to £61m, while Tottenham Hotspur’s increased from £96m to £100m. Some clubs actually managed to reduce their total wage bill, including the champions, Manchester City, which managed to lower its from £233m to £215m.

However, there were still 12 teams with a total wage bill that was greater than £52 million in 2013–14 and which had increased by more than £4 million on the previous year. For these teams not to face any sanctions, they had to prove to the EPL that any of the increase above £4 million was either due to player contracts entered into before January 2013 or could by financed from the following two sources.

• Club Own Revenue Uplift
• Profit from player transfers

Whereas the profit from player transfers is straightforward, the ‘Club Own Revenue Uplift’ requires some explanation, as it excludes a very important part of teams’ incomes – Central Fund payments.

Some revenues earned by clubs in the EPL are referred to as ‘Central Fund payments’. These are, in effect, income payments from money that is raised centrally by the EPL on behalf of the clubs and then distributed to the teams using an agreed formula. The majority of the revenue generated under this category is from the broadcast deals, although some commercial income, such as the sponsorship of the league, also falls under this category. For some teams the money raised from Central Fund payments makes up the majority of their revenue.

‘Club Own Revenue’ in STCC calculations refers to all revenues other than those from Central Fund payments. This includes a number of income streams that the club has more direct control over. They include:

• Gate money/other match-day revenue
• Commercial deals negotiated by the individual club
• Income from playing in European competitions, including TV revenue.

The uplift refers to increases in revenue from these sources compared to 2012–13.

For example, assume a club has made no profit from its transfer dealing and did not enter into any significant player contracts prior to January 2013. If this club’s wage bill increased from £100m in 2012–13 to £110m in 2013–14 then it would have to provide evidence to show that £6m of this increase could be financed from growth in its Club Own Revenue. In other words, it would have to demonstrate how its income from gate money, commercial deals and playing in Europe was at least £6m higher in 2013–14 than it had been in 2012–13.

It will be interesting to see if (1) the profitability of the clubs continues to improve in future years and (2) the STCC regulations are extended when the new broadcast deal comes into effect in 2016–17.

The EPL Proves Cost Control Works The Judge 13 (4/6/15)
English Premier League clubs made more revenue than Spain and Italy’s clubs combined UK Business Insider, Lianna Brinded (4/6/15)
Premier League football club revenues and profits soar BBC News, Bill Wilson (4/6/15)
Deloitte Premier League list: Clubs’ revenue boom to £3.3billion as Tottenham record highest ever pre-tax profits after Gareth Bale transfer The Independent, Joanna Bourke (4/6/15)
Annual Review of Football Finance 2015 Premier League clubs generate over £3bn revenue in season of records Deloitte (4/6/15)
Premier League top of the rich list with record income of £3.26bn The Guardian, David Conn (4/6/15)

Questions

  1. What is the difference between an operating profit and a pre-tax profit?
  2. If a club reports that it is making an accounting profit, does this mean that it must be making an economic profit? Explain your answer.
  3. Give some examples of the economic costs of running a football club that might not be included in accounting calculations of profit.
  4. How is the profit/loss from player transfers calculated?
  5. Explain why the current rules may give teams that play in European competitions a competitive advantage.

The costs of winning an auction: The case of live TV rights

Most observers were once again left stunned by how much media companies are willing to pay to secure the rights to broadcast live games in the English Premier League (EPL). At the same time the method used to sell those rights is being investigated by Ofcom following complaints made by Virgin Media. Virgin Media actually requested that the auction was halted until the investigation was completed.

Between them, BSkyB and BT Sport have paid £5.136bn to purchase the rights to broadcast live matches in the EPL over a three-year period beginning in the 2016–17 season. This is a 71% increase in the price paid for the previous three-year deal which runs from 2013 to 2016 and cost £3.018bn. However, the headline figure hides some big differences between the amounts paid by the two companies.

How exactly are the rights sold? The broadcast rights for the 168 live matches are split up into seven different packages labelled A through to G and are placed in seven different auctions. The type of auction used by the EPL is a sealed bid auction. Interested companies are invited to make an offer for any of the packages. However, when they make a bid they do not know (a) if other firms have also made a bid and (b) the size of any other bids. Another constraint is that one firm is not allowed to win more than five of the auctions. When the auction finishes the EPL only releases information about the winning offers. It never provides information about any of the failed bids.

Some of the packages are worth more than others to the broadcasters. The first five packages (A–E) each contain the rights for 28 games per season, while the other two packages (F and G) contain the rights for 14 matches. In some of the packages all of the games kick off at the same time and on the same day. For example all 28 games in package ‘A’ kick off at 12.30pm on a Saturday. Others contain more of a mixture. Some of the games in Package E take place on a Monday evening. while others take place on a Friday evening. Given the potential advertising revenue and number of viewers, the most valuable package is D, which has 28 games that kick off at 4.00pm on a Sunday.

Another factor that influences the value of a package is the number of ‘first picks’. In any given week, more than one broadcaster might want to screen the same match. To overcome this problem, each package is allocated a number of first, second, third, fourth and fifth ‘picks’. For example, package D comes with 18 first and 10 fourth round picks. This means that whichever company wins this package will get first choice on the games they want to broadcast on 18 occasions a year. Package C contains no ‘first picks’ but offers 15 second, 4 fourth and 7 fifth round picks. There is also a maximum and a minimum limit on the number of times games including a specific team can be broadcast.

BSkyB won the auctions for packages A, C, D, E and G for a price of £4.17bn. This means that it will be paying £1.396bn to broadcast 126 live games per season. This is an average payment of £11,031,700 per game. In the previous deal it paid £760million for the rights to broadcast 116 live games per season. This is an average payment of £6,551,724 per game. The new deal represents a cost increase of 68% per game. However, the number of first picks BskyB has secured in the new deal increases from 20 to 26.

BTSport won the auctions for packages B and F for a price of £960m. This means that it will be paying £320m for the rights to broadcast 42 live games per season. This is an average payment of £7,619,048 per game. In the previous deal it paid £246 million per year for the rights to broadcast 38 live games per season. This is an average payment of £6,473,684 per game. The new deal represents an increase in costs of 17.7% per game for BT Sport – a much lower figure than for BSkyB.

BSkyB has stated that it will cover the increase in the price it has paid for the rights with efficiency savings. However, many observers believe that it will ultimately result in significant increases in the subscription rates for SkySports. The impact of the deal on BskyB’s profit may well depend on the willingness of its customers to pay higher prices. What is the price elasticity of demand for SkySports at the current subscription rates they are charging?

There is still some uncertainty about the deal following Ofcom’s decision to investigate the legitimacy of the method used by the EPL to auction the rights. Virgin Media made a formal complaint in September 2014 about the collective selling of the live broadcast rights and argued that it was in breach of competition law. The investigation by Ofcom will make a judgment about whether the joint selling of the rights by the EPL is a contravention of Chapter I of the Competition Act 1998 and/or Article 101(1) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. An initial announcement will be made in March.

Premier League set to announce record £4.4bn TV rights deal BBC Sport (10/2/15)
Premier League TV rights: What does deal mean for fans & clubs BBC Sport, Ben Smith (11/2/15)
How Sky paid £4m more per Premier League match than BT The Telegraph, Ben Rumsby (11/2/15)
Premier League TV deal: Windfall must benefit grass roots and England The Telegraph, Henry Winter (10/2/15)
Sky and BT retain Premier League TV rights for record £5.14bn The Guardian, Owen Gibson (10/2/15)
Premier League TV rights: Sky Sports and BT Sport win UK broadcasting rights as price tops £5billion Independent, Tom Peck (10/2/15)

Questions

  1. Draw a demand curve for package A and package D of the live broadcast rights. Which one do you think will be furthest to the right? Explain your answer.
  2. What are the potential benefits to the EPL of not revealing the details of any of the losing bids?
  3. Explain how the price elasticity of demand is a useful concept for assessing the impact of the new deal on the profits of BSkyB and BTSport.
  4. Given the impact of the new deal of the size of Parachute payments, what impact might it have on the level of competitive balance in the Championship?
  5. Find out the key provisions of Chapter I of the Competition Act 1998 and Article 101(1) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.

The annual autumn scramble for Glastonbury tickets

An annual event takes place every October that leads to a large number of frustrated consumers – the sale of tickets for the Glastonbury festival. This year the sale of standard tickets began at 9.00am on Sunday 5th October. Within 27 minutes all of the 120,000 tickets had been sold and it was reported that over a million people had tried to access the website. Social media was full of messages from disappointed fans that had been unable to get a ticket.

The Glastonbury festival has grown in popularity and the organisers adopted a unique way of selling the tickets a number of years ago. They introduced a system that made it impossible for people to purchase tickets unless they had previously registered. Although there is no charge to register, in order to complete the process successfully, people have to submit a clear passport style photograph in Jpeg format. Once registered, customers are allocated a unique registration number which they must submit in order to purchase a ticket when they go on sale. Each buyer can purchase up to a maximum of 6 tickets and must provide a valid registration number for each separate ticket they obtain. Successful applicants receive a personalised ticket, including their photo, which cannot be re-sold. The organisers have been very clear about the rationale for introducing this scheme. They have stated that it is part of their

“on-going efforts to cut out ticket touting”

However a number of people have criticised the ticket sale process. These criticisms tend to fall into two key areas: first, the method used in the initial sale process and second, the constraints placed on resale after a ticket has been purchased.

The tickets are sold by the company SeeTickets and their Head of Business Development stated in an interview in 2013 that:

There is something like 1,100,000 customers registered to go to Glastonbury, and they all want a ticket. It’s a shame but there is nothing you can do about it. The 900,000 people that don’t get to go often come up with the argument, why don’t you just have a ballot? Why don’t we just register and a computer generated ballot just picks the winners? I think they’ve (Glastonbury) always had a view that if you get a ticket to Glastonbury there’s an element of work that you have to do to achieve that and it does reward that commitment. I think there’s a sense that if you use a ballot then maybe you’d get some people who were not as committed.

However responding to these comments a customer commented that:

I’ve been lucky in the past and got tickets within minutes and like this year tried all morning and come away empty handed. Whether I have been successful has nothing to do with hard work but the vagaries of the internet and a bit of luck.

Another customer commented:

No ballot! It’s too random. People who really,really want to go should get the tickets, so the only fair way is regional ticket sales, where you could queue ( overnight if required) to get your ticket. This is the only fair way. Year after year genuine fans miss out. This way fans who are willing to make an effort get the chance, rather than a ballot or the random computer system which they have at present.

Others have criticised the limited ability consumers are given to resell their tickets. The full cost of a ticket for the 2015 festival is £220 plus a £5 booking fee. When the tickets are originally sold in October, the buyers have to pay a £50 deposit and at this point none of the bands playing at the festival have been announced. The remaining balance of £175 is due at the beginning of April by which point some of the bands/acts will have been confirmed. Anyone who decides not to pay the balance or cancel their order before this date is refunded their deposit, minus an administration fee. Those tickets are then put forward for re-sale. The re-sale process typically takes place at the end of April and once again is only open to people who have previously registered. Last year 10,000 tickets were re-sold in just 12 minutes! Once this period in April is over the re-sale of tickets is prohibited even though the complete line-up for the festival may not have been confirmed.

The secondary ticket company Viagogo reported the results from research they had carried out on the 2014 festival. This found that following the relatively late announcement of Metallica as one of the headline acts,78% of people who had bought a ticket said they would have resold it if they’d had the chance.

A spokesperson from Viagogo stated that:

We believe that once you’ve bought a ticket it’s yours and if you want to sell it or give it away, you should be allowed to do so. In this case, with an unpopular headline act announced late, ticket holders lose out because they can’t resell their tickets and Metallica fans lose out because they can’t buy them.

Those people who either did not get a ticket or are left with a ticket they would rather re-sell will no doubt continue to complain about the ticket selling process.

The economics of GlastonburyThe Economist (24/6/14)
Handbag Economics: How much Glastonbury will really cost you Handbag Economics (12/6/14)
Should Glastonbury Festival tickets go to the ballot? Virtual Festivals (8/10/13)
Glastonbury 2014: Four in five fans wanted to resell tickets after Metallica announcement The Independent (26/6/14)
Third of Glasto fans put-off by strict ‘no ticket resale policy’ – but 2015 is still a sell-out The Mirror (6/10/14)
“People wanted to sell Glastonbury tickets!” says ticketing website Bad PR (3/7/14)
The pain of Glastonbury tickets – in two charts The Mirror (6/10/14)

Questions

  1. What is the opportunity cost of going to the Glastonbury Festival? Discuss some of the non-ticket factors you have included in your calculations.
  2. Draw a demand and supply diagram to illustrate the market for Glastonbury tickets. NB think carefully about the shape of the supply curve in both the short-run and the long run. Is the current price of a ticket at the market clearing level? Explain your answer.
  3. The sale and re-sale of tickets takes place before the all the headline acts have been announced. Illustrate what will happen to the demand curve for consumers with different preferences once the headline acts have been announced.
  4. Assess the relative costs and benefits of using a ballot instead of the current system used by the festival organisers to sell of tickets.
  5. The organisers of the festival introduced the registration process in order to limit the re-sale of the tickets. Analyse the impact of this policy on Pareto and allocative efficiency? Will the policy cause any deadweight welfare loss? What factors will determine the size of any deadweight welfare loss?
  6. Suggest some reasons why care may need to be taken when using the results from the research carried out by Viagogo.

Why did so many people buy vacuum cleaners in August?

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) reported that the quantity of retail sales in the UK was 3.9% higher in August than it had been in July. However strong price competition meant that the value of these sales increased by only 0.4%. What were the key factors driving the big increase in the quantity of sales? Was it simply the response of consumers to falling prices?

The data indicated that there was strong demand for goods associated with the housing market such as carpets, fridges and cookers. Spending on furniture increased very rapidly with sales rising by 24% over a 12 month period. Flat packed furniture proved to be particularly popular with consumers.

There was also strong demand for electrical goods and more specifically vacuum cleaners. The ONS estimated that a boom in the sale of vacuum cleaners in August was responsible for 25% of the increase in retail sales.

Why did the sales of vacuum cleaners increase so rapidly in August? Did UK households suddenly decide to keep their houses cleaner? The sales data shows that certain types of vacuum cleaners sold in much larger numbers than others.

For example, Tesco reported a 44% increase in the sales of 2,000 watt vacuum cleaners in the last two weeks in August while the Co-op reported an increase of 38%. Referring to the last weekend in August, the head of small domestic appliances at the on-line retailer ao.com stated that

We saw a huge surge in sales of corded vacuums over 1,600 watts over the weekend, with sales quadrupling.

There were also reports that a significant number of customers were buying more than one vacuum cleaner with these larger motors.

The key reason for the sudden surge in demand was the implementation of new regulations by the European Union as part of its energy efficiency directive. The ultimate objective of this directive is to reduce climate change. The specific policy that appears to have had such a big impact on consumers in the UK was the ban imposed on firms in the EU from making or importing vacuum cleaners that have motors above 1600 watts. This ban came into effect on the 1st September 2014.

A spokesperson for the consumer group Which? stated in August that

If you’re in the market for a powerful vacuum, you should act quickly, before all the models currently sell out. A Best Buy 2,200-watt vacuum costs around £27 a year to run in electricity – only around £8 more than the best scoring 1,600-watt we’ve tested.

The EU plans to reduce the maximum permitted wattage in vacuum cleaners to 900 watts in 2017. Restrictions have already been imposed on bigger electrical appliances such as televisions, washing machines and refrigerators. The EUs Ecodesign directive may also be extended to a range of smaller electrical appliances such as toasters and hair dressers in the future. It’ll be interesting to see if consumers respond in the same way to regulations imposed by the EU in the future.

Ten days left to vacuum up a powerful cleaner BBC (21/08/14)
Housing boom, food discounting and vacuum ban boost UK spending The Guardian, Larry Elliott, Phillip Inman, Lisa Bachelor (18/9/14)
UK retail sales boosted by vacuum cleaner sales BBC (18/9/14)
Retailers sell out of vacuum cleaners ahead of EU ban The Telegraph, Elliot Pinkham (30/8/14)
Power surge! Fourfold rise in sales of super vacuums: Some customers buying two or more models to beat new EU regulations Daily Mail, Andrew Levy (1/9/14)
Energy Efficiency Directive European Commission (accessed on 24/9/14)
Vacuum cleaner splurge pushes up UK retail sales The Guardian, Phillip Inman (18/9/14)

Questions

  1. Using a demand and supply diagram, illustrate what has happened in the market for high wattage vacuum cleaners in August. Pay particular attention in your answer to the role of expectations.
  2. What did your previous diagram predict would happen to the price of high wattage vacuum cleaners in August? Did this in fact happen?
  3. A fully informed rational consumer may purchase a higher wattage vacuum cleaner if they consider that the improvement in cleaning performance is greater than the extra cost of purchasing and using the cleaner. Can you provide an economic rationale for banning the sale of these machines in these circumstances?
  4. Using a demand and supply diagram illustrate the impact of banning the sale of a product in a competitive market.

Intervening in labour markets – Different types of salary cap in professional sport leagues

Officials from Rugby Union’s Aviva Premiership recently announced that the salary cap used by the league would increase from £4.76 million to £5.1 million per team for the 2015-16 season. It is not the only professional sports league to use this type of regulation. The NFL currently has a salary cap of $133 million/team while in the NBA it is set at $63 million/team. What is the rationale for placing restrictions on the amount an organisation can pay its employees? How do these caps work in practice?

A salary cap is a regulation that limits the amount that an organisation can pay its employees. Sanctions are usually imposed if the ceiling is broken.

It is hard to imagine this type of policy being introduced in most industries. For example there may have been a number of calls for much greater regulation of the big six firms in the energy market with the Labour party suggesting that prices should be frozen for 20 months. However in amongst all the calls for more intervention, nobody has suggested that limits should be placed on the wages that these firms pay their staff.

One example where the authorities are thinking of intervening on pay is the proposal by the European Union to introduce a cap on the size of bonuses that can be paid by firms in the banking industry. However this is more of a constraint on the method of remuneration rather than an absolute limit on the level of pay. If the policy was introduced there would be nothing preventing firms from increasing basic salaries in order to make up for any shortfall caused by the reduction in bonuses.

There is one sector of the economy where salary caps are widely used – professional team sports. There are a number of different ways they have been implemented. For example the Football Association once placed a limit on the amount that a club could pay an individual player. This was originally set at £4/week in 1901 and increased to £20/week before it was finally abolished in 1961.

In recent times it has been far more common for salary caps in professional sports leagues to place limits on the size of a team’s total wage bill rather than the amount that can be paid to an individual player. This is the case in the Aviva Premiership, the NFL and the NBA. Perhaps it would be more accurate to refer to these policies as a cap on payrolls rather than on salaries.

The Aviva Premiership gives the following 4 reasons for having the payroll cap that it first introduced in 1999:

To ensure the financial viability of the clubs;
To ensure a competitive Aviva Premiership Rugby competition;
To control inflationary pressures on clubs’ costs;
To provide a level playing field for the clubs.

It is claimed that the policy has helped the league to achieve these objectives as (a) more clubs are now breaking even and (b) compared with other rugby competitions it has the greatest number of games that finish with less than one score between the teams.

There are a number of different ways that a payroll cap can be implemented. With an absolute payroll scheme all the teams in the league, no matter what their size, face the same constraint. This is the policy adopted by the NFL, NBA and the Aviva Premiership. An alternative is to implement a percentage payroll cap. Examples of these can be found in League 1 and League 2 of the English Football League. League 1 teams can spend up to 60% of their turnover on wages while League 2 teams can spend up to 55% of their turnover on wages. Obviously this means that well supported clubs with a larger turnover can spend more on players’ wages than less well supported clubs with a smaller turnover.

Another way that payroll caps differ is whether they are ‘hard’ caps or ‘soft’ caps. With a ‘hard’ cap there are no exceptions to the scheme. All the teams’ payrolls must remain within the same limit set by the league officials. With a ‘soft’ cap the authorities identify some exceptions that enable clubs to exceed the limit. The payroll cap used in rugby union is an example of a soft cap and works in the following way.

There are a number of elements to the scheme:

The senior salary cap;
Excluded players;
The academy credits.

The senior salary cap is the major part of the regulation and the Aviva Premiership announced that this would increase from £4.76 million per team in the current season to £5.1 million per team for 2015-16. The Academy credits enable teams to exceed this £5.1 million limit if they train and develop younger players. The teams have to prove that they have young players that meet the following criteria:

They are under the age of 24 before the season started;
They joined the youth academy before their eighteenth birthday;
They earn more than £30,000 per year.

For a player who meets these conditions it is only their salary in excess of £30,000/year that is considered. For example if a young player was paid £50,000/year then only £20,000 of his wages would count towards the team’s payroll cap. The first £30,000 would not count. The Aviva Premiership recently announced that a home grown player credit would replace the academy credits. Under the new scheme the upper age limit will be removed and clubs can claim up to £400,000 in allowances. This means that teams could spend up to £5.5 million a year on wages if they train and develop younger players.

However other exceptions means that teams can exceed even this figure. The payroll cap arrangements allow teams to identify one player whose wages are not included when the payroll cap is calculated. In order to be nominated the exempted player has to meet certain criteria. In the 2015-16 season teams will be allowed to have two excluded players.

Sir Iain McGeechan has suggested that these changes will increase the effective salary cap to £7 million/year with some star players earning £1 million/season. However this would still be below the level of the basic salary cap in the French Rugby Union Super 14 League which is €10 million per season (approximately £8.5 million)

Premiership salary cap will leave small clubs playing catch-up The Telegraph (20/9/14)
Bath line up move for Australian Will Genia as new salary cap regulations come into effectThe Telegraph (15/9/14)
The salary cap in Rugby Union Law in Sport (15/4/14)
Barwell blasts salary cap ‘cheats’ ESPN (1/3/13)
Salary Cap changes confirmed Premiership Rugby (17/9/14)
What is meant by a salary cap in Sport and would this ever be used in English football? In Brief (accessed on 22/9/14)

Questions

  1. Draw a diagram to illustrate the impact of a salary cap on a perfectly competitive market and explain your answer.
  2. Which teams in the Aviva Premiership would be in favour of the increase in the salary cap and which teams would be opposed? Explain your answer.
  3. Do you think that an absolute or percentage salary cap would be more effective at maintaining competitive balance in a league? Which teams would be more in favour of an absolute salary cap?
  4. Why do think some leagues have introduced a ‘soft’ rather than a ‘hard’ salary caps?
  5. To what extent do you think that salary/payroll caps are consistent with European single market principles about the free movement of people?
  6. Officials from the Aviva Premiership provide the clubs with a long list of payments which must be counted as part of a player’s salary. These include holiday costs, school fees, payment for off-field activities on behalf of the club, payments in kind and signing on fees. Why do you think that the authorities provide such a large list?
  7. Find out the criteria that must be met in order for a player to be exempted from the team’s payroll calculations. Provide some reasons why you think these criteria were used.

Should studying economics come with a health warning!!?

Many of you reading the articles on this website will be just about to start, or will have just started, studying economics at university. For some of you this will involve building on the knowledge you obtained prior to university, whereas for others it will be the first time you have ever studied the subject before. Will studying economics change the way you behave? Should it come with a health warning?

Can studying economics change the way you think and behave? The subject is often sold to prospective students on the grounds that it can. For example it is stated on the Economics Network’s Why Study Economics? website that

The economic way of thinking can help us make better choices

However, is it possible that studying economics could change people’s behaviour in a way that would be to the detriment of society? Some observers have argued that it can. They have suggested that students might be influenced by some of the assumptions that are made in traditional economic theory.

As social scientists, economists are always trying to analyse human behaviour. However, people vary in many different ways and have very diverse preferences. If we want to build a theory that predicts how people will behave and respond in different situations, then some type of simplifying assumptions are inevitable.

Traditionally one of the key simplifying assumptions that economists have used in their theories of human behaviour is that people make decisions in their own self-interest. There is some debate about exactly what self-interest means. For example it could be argued that giving £10 to charity is acting in your own self-interest if it gives you more pleasure than spending that £10 on yourself. However, in many of the economic theories that you first study in economics a narrow meaning of self-interest tends to be used. This is clearly illustrated by the following quote from Milgrom and Roberts. Referring to economic theory they state that:

It is often assumed that people behave as if they were entirely motivated by narrow, selfish concerns

It is important to make it clear that economists are not assuming that people behave in a selfish manner all of the time. Instead, they are assuming that the people in their theories are acting in a selfish manner. The value of making this assumption is whether the predictions about human behaviour that follow from using it are supported by evidence from the real world.

Some researchers have argued that when people study economic theory built on this assumption it makes them more likely to behave in a selfish way. The evidence for this comes from a range of research papers. Here are some findings:

Economics students were more likely than those studying other subjects to recommend the most expensive plumber to a student society if that plumber offered the student a side payment.

Students took part in an experiment in a computer room where they could either keep the money they had been given or donate it to a public good. On average the economics students kept more of the money.

Economics professors gave less money to charity than professors of other subjects such as psychology and sociology.

Some studies also found that selfish people were more likely to choose economics as a subject to study and became more selfish after they had studied it for some time.

If you are about to begin your study of economics then perhaps you should take care that your behaviour outside the classroom is not being unduly influenced by some of the assumptions you are learning about inside the classroom. On a more practical note perhaps you should avoid sharing a restaurant bill or buying rounds of drinks when in the company of other economists!!!

However on a brighter note, the evidence in these papers can be interpreted in a number of different ways. There are even some studies that found economics students were less selfish than those on other courses.

Re-Post: Does Studying Economics Make You Selfish? The Splintered Mind (21/11/12)
Does studying economics make you more selfish? BBC (22/10/13)
Does Studying Economics Breed Greed? Huffington Post (22/10/13)
The Dismal Education The New York Times (16/12/11)
Does Economics Make You a Bad Person? Conversable Economist (31/3/14)
Economists aren’t all bad FT Magazine (11/4/14)

Questions

  1. What is an economic model? Why is it necessary to make simplifying assumptions?
  2. How are economic models judged? How important is it for the assumptions to accurately describe the real world?
  3. Try to find some jokes that have been made about the use of assumptions in economic theory.
  4. Can you think of any alternative explanations for the results found in the research papers referred to in the case?
  5. Try to find a research paper that finds evidence that economics students are less selfish than other students.
  6. What is a public good? Explain why someone with selfish preferences would not contribute to the public good.

Different prices for the same tourist attraction

Merlin Entertainments PLC is one of the largest operator of visitor attractions in the world and owns over a third of the most popular theme parks in Europe. It runs the four most visited parks in England – Alton Towers, Legoland Windsor, Thorpe Park and Chessington World of Adventures as well as the most popular theme park in Italy – Gardaland. Alton Towers alone had 2.5 million visitors in 2013. Anybody thinking of going to one of these attractions is faced with a wide range of different entry fees .

Theme parks and tourist attractions have market power so their owners have to make some interesting pricing decisions. They have to tackle the same dilemma that confronts any seller that faces a downward sloping demand curve for its goods/services.

One option for the firm would be to increase the entry fee. This would produce higher profits per visitor as some of the surplus from the transaction previously enjoyed by the consumer will be extracted by the seller and converted into producer surplus. Unfortunately for the business the higher price, all other things equal, will also result in fewer visitors. Some people will be deterred from visiting because of the higher price and the seller will lose out on potential revenue.

An alternative strategy would be for the theme park to reduce its entry fee. All other things equal, this will increase the number of visitors. However, it would also mean that the profit per customer would fall. The frustrating issue for the seller is that some of its customers, who would still have visited the attraction at the higher price, are now able to get a better deal.

This dilemma exists if the seller has to charge all of its different customers the same entry fee. If it could charge a higher entry fee to those customers who would be willing to pay more and a lower entry fee to those who would be willing to pay less then it could make more money. Extra revenue could be obtained from those additional sales that take place at the lower price while more consumer surplus could be extracted from those still paying the higher price.

Is it possible for a firm to charge different prices to different customers for the same or a similar good or service? Table 1 below shows the entry fees for Warwick Castle, another tourist attraction owned by Merlin Entertainments PLC.

It can immediately be seen from this table that some groups of customers pay a different entry fee from others. For example adults have to pay £24 to enter on the day while people aged 60 and over pay a lower price £16.80. The entry fee for children aged between 4 and 11 is £21.00 while those aged 3 and under go for free. Students aged 16-18 can gain entry for a price of £13.50 if they can provide valid ID and purchase the tickets from the visitbritainshop website.

In this example, the company has allocated people into different categories by age (i.e. senior, adult, student, older children and younger children) and has set the entry fee that customers in each group have to pay.

The table also shows that if customers purchase on- line then they can get the tickets more cheaply. The entry fee for each category is 25% lower if the ticket is booked seven days in advance i.e. the prices shown in the last column in the table. If the booking is made between 2-6 days in advance then the discount is only 10% i.e. an adult ticket would cost £21.60. The on-line discounts are open to everyone. People are given the choice to either book on-line in advance or pay on the day. This is different from a situation where you are placed into a category by the firm. For example the customer cannot choose whether they are over 60!

If people are prepared to spend more time searching on the internet then other cheaper prices can also be obtained. Once again these offers are open to anyone willing to spend the time and effort in order to find them.

All the ticket prices above give people access to exactly the same attractions on the day. They do not give the visitor access to two of the attractions at the castle – the Dragon Tower and Castle Dungeon. Entry to the Dragon Tower would cost an adult on the day an extra £1.80 while entry to the Castle Dungeon would cost an extra £5.40.

Warwick Castle Ticket Prices Warwick Castle (accessed on 04/09/14)
Alton Towers Alton Towers (accessed on 08/09/14)
Warwick Castle Tickets visitbritainshop (accessed on 02/09/14)
Global Attractions Attendance Report teaconnect (accessed on 05/09/14)
Merlin Entertainments Merlin Entertainments (accessed on 08/09/14)

Questions

  1. What pricing decisions do firms have to make if they operate in a perfectly competitive market?
  2. Explain why an individual tourist attraction will have a downward sloping demand curve
  3. Paying an entry fee and an extra payment per attraction is known as what type of pricing? What advantages does this type of price strategy have for the seller?
  4. How would you calculate the profit per customer? What factors other than the entrance fee would determine the profit made per customer in a theme park or tourist attractions?
  5. Paying a different price depending on which category you have been assigned to by the seller is known as what type of pricing strategy? Can this type of pricing strategy ever be in the interests of society?
  6. In the example used in the case, customers are assigned to different categories by age. Can you think of any other ways that firms could categorise their customers?
  7. Given the category customers have been assigned to they can pay different prices depending on whether they buy the tickets on line. What is the price strategy called when customers can choose from a variety of pricing options for the same or similar product? Can you think of any different methods that could be used by the seller to carry out this type of pricing strategy?