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Competition Commission action in the cement market: remedies announced

A few months ago, in a post on this site I reported that the Competition Commission (CC) had completed their provisional investigation into the concrete and cement market in Great Britain. As I discussed, they concluded that coordination between the main cement producers was resulting in high prices. They are particularly concerned about the impact of high prices in this market because:

Cement is an essential product for the construction and building sectors and the amount of such work that is funded by the public purse only underlines the importance of ensuring that customers get better value for money. We believe our measures can bring about a substantial, swift and lasting increase in competition in this economically vital market.

The next step was for the CC to consider how they could remedy the situation and hopefully improve competition in the market.

Earlier this month, the CC announced the remedies they intend to impose. Having previously suggested that they intended to impose hard-hitting measures, they have been true to their word. The market leader, Lafarge Tarmac, will be required to sell one of its cement plants to facilitate a new entrant into the market. According to Professor Martin Cave, the CC’s Deputy Chairman who led the inquiry:

We believe that the entry of a new, independent cement producer is the only way to disturb the established structure and behaviour in this market which has persisted for a number of years and led to higher prices for customers.

In addition, the CC is also putting in place measures to limit the publication of production data and price announcements. It is hoped that these measures will reduce transparency in the market.

However, Lafarge Tarmac disagrees with the sale they are being forced to make. This is in part because, as I discussed in the earlier post, they had previously been allowed by the CC to form a joint venture (JV) with one its main rivals:

We are disappointed that the Competition Commission has asked Lafarge Tarmac to divest another cement plant only a year after it allowed the creation of the JV. This is not reasonable or proportionate and we have not been given a fair opportunity to defend our position.

In addition, Lafarge Tarmac is quoted in the above article as suggesting that the end result of the CC’s intervention will be harm to consumers. It will be extremely interesting to monitor how this market develops.

Articles
Competition Commission confirms plan for new cement producer The Construction Index, (14/01/14)
Competition Commission improves competition in the UK. Again. Global Cement, (22/01/14)

Report
Aggregates, cement and ready-mix concrete market investigation, Final report, Competition Commission, (14/01/14)

Questions

  1. Why might the publication of production data and price announcements help to facilitate coordination between firms?
  2. Would you expect the new entrant or the measures to limit the publication of production data and price announcements to have more impact on competition in the market?
  3. Using a supply and demand model, describe the impact the CC’s intervention could have on the construction market.
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