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Posts Tagged ‘choice’

Discovering Sky

As an avid sport’s fan, Sky Sports and Eurosport are must haves for me! In the days leading up to the end of January, it was a rather tense time in my house with the prospect of Eurosport being removed from anyone who was a Sky TV subscriber. Thankfully the threat has now gone and tranquility returns, but what was going on behind the scenes?

Whether you have Sky TV, BT, Virgin or any other, we generally take it for granted that we can pick and choose the channels we want, pay our subscription to our provider and happily watch our favourite shows. However, behind the scenes there is a web of deals. While Sky own many channels, such as Sky Sports; BT own others and there are a range of other companies that own the rest. Some companies pay Sky for their channels to be shown, while Sky pays other companies for access to their channels.

One such company is Discovery, which owns a range of channels including TLC, Eurosport, DMAX and Animal planet. Discovery then sells these channels to providers, such as Sky and Virgin, who pay a price for access. The problem was that Sky and Discovery had failed to reach an agreement for these channels and as the deadline of 31st January 2017 loomed, it became increasingly possible that Discovery would simply remove its channels from Sky. This would mean that Sky customers would no longer have access to these channels, while customers with other providers would continue to watch them, as companies such as Virgin still had an agreement in place.

The issue was money. Hours before the deadline, a deal was finally reached such that Discovery will now keep its programmes on Sky for ‘years to come’. Discovery has indicated the final deal was better than had originally been proposed, while Sky indicate that the deal accepted by Discovery was the same as had previously been offered! Although no details of the financial agreement have been released, it seems likely that either Sky increased the price they were willing to pay or Discovery lowered the price it was asking for. Both companies stood to lose if the dispute was not settled, but it’s interesting to consider which company was at more risk. Following the announcement that a deal had been struck, Discovery shares rose by 2.5 per cent, while Sky’s share remained unchanged.

While Sky said that viewing figures on Discovery’s channels had been falling and that it had been over-paying for years, it seems likely that if a deal had not been reached, millions of Sky customers may have considered switching to other providers, who were still able to show Discovery channels. Although Sky has been looking to cut its costs and one way is to cut the price it pays for channels, failure to reach an agreement may have cost it a significant sum in lost revenue, as channels such as Eurosport are hugely popular.

Discovery claimed that the price Sky was paying them was not fair and that it was paying them less for its channels that it did 10 years ago. Susanna Dinnage, Discovery’s Managing Director in the UK said:

“We believe Sky is using what we consider to be its dominant market position to further its own commercial interest over those of viewers and independent broadcasters. The vitality of independent broadcasters like Discovery and plurality in TV is under threat.”

Sky claimed that Discovery was demanding close to £1bn for its programmes and that given that these channels were losing viewers, this price was unrealistic. A spokesman said:

“Despite our best efforts to reach a sensible agreement, we, like many other platforms and broadcasters across Europe, have found the price expectations for the Discovery portfolio to be completely unrealistic. Discovery’s portfolio of channels includes many which are linear-only where viewing is falling …

Sky has a strong track record of understanding the value of the content we acquire on behalf of our customers, and as a result we’ve taken the decision not to renew this contract on the terms offered …

We have been overpaying Discovery for years and are not going to anymore. We will now move to redeploy the same amount of money into content we know our customers value.”

Here we have a classic case of two firms in negotiation; each with a lot to lose, but both wanting the best outcome. There are hundreds of channels with millions of programmes and hence it is a competitive market. So why was it that Discovery could pose such a threat to the huge broadcaster? The following articles consider the dispute and the eleventh hour agreement.

Discovery strikes deal to keep channels on Sky BBC News (1/2/17)
Discovery channel strikes last-minute deal with Sky to stay on TV, saving Animal Planet and Eurosport Independent, Aatif Sulleyman (1/2/17)
Eurosport stays o Sky after late deal is struck with hours to spare between broadcasting giant and Discovery Mail Online, Kieran Gill (1/2/17)
Discovery averts UK blackout with Sky in last-minute deal Bloomberg, Rebecca Penty, Joe Mayes and Gerry Smith (1/2/17)
Is Sky losing Discovery? Eurosport, Animal Planet and other fan favourite set to stay International Business Times, Owen Hughes (1/2/17)
Discovery goes to war with Sky over channel fees with blackout threat The Telegraph, Christopher Williams (25/1/17)

Questions

  1. Can you use game theory to outline the ‘game’ that Sky and Discovery were playing?
  2. Is the ‘threat’ of stopping access to channels credible?
  3. Although we don’t know the final financial settlement, why would Sky have had a reason to increase the price it paid to Discovery?
  4. Why would it be in Discovery’s interests to accept the deal that Sky offered?
  5. Susanna Dinnage suggested that Sky was using its dominant market position. What does this mean and how does this suggest that Sky might be able to behave?
  6. What type of market structure is the pay-TV industry? Think about it in terms of broadcasters, channels and programmes as you might get very different answers!
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The labour cost

In the UK, we take it for granted that if you need to see a doctor, you go and give little, if any thought, to the cost. It may be petrol costs, time off work or the cost of a prescription, but beyond that, receiving treatment is free at the point of use. Funded through a progressive tax system, the NHS is seen as being one of the more equitable health care systems.

When a mother gives birth, the main thing she will have to worry about is the labour – and not whether to have certain painkillers or stay an extra night, because of the cost.

The International Federation of Health Plans (IFHP) looked at data on the cost of giving birth, based on insurance company payments. For someone living in the UK, the figures make for quite astonishing reading. In the USA, a normal delivery will cost $10,000, while a caesarean totals $15,000, meaning that giving birth in the USA is the most expensive place in the world. The article linked below takes the case of Mari Roberts, whose total delivery bill came to over $100,000. The insurance did cover it, but that’s not always the case. Medical bills in the United States are one of the leading reasons for bankruptcy and with these types of figures, perhaps it’s hardly surprising.

Other countries also see high costs for delivery, where expectant mothers really do need to give consideration to the length of their stay in hospital and perhaps even whether they are willing to forgo a pain-relieving drug and save some money. There is often said to be an efficiency–equity trade-off in the area of healthcare, with countries offering a free at the point of use service delivering an equitable system, but with a lack of responsiveness to the demands of the patients. In the UK, you don’t pay to see a doctor but, with a ‘free’ service, demand is understandably very high, thus creating a shortage and waiting lists. In countries, such as the USA, a higher price for treatment does limit demand, creating more inequity but a responsive system.

There are certainly lessons that can be learned from all health care systems and living in a developed country, we should certainly consider ourselves lucky. There are many countries where access to even the most basic health care is a luxury that most cannot afford. So, where does have the best health care system? I’ll leave that to you.

Video and article
How much do women around the world pay to give birth? BBC News, Mariko Oi (13/2/15)

Report
Research for Universal Health Coverage, World Health Report 2013 World Health Organisation August 2013
Health Systems Financing: The Path to Universal Coverage, World Health Report 2010 World Health Organisation August 2010

Questions

  1. Using a demand and supply diagram, explain why there may be a trade-off between efficiency and equity.
  2. If there is over-consumption of a service such as health care, does this suggest that the market fails?
  3. What are the main market failures that exist in health care?
  4. Is the concept of opportunity cost relevant to mothers in labour? Think about the country in question.
  5. How would you go about ranking health care systems if you worked for an organisation such as the OECD or WHO?
  6. Pick a country whose health care system you are familiar with. What changes have occurred to the way in which health care is organised and financed in this country? How has it affected the key objectives that formed part of your answer to question 5?
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The business of tennis

I am an avid tennis fan and have spent many nights and in the last 10 days had many early mornings (3am), where I have been glued to the television, watching in particular Rafael Nadal in the Australian Open. Tennis is one of the biggest sports worldwide and generates huge amounts of revenue through ticket sales, clothing and other accessories, sponsorship, television rights and many other avenues. When I came across the BBC article linked below, I thought it would make an excellent blog!

There are many aspects of tennis (and of every other sport) that can be analysed from a Business and Economics stance. With the cost of living having increased faster than wages, real disposable income for many households is at an all-time low. Furthermore, we have so many choices today in terms of what we do – the entertainment industry has never been so diverse. This means that every form of entertainment, be it sport, music, cinema, books or computer games, is in competition. And then within each of these categories, there’s further competition: do you go to the football or the tennis? Do you save up for one big event and go to nothing else, or watch the big event on TV and instead go to several other smaller events? Tennis is therefore competing in a highly competitive sporting market and a wider entertainment market. The ATP Executive Chairman and President said:

We’ve all got to understand the demands on people’s discretionary income are huge, they are being pulled in loads of different avenues – entertainment options of film, music, sport – so we just need to make sure that our market share remains and hopefully grows as well.

As we know from economic analysis, product differentiation and advertising are key and tennis is currently in a particularly great era when it comes to drawing in the fans, with four global superstars.

However, tennis and all sports are about more than just bringing in the fans to the live events. Sponsorship deals are highly lucrative for players and, in this case, for the ATP and WTA tennis tours. It is lucrative sponsorship deals which create prize money worth fighting for, which help to draw in the best players and this, in turn, helps to draw in the fans and the TV companies.

With technological development, all sports are accessible by wider audiences and tennis is making the most of the fast growth in digital media. Looking at the packaging of tour events and how best to generate revenues through TV rights is a key part of strategic development for the ATP. It goes a long way to showing how even one of the world’s most successful sporting tours is always looking at ways to innovate and adapt to changing economic and social times. Tennis is certainly a sport that has exploited all the opportunities it has had and, through successful advertising, well-organised events and fantastic players, it has created a formidable product, which can compete with any other entertainment product out there. As evidence, the following fact was observed in the Telegraph article:

A 1400 megawatt spike – equivalent to 550,000 kettles being boiled – was recorded at around 9.20pm on that day [6/7/08] as Nadal lifted the trophy. The surge is seen as an indicator of millions viewing the final and then rushing to the kitchen after it is over. The national grid felt a bigger surge after the Nadal victory even than at half time during the same year’s Champions League final between Manchester United and Chelsea.

Tennis top guns driving ATP revenues BBC News, Bill Wilson (20/1/14)
The top 20 sporting moments of the noughties: The 2008 Wimbledon Final The Telegraph, Mark Hodgkinson (14/12/09)
The global tennis industry in numbers BBC News (22/1/14)

Questions

  1. How does tennis generate its revenue?
  2. In which market structure would you place the sport of tennis?
  3. What are the key features of the ATP tour which have allowed it to become so successful? Can other sports benefit from exploiting similar things?
  4. How has technological development created more opportunities for tennis to generate increased revenues?
  5. Can game theory be applied to tennis and, if so, in what ways?
  6. Why does sponsorship of the ATP tour play such an important role in the business of tennis?
  7. How important is (a) product differentiation and (b) advertising in sport?
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A private healthcare system?

In the UK, we have a dominant public healthcare sector and a small private sector. In the blog Is an education monopoly efficient? we looked at the idea of an education monopoly and why that may create inefficiencies in the system in comparison with competitive private markets. Does the same argument hold for the market for healthcare? The NHS is largely a state monopoly, although market forces are used in certain areas, which does bring some benefits of competition. However, was the NHS to be privatized, would we see further efficiency gains? As we stated in the previously mentioned blog: ‘the more competition there is, the more of an incentive firms have to provide consumers with the best deal, in terms of quality, efficiency and hence price.’

Privatisation of the NHS has always been regarded with skepticism – of all the British welfare state institutions, the NHS is the most symbolic. However, we have recently seen a takeover of a NHS hospital by a private firm. It’s not privatisation, but it is a step towards a more privately run healthcare system.

Hinchingbrooke hospital in Cambridge is only small, but has a history of large debts – £40m and yet only a turnover of about £105m. This new strategy will still see the NHS owning the hospitals, but the private firm becoming liable for the hospital’s debts and essentially taking over the running of it. However, Circle aims to repay all the debts within 10 years and make a profit. There are many skeptics of this bold new approach, suggesting that Circle’s numbers don’t add up, especially with the flat NHS spending we’re going to see. However, the firm does have a positive track record in terms of making efficiency savings and whilst success will undoubtedly be a good thing – it may bring up some pertinent questions for the way in which the NHS is and should be run.

Hinchingbrooke hospital deal shakes up NHS Financial Times, Nicholas Timmins (10/11/11)
Failing NHS hospital is taken over by private firm for the first time in history Mail Online, Jenny Hope (11/11/11)
Andrew Lansley’s NHS is all about private sector hype Guardian, John Lister (11/11/11)
Circle clinches hospital management deal Reuters, Tim Castle (11/11/11)
Will profits come before patients in a hospital run by a private company? Independent, Oliver Wright (11/11/11)
Hospital group’s liabilities capped at £7m Financial Times, Sarah Neville and Gill Plimmer (10/11/11)
First privately run NHS hospital ‘is accident waiting to happen’ Guardian, Randeep Ramesh (10/11/11)
Government rejects hospital privatisation claims BBC News, Democracy Live (10/11/11)

Questions

  1. What are the benefits of competition?
  2. What are the market failures within the healthcare market? To what extent do you think that public sector provision (in the form of the NHS) is the most effective type of intervention?
  3. Is this just the first step towards privatisation of healthcare?
  4. Do you think private ownership of hospitals with significant debts is a good strategy?
  5. Why do you think Unison have argued that Circle’s takeover is ‘an accident waiting to happen’?
  6. Does privatisation mean that profits will be more important than patient care?
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Is an education monopoly efficient?

There has always been relatively widespread agreement that the best method to produce and finance education is via the government. Education is such a key service, with huge positive externalities, but information is far from perfect. If left to the individual, many would perhaps choose not to send their children to school. Whether it be because they lack the necessary information, they don’t value education or they need the money their child could earn by going out to work – perhaps they put the welfare of the whole family unit above the welfare of one child. However, with such large external benefits, the government intervenes by making education compulsory and goes a step further in many countries and provides and finances it too.

However, is this the right way to provide education? People like choice and the ability to exercise their consumer sovereignty. The more competition there is, the more of an incentive firms have to provide consumers with the best deal, in terms of quality, efficiency and hence price. We see this every day when we buy most goods. Many car salesrooms to visit – all the dealerships trying to offer us a better deal. Innovation in all industries – one phone is developed, only to be trumped by a slightly better one. This is only one of the many benefits of competition. Yet, education sectors are largely monopolies, run by the government. Many countries have a small private sector and there is substantial evidence to suggest that education standards in it are significantly higher. Research from Harvard University academics, covering 220,000 teenagers, suggests that competition from private schools improves achievement for all students. Martin West said:

“The more competition the state schools face for students, the stronger their incentive to perform at high levels…Our results suggest that students in state-run schools profit nearly as much from increased private school competition as do a nation’s students as a whole.”

The study concluded that an increase in the percentage of private school pupils made the education system more competitive and therefore more efficient, with an overall improvement in education standards. With so much evidence in favour of competition in other markets in addition to the above study, what makes education so different?

Or is it different? Should there be more competition in this sector – many economists, including Milton Friedman, say yes. He proposed a voucher scheme, whereby parents were given a voucher to cover the cost of sending their child to school. However, the parents could decide which school they sent their child to – a private one or a state run school. This meant that schools were in direct competition with each other to attract parents, their children and hence their money. Voucher schemes have been trialed in several places, most prominently in Sweden, where the independent sector has significantly expanded and results have improved. Is this a good policy? Should it be expanded and implemented in countries such as the UK and US? The following articles consider this.

Articles
School Competition rescues kids: the government’s virtual monopoly over K-12 education has failed Hawaii Reporter, John Stossel (30/10/11)
Private schools boosts national exam results Guardian, Jessica Shepherd (15/9/10)
Can the private sector play a helpful role in education? Osiris (10/8/11)
Voucher critics are misleading the public Tribune Review, TribLive, Joy Pullmann (30/10/11)
Vouchers beat status quo The Times Tribune (29/10/11)
Why are we allowing kids to be held hostage by a government monopoly? Fox News, John Stossel (26/10/11)
Free Schools – freedom to privatise education The Socialist (26/10/11)
Anyone noticed the Tories are ‘nationalising’ schools? Guardian, Mike Baker (17/10/11)

Publications
School Choice works: The case of Sweden Milton & Rose D Friedman Foundation, Frederick Bergstrom and Mikael Sandstrom (December 2002)

Questions

  1. What are the general benefits of competition?
  2. How does competition in the education market improve efficiency and hence exam results? Think about results in the private sector.
  3. What is the idea of a voucher scheme? How do you think it will affect the efficiency of the sector?
  4. What do you think would happen to equity in if a scheme such as the voucher programme was implemented in the UK?
  5. How do you think UK families would react to the introduction of a voucher scheme?
  6. What other policies have been implemented in the UK to create more competition in the education sector? To what extent have they been effective?
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Valuing the natural environment

Economics studies the choices people make. ‘Rational choice’ involves the weighing up of costs and benefits and trying to maximise the surplus of benefits over costs. This surplus will be maximised when people do more of things where the marginal benefit exceeds the marginal cost and less of things where the marginal cost exceeds the marginal benefit. But, of course, measuring benefits and costs is not always easy. Nevertheless, for much of the time we do make conscious choices where we consider that choosing to do something is ‘worth it’: i.e. that the benefit to us exceeds the cost.

When we make a choice, often this involves expenditure. For example, when we choose to buy an item in a shop, we spend money on the item, and also, perhaps, spend money on transport to get us to the shop. But the full opportunity cost includes not only the money we spend, but also the best alternative activity sacrificed while we are out shopping.

Then there are the benefits. Not all pleasurable activity costs us money. The sight of beautiful contryside or the pleasure of the company of friends may cost us very little, if anything, in money terms. But they may still be very valuable to us.

If we are to make optimal decisions we need to have some estimate of all costs and benefits, not just ones involving the payment or receipt of money. This applies both to individual behaviour and to collective decisions made by governments or other agencies.

Cost–benefit analysis seeks to do this to help decisions about new projects, such as a new road, a new hospital, environmental projects, and so on. But just how do we set about putting a value on the environment – on the pleasure of a walk in bluebell woods, on protecting bird life in wetlands or sustaining ecosystems?

For the first time there has been a major study that attempts to value the environment. According to the introduction to the report:

The UK National Ecosystem Assessment (UK NEA) is the first analysis of the UK’s natural environment in terms of the benefits it provides to society and the nation’s continuing prosperity. Carried out between mid-2009 and mid-2011, the UK NEA has been a wide-ranging, multi-stakeholder, cross-disciplinary process, designed to provide a comprehensive picture of past, present and possible future trends in ecosystem services and their values; it is underpinned by the best available evidence and the most up-to-date conceptual thinking and analytical tools. The UK NEA is innovative in scale, scope and methodology, and has involved more than 500 natural scientists, economists, social scientists and other stakeholders from government, academic and private sector institutions, and non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

The following podcast and webcast look at the report and at some of the issues it raises in terms of quantifying and incorporating environmental costs and benefits into decision taking.

Podcast and Webcast
‘The hidden value’ of our green spaces BBC Today Programme, Tom Feilden (2/6/11)
Report puts monetary value on Britain’s natural assets BBC News, Jeremy Cooke (2/6/11)

Articles
NEA report highlights need for biodiversity Farmers Guardian, Ben Briggs (2/6/11)
Nature is worth £19bn a year to the UK economy – report Energy & Environmental Management Magazine (2/6/11)
In praise of… the unquantifiable Guardian (3/6/11)
Priceless benefits of bluebell woods Guardian letters, Dr Bhaskar Vira and Professor Roy Haines-Young (4/6/11)
Nature ‘is worth billions’ to UK BBC News, Richard Black (2/6/11)
Putting a price on nature BBC News, Tom Feilden (2/6/11)
Value of Britain’s trees and waterways calculated in ‘ground-breaking’ study The Telegraph, Andy Bloxham (2/6/11)
Nature worth billions, says environment audit Financial Times, Clive Cookson (2/6/11)
Nature gives UK free services worth billions Planet Earth, Tom Marshall (3/6/11)
UK scientists put price on nature with National Ecosystem Assessment GreenWise, Ann Elise Taylor (2/6/11)

Report
UK National Ecosystem Assessment: link to report DEFRA
UK National Ecosystem Assessment (June 2011)
The UK National Ecosystem Assessment: Synthesis of the Key Findings

Questions

  1. How would you set about valuing the benefits of woodlands?
  2. According to the report, the health benefits of living close to a green space are worth up to £300 per person per year. How much credance sould we attach to such a figure?
  3. What do you understand by the ‘ecosystem approach’ and the term ‘ecosystem services’?
  4. Explain Figure 2 on page 3 of Chapter 2 of the report.
  5. Should decision makers quantify only those benefits of ecosystems experienced by humans? Would all environmentalists agree with this approach?
  6. What are the advantages and disadvantages of quantifying all costs and benefits in money terms?
  7. Compare the consequences over the next 50 years of a ‘world markets’ scenarios with that of a ‘nature at work’ scenario.
  8. What policy implications follow from the report?
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Do you Lovefilm?

If you want to buy a newly released DVD, a cheaper option than buying off the high-street tends to be to buy online, in particular through Amazon, the world’s largest online retailer. However, Amazon has been facing increasing competition from another US giant, Netflix that has over 16 million subscribers and is looking at entering the British market. Arguably, in a response to this threat, Amazon has agreed to purchase Lovefilm, the online movie rental service that has grown rapidly over the past few years, with over 1.4 million members around the UK.

As of 2008, Amazon already had a 42% stake in the business, but as Lovefilm has been running into difficulties, their senior management team has been looking at the possibility of selling the remaining 58% share. Enter Amazon in a bid to cement and defend their place in the British market to companies such as Netflix. Below are a few articles concerning this takeover – more will be added, as further details emerge.

Amazon acquires Lovefilm for £200m Financial Times, Tim Bradshaw (20/1/11)
Can Lovefilm survive the streaming revolution? Telegraph, James Hurley (27/1/11)
Amazon takes full control of Lovefilm Guardian, Josh Halliday(20/1/11)
Amazon buys remaining stake in Lovefilm DVD service BBC News (20/1/11)
Amazon takes control of Lovefilm Broadband TV News, Julian Clover (20/1/11)
Amazon acquires Lovefilm, the Netflix of Europe Tech Crunch, Mike Butcher (20/1/11)

Questions

  1. What type of takeover is this and what are the main motives behind it?
  2. How are consumers likely to a) benefit and b) suffer from Amazon’s takeover bid for Lovefilm?
  3. Who are Amazon’s main competitors? (Think of all the products they sell.)
  4. Will the Competition authorities be interested in this takeover? Explain your answer.
  5. In which type of market structure would you place Amazon, Netflix and Lovefilm? Explain your answer.
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Gobbling up a good deal

The market for food in the UK is highly competitive. From dining in style to a simple take-away, one of the key words when it comes to dining seems to be choice. Competitive prices and high quality are on offer, which is largely due to the sheer number of restaurants available to consumers. However, consolidation seems to be on the menu.

Nando’s is a well known restaurant and a popular eating destination on UK and Irish high streets, with more than 230 restaurants. This chicken restaurant group has made a £30 million bid for Clapham House, the company behind the Gourmet Burger Kitchen chain with 53 branches. Clapham’s shareholders were advised to accept the deal and on the 17th September 2010, it is reported that a deal was reached with Nando’s Group Holdings and its private equity owner Capricorn Ventures International. The 74 pence per share deal was met with disappointment by some analysts, who felt that the company was under-valued, despite failed attempts by Clapham House’s Board to persuade Capricorn to raise the offer price or find an alternative bidder.

The restaurant industry has suffered from the recession and especially by the weak economic recovery, so perhaps lower valuations are to be expected. Nando’s said:

‘As macroeconomic weakness has persisted in the UK, the trading environment for restaurant businesses in the UK has been difficult. This is evidenced by Clapham House’s vaolatile weekly trading performance.’

Nando’s intend to invest significantly in Clapham Houses’ businesses to reinvigorate their previous competitor. This may be essential, given the expectation that conditions in the UK will remain fragile, with consumer confidence staying low, as well as a somewhat untimely rise in VAT in January next year, which is almost certain to have an adverse effect on the restaurant business.

This take-over deal is not the first in the restaurant industry and nor is it likely to be the last, as the UK economy remains in a vulnerable state. The following articles look at this and over takeovers.

Nando’s to buy Gourmet Burger Kitchen for £30m BBC News (17/9/10)
UK restaurants serve up £50m in takeover deals Management Today, Emma Haslett (17/9/10)
Nando’s swallows Gourmet Burger Daily Mirror News, Clinton Manning (18/9/10)
GBK team plots next move after Nandos deal Telegraph, Jonathan Sibun (18/9/10)
Nando’s to buy Real Greek chain for £30m Independent, Alistair Dawber (18/9/10)
Mithcells & Butlers and Nando’s to feast on rival restaurant chains Mail Online, Ben Laurance (17/9/10)
GBK owner Clapham agrees to Nando’s offer Reuters (17/9/10)

Questions

  1. What type of takeover is Nando’s purchase of Clapham House?
  2. Why has the weak macroeconomic environment adversely affected the restaurant industry? What might be the impact of next January’s rise in VAT?
  3. Will Nando’s takeover (or indeed any other takeover in the restaurant industry) allow the company to prosper from the weak economic climate?
  4. In which type of market structure would you place the restaurant industry in the UK? Explain the characteristics of the market structure you choose and why you have placed the restaurant industry in it.
  5. How was the finance for the deal raised by Nando’s Holdings Group? What other sources of finance are available to firms for this purpose? What are the (a) advantages and (b) disadvantages of each?
  6. What other takeovers have occurred recently in the restaurant industry? What types of takeovers are they?
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Tackling scarcity: can we have too much choice?

If we are faced with simple and limited choices, we may make careful decisions based on a number of criteria: in other words, we will identify various characterisitics we are looking for and see how well the various alternative products or activities meet our criteria. When we have lots of choice, however, we may be less careful or get confused.

In this Guardian podcast, the panelists discuss complex choices between many products and/or characteristics. Are people being ‘rational’ when making such choices? Is being less careful simply a rational use of scarce time? Do people really want lots of choice or would they prefer more limited choice? Can experiments where people are given choices help us to understand how people choose and how much choice businesses or government should give people? Then there is the question of producers/suppliers of products. Does choice promote competition and product development and is there an optimum amount of choice to achieve this?

The Business: Choice Guardian Podcasts, Sheena Iyengar, Julian Glover and Andrew Lilico in conversation with Aditya Chakrabortty (1/9/10)

Questions

  1. Are people ‘rational’ when they make choices? For what reasons may they not be rational?
  2. Can you make rational choices if your information is imperfect?
  3. Is there an optimum amount of choice and how would you set about establishing that optimum?
  4. How useful are experiments in understanding the process of choice? What are the weaknesses of such experiments?
  5. Should people be limited in the amount of choice they are given over medical treatment and schools?
  6. What are the advantages to other people of giving people more choice?
  7. How much does culture influence our attitudes towards choice?
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Price-fixing oligopolies

When we examine industries and markets in economics, one of the key things we look for is how competitive the market is. A question that we ask is, under what type of market structure is this firm operating? To answer this, we will need information on the number of competitors, the products, prices, advertising, profits, efficiency and how the firms are likely to behave in both the short and long run.

A lot of the time firms are independent: their behaviour doesn’t affect the actions of rivals. This is usually because each firm within the industry only has a relatively small market share. If one firm changes the price, or how much it spends on advertising/product development, this won’t have an impact on the market equilibrium.

However, it’s not as easy for an oligopolist, as interdependence is a key characteristic of this market structure. As such, it’s not surprising that firms have a decision to make: should they compete with the other firms and try to maximise our own profits, or should they collude and try to maximise industry profits? Whilst collusion is illegal in many countries, activities such as price fixing do go ahead and it can be difficult to prove, as the ACCC is finding with a petrol price-fixing case in Melbourne. In 49 of the 53 weeks studied, when one of the big petrol stations changed their price, the industry followed these movements exactly.

As competition in a market decreases, it could be a sign that an oligopoly is developing. A few firms are beginning to dominate the market and this could spell trouble for customers. Indeed, in the Australian banking sector, there are concerns that an oligopoly will develop if more competition is not introduced. The Deputy Chairman of the Australian Bankers’ Association said: “We’ve got four major banks that are repricing all their commercial and small business customers’ margins upwards”. Customers may therefore lose out with higher prices and less choice, while the dominant firms see their profits growing.

The market structure under which a firm is operating will have a major impact on its decisions and the outcomes in the market, as shown in the articles below.

ACCC on safe political ground in targeting the Mobil takeover The Australian Business, John Durie and Martin Collins (3/12/09)
Nippon Steel Chairman warns of Australian oligopolies Market Watch, Stephen Bell (10/11/09)
Government’s bank guarantee hurting BOQ: Libby Business Day (2/12/09)
Regulators to scrutinise BHP and Rio’s Australian joint venture Financial Times, William McNamara and Elizabeth Fry (7/12/09)
Crackdown on price fixing draws mixed reaction The Korea Herald (7/12/09)

Questions

  1. What are the main characteristics of an oligopoly?
  2. Illustrate a cartel that fixes prices and show how a member of this cartel must sell at that price and at a given quantity.
  3. Some factors make collusion more likely to occur and more likely to succeed. In the Australian banking sector, which factors do you think are allowing price fixing to occur?
  4. Is the example of petrol price fixing barometric price leadership or dominant firm price leadership? Explain both of these terms and use a diagram, where possible, to illustrate the effects.
  5. The articles suggest that oligopolies are bad for competition. Explain why this is the case.
  6. To what extent are oligopolies against the public interest? Use examples from the articles to back up your argument.
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