Pearson - Always learning

All your resources for Economics

RSS icon Subscribe | Text size

Posts Tagged ‘competition’

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?
Share in top social networks!

The Supermarket Battleground

UK Supermarkets: a prime example of an oligopoly. This industry is highly competitive and over the past decade, but particularly since the onset of the credit crunch, price wars have been a constant feature of this market. You could barely watch a full programme on commercial TV without seeing one of the big supermarkets advertising that their prices were lower than everyone else’s! So, despite oligopoly being towards the ‘least competitive’ end of the market structure spectrum, this is an example of just how competitive the market can actually be.

With household incomes being squeezed, in particular by another oligopolistic industry (energy) and with the ‘middle market’ being pinched by higher-end retailers and budget retailers, the supermarket sector is facing uncertain times. Asda’s sales growth has continued to slow and in response, the giant supermarket chain will be launching a £1 billion price-cutting campaign. Tesco is the market leader, but Sainsbury’s and Asda have been battling over the second spot. One of Asda’s selling points is its low prices. Perhaps not as low as Aldi and Lidl, but this new pricing strategy will aim to bring its prices further below Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons and close the gap with the two big discount supermarkets. As Andy Clarke, Asda’s Chief Executive, said:

We regard ourselves as the UK’s leading value retailer and it is against this backdrop that I have today set out our strategic priorities which will improve, extend and expand the business over the next five years.

So, what will be the impact of lower prices? It appears as though Asda is marketing itself towards the budget end of the pricing spectrum, perhaps aiming to become fiercer competitors with Aldi and Lidl and let Tesco and Sainsbury’s do battle with the higher-end retailers, such as Waitrose and Marks and Spencer. Lower prices should cause a substitution effects towards Asda’s products, as many of them will have relatively price elastic demand. If the other supermarkets don’t respond, this should lead to sales growth. However, the key to an oligopoly is interdependence: the actions of one firm will affect all other firms in the market. The implications then, are that Tesco may react to this pricing strategy by engaging in its own price cuts, especially as the Christmas period approaches. The characteristic of interdependence was evident in the aftermath of Asda’s announcement when shares in Tesco and Morrisons both fell, showing how the markets were responding.

Of course, there are many other factors that affect a consumer’s decision as to whether to shop at Asda, Tesco or any other big supermarket. In the area where I live, we have a Tesco and a Morrisons (a few years ago, we had neither!). I don’t shop at Asda, as the nearest branch is over 30 miles away – even if prices were significantly lower, it would be more expensive to get there and back and a lot less convenient. For others, it may be loyalty and not just of the ‘I’ve shopped there all my life’ kind! For some, clubcard vouchers from Tesco may be preferred to Asda’s offerings and thus tiny price differences between the supermarkets may have little effect on a consumer’s decision as to where to shop. Many products at supermarkets are relatively cheap and thus as the proportion of our income that we spend on these goods is pretty low, any change in price doesn’t cause much of an effect on our demand.

It’s not just a pricing strategy where money is being invested by Asda. More investment will be going into their online services and more stores will be created, kin particular in London and the South East where their presence is low, but demand appears to be high. Improving ‘product quality, style and design’ will also be on the agenda, all with the aim of boosting sales growth and securing its position as the second largest retailer in the sector, perhaps with a long term aim of one day overtaking Tesco. The following articles consider the supermarket battleground.

Supermarket battle heats up as Asda announces £1bn price-cutting plan The Telegraph, Graham Ruddick (14/11/13)
Sainsbury’s profits make it second biggest supermarket BBC News (13/11/13)
Asda to launch £1bn price-cut plan AOL, Press Association (15/11/13)
Asda takes fight to rivals with £1bn investment plan The Guardian, Angela Monaghan (14/11/13)
UK’s Asda promises £1 billion investment in price cuts Reuters (14/11/13)
Asda makes bid to woo shoppers with vow of five-year £1billion price war after it was overtaken in market share by Sainsbury’s Mail Online, Sean Poulter (15/11/13)
Sainsbury’s overtakes Asda on demand for its premium lines Independent, Simon Neville (14/11/13)
Asda to put £1bn into lowering prices over five years The Grocer, Thomas Hobbs (14/11/13)
Wal-Mart posts $3.7bn quarterly income BBC News (14/11/13)

Questions

  1. What are the key characteristics of an oligopoly?
  2. What is meant by a price war? Who benefits?
  3. How important is the concept of price elasticity of demand when deciding whether or not to cut the price of a range of products?
  4. Why is the proportion of income spent on a good a key determinant of the elasticity of demand of a product?
  5. How can market share be calculated?
  6. Many suggest that the ‘middle market’ of the supermarket sector is slowly disappearing. Why is this?
  7. How effective will Asda’s price cutting strategy be? Which factors will determine its effectiveness?
Share in top social networks!

A payday inquiry

When people take out loans they typically do so to spend and with the UK economy in its current state, many would argue that this is a good thing. The ‘payday loan’ industry took advantage of the weak economy and the squeezed households in the UK and for the past few years, we have seen constant adverts that will appeal to many households. But, is the industry as competitive as the adverts would have us believe?

An inquiry into this industry has been on-going for some time, and it has now been referred to the Competition Commission, due to ‘deep-rooted problems with the way competition works’. For some, a payday loan is a short term form of finance, but for others it has become a way of living that has led to a debt spiral. Frank McKillop, policy manager at Abcul said:

There is a clear demand for instant credit and across the country we are increasingly seeing members who have debts with multiple payday lenders and a record of rolling over debts, or going to one payday lender to clear the debt to another.

One problem identified by the OFT is that customers have found it difficult to compare costs and this has led, in some cases, to customers paying back significantly more than they originally thought. Customers being unable to repay loans will ring warning bells for many people, with no-one wanting a return to the height of the credit crunch.

The OFT has criticized payday loan companies for competing not on costs, but on the speed of approval and using certain unapproved tactics as part of their advertising. The selling point of such companies is that you can have the money in a very short time period. However, the criticism is that this leads to loans being given to those who are unable to afford them. Key credit checks are not being done and with late night texts being sent to often financially vulnerable people, it is no wonder that complaints have been received. In a statement, the OFT said:

The competitive pressure to approve loans quickly may give firms an incentive to skimp on the affordability assessment which is designed to prevent irresponsible lending and protect consumers.

[the business models of companies were] predicated on making loans which are unaffordable, leading to borrowers paying far more than expected through rollovers, additional interest and other charges.

While payday loans are legal and there are many companies offering them, it is what they are competing over, which seems to be in question. The industry itself has begun to change its practices, providing more information to customers, only allowing loans to be rolled over three times and the potential to freeze repayments if the customer gets into financial difficulty. If more stringent checks are completed and hence timing does not become the only grounds for competition, then the problems above may become less significant. With the ongoing OFT inquiry into the practices of the payday loan industry and the continuing demand for such financing, it is likely that we will see much more of both the good and the bad that it has to offer. The following articles consider the investigation.

Webcasts
Balls warns against payday loans ‘blank cheque’ BBC News (27/6/13)
Payday lender investigation could be delayed by bureaucracy Telegraph, Steve Hawkes (27/6/13)
Payday lenders to face ‘tougher restrictions’ on advertising BBC News, Simon Gompertz (1/7/13)
Payday lending rates BBC News, Julio Martino and Stella Creasy (2/7/13)

Articles
Regulator to investigate payday loan industry Financial Times, Elaine Moore and Robert Cookson (27/6/13)
Q&A: Payday loans BBC News (31/5/13)
Payday loans: reining in an industry that is a law unto itself Guardian (27/6/13)
Payday loans industry to face competition inquiry BBC News (27/6/13)
Payday loans firms face competition inquiry Sky News (27/6/13)
Payday loans market faces competition inquiry Guardian, Hilary Osborne (27/6/13)
OFT refers payday loans to Competition Commission Scotsman, Jane Bradley (27/6/13)
Five reasons why we all need to worry about payday lenders Telegraph, Emma Simon (27/6/13)

OFT documents
Payday lending compliance review Office of Fair Trading (27/6/13)

Questions

  1. Into which market structure would you place the payday loans industry? Make sure you justify your answer.
  2. What is the role of the (a) the OFT and (b) the Competition Commission? Do these authorities overlap?
  3. What part does advertising play in this industry?
  4. To what extent is the payday loan industry a possible cause of another credit crunch?
  5. Why has the OFT referred this industry to the Competition Commission?
  6. To what extent are payday loans an essential part of an economy?
Share in top social networks!

Avoiding questions of tax avoidance

If you ask most people whether they like paying tax, the answer would surely be a resounding ‘no’. If asked would you like to pay less tax, most would probably say ‘yes’. Evidence of this can be seen in the behaviour of individuals and of companies, as they aim to reduce their tax bill, through both legal and illegal methods.

Our tax revenues are used for many different things, ranging from the provision of merit goods to the redistribution of income, so for most people they don’t object to paying their way. However, maintaining profitability and increasing disposable income is a key objective for companies and individuals, especially in weak economic times. Some high profile names have received media coverage due to accusations of both tax avoidance and tax evasion. Starbucks, Amazon, Googe and Apple are just some of the big names that have been accused of paying millions of pounds/dollars less in taxation than they should, due to clever (and often legal) methods of avoiding tax.

The problem of tax avoidance has become a bigger issue in recent years with the growth of globalisation. Multinationals have developed to dominate the business world and business/corporation tax rates across the global remain very different. Thus, it is actually relatively easy for companies to reduce their tax burden by locating their headquarters in low tax countries or ensuring that business contracts etc. are signed in these countries. By doing this, any profits are subject to the lower tax rate and are thus such companies are accused of depriving the government of tax revenue. Apple is currently answering questions posed by a US Senate Committee, having been accused of structuring its business to create ‘the holy grail of tax avoidance’.

Many may consider the above and decide that these companies have done little wrong. After all, many schemes aimed at tax avoidance are legal and are often just a clever way of using the system. However, in a business environment dominated by the likes of Google, Apple and Amazon, the impact of tax avoidance may not just be on the government’s coffers. Indeed John McCain, one of the Committee members asked:

…Couldn’t one draw the conclusion that you and Apple have an unfair advantage over domestic based corporations and companies, in other words, smaller companies in this country that don’t have the same ability that you do to locate in Ireland or other countries overseas?

The concern is that with such ability to avoid huge amounts of taxation, large companies will inevitably compete smaller ones out of the market. Local businesses, without the ability to re-locate to other parts of the world, pay their full tax bills, but multinationals legally (in most cases) manage to avoid paying their own share. With a harsh economic climate continuing globally, these large companies that aim to further increase their profitability through such means as tax avoidance will naturally bear the wrath of smaller businesses and individuals that are struggling to get by. It’s likely that this topic will remain in the media for some time. The following articles consider some of the companies accused of participating in tax avoidance schemes and the consequences of doing so.

Is Apple’s tax avoidance rational? BBC News, Robert Peston (21/5/13)
Apple’s Tim Cook defends tax strategy in Senate BBC News (21/5/13)
Senator accuses Apple of ‘highly questionable’ billion-dollar tax avoidance scheme The Guardian, Dominic Rushe (21/5/13)
Apple’s Tim Cook faces tax avoidance questions Sky News (21/5/13)
EU leaders look to end Apple-style tax avoidance schemes Reuters, Luke Baker and Mark John (21/5/13)
Apple Chief Tim Cook defends tax practices and denies avoidance Financial Times, James Politi (21/5/13)
Apple CEO Tim Cook tells Senate: tiny tax bill isn’t our fault, it’s yours Independent, Nikhil Kumar (21/5/13)
Miliband promises action on Google tax avoidance The Telegraph (19/5/13)
Google is cheating British tax payers out of millions…what they are doing is just immoral’: Web giant accused of running ‘scandalous’ tax avoidance scheme by whistleblower Mail Online, Becky Evans (19/5/13)
Multinational CEOs tell David Cameron to rein in tax avoidance rhetoric The Guardian, Simon Bowers, Lawrie Holmes and Rajeev Syal (20/5/13)
Fury at corporate tax avoidance leads to call for a global response The Guardian, Tracy McVeigh (18/5/13)

Questions

  1. What is the difference between tax evasion and tax avoidance? Is it rational to engage in such schemes?
  2. What are tax revenues used for?
  3. Why are multinationals more able to engage in tax avoidance schemes?
  4. Is the problem of tax avoidance a negative consequence of globalisation?
  5. How might the actions of large multinationals who are avoiding paying large amounts of tax affect the competitiveness of the global market place?
  6. Is there justification for a global policy response to combat the issue of tax avoidance?
  7. What are the costs and benefits to a country of having a low rate of corporation tax?
  8. How would a more ‘reasonable’ tax on foreign earnings allow the ‘free movement of capital back to the US’?
Share in top social networks!

Parachute payment problems for the English Football League

The English Premier League (EPL) has negotiated a record TV deal which will generate £5.5 billion of revenue over the next 3 years – beginning in the season 2013–14. This represents a 70% increase on the previous deal. Controversy has arisen over some initial proposals put forward by the EPL as to how the money will be spent. The owners of the clubs in the Championship of the English Football League (EFL) are particularly concerned about the size of the proposed payments to the three teams relegated from the EPL.

Some 30 years ago the money generated from the sale of television rights was equally shared between all the teams in the then four divisions of the English Football League (EFL). In 1992 the top division of the English Football League broke away and formed the English Premier League (EPL). This newly formed EPL negotiated a separate television deal and kept the majority of the money. However, some payments were and still are made to the teams in the EFL and to organisations such as the League Managers Association and Professional Footballers Association. For example in 2011-–12 the EPL donated £189.4 million of the £1.2 billion generated from that year’s TV deal.

The majority of the money donated by the EPL is spent in two main ways. First, some money is redistributed to all the teams in the EFL: i.e. The Championship, League 1 and League 2. These are known as ‘solidarity payments’ and in 2011–12 the EPL spent £49.8 million on this scheme. Each club in the Championship received £2.3 million. It has been proposed that the amount paid into this scheme should be increased by 5% in the season 2013–14. Second, a relatively large amount of money is paid over a four-year period to the three teams relegated each season from the EPL into the Championship. These are known as ‘parachute payments’ and in the season 2011–12 the EPL spent £90.9 million on this scheme. The rationale for having parachute payments is to help the relegated teams adjust their wage bills to the much lower revenue streams that come from playing in the Championship. Proposed changes to the scheme are outlined in Table 1.

The chairmen of the football league clubs met on the 20th March 2013 and a number of them expressed concerns about the relatively large increase in the parachute payments compared to the solidarity payments. They were particularly concerned that the changes to the funding would damage the competitive balance of the Championship.

Competitive balance refers to how the most talented players are distributed amongst the teams in a league. For example, are the majority of the most talented footballers playing for just a couple of the teams? In this case the league is competitively imbalanced and the teams with the best players will tend to win far more games than the other teams. The outcome of the league will be very predictable. If the most talented players were more evenly spread across all the teams in the league, then it would be more competitively balanced. Matches and the outcome of the league would become more unpredictable.

Does the level of competitive balance matter? Some sports economists have argued that it may have a significant impact on the success of the league. This is because fans may value the unpredictability of the results. It follows that closer and more unpredictable results will generate higher match-day attendances and increase the revenues of the clubs.

This is an interesting argument and is the opposite of what economic theory would predict for most markets. For example, the standard prediction would be that as firms outperform their rivals, they generate more revenue and profit. If they manage to drive all their rivals out of business, they would become a pure monopoly and make large abnormal profits. However in professional team sports the outcome may differ significantly. If the unpredictability of the league is highly valued by fans, then teams will generate more revenue when they have strong and evenly matched rivals.

It has been reported that further discussions about the distribution of the money will take place this month with the owners of the championship clubs arguing that there should be smaller increases in parachute payments and much larger increases in solidarity payments. Representatives of the EPL have argued that the parachute payments do not distort competition and make the championship predictable. They point out that at present only one of the top six teams in the championship (Hull) receives parachute payments, while only one of the teams promoted from the Championship in the season 2012–13 (West Ham) received these payments.

Articles
Premier League warned over rich and poor split in wake of TV deal The Guardian, Owen Gibson (19/3/13)
Championship clubs angered by Premier League parachute boost Daily Mail, Charles Sale (6/2/13)
Football league is to lessen the advantage of parachute payments The Guardian, Owen Gibson (20/3/13)
Championship clubs warn Premier League over hike in parachute payments for relegated teams The Independent, Majid Mohamed (20/3/13)
Increased parachute payments could lead to a salary cap in the Championship The Post, A. Stockhausen (21/3/13)
Scudamore:Parachute payment system fair Eurosport, Andy Eckardt (22/3/13)
Parachute payments more than a softened landing The Daisy Cutter, Richard Brook (21/3/13)

Questions

  1. What factors will influence the size of the attendance at a football match?
  2. To what extent do you think that the money generated from the sale of television rights should be equally shared between all the clubs in the English Premier League and the English Football League
  3. Can you think of any ways of measuring the competitive balance of a football league?
  4. Explain why a very competitively imbalanced league may reduce the revenue for all the clubs in that league?.
  5. In traditional economic theory it is assumed that firms aim to maximise their profits. What do you think is the objective of a typical football club in the English Premier League?
Share in top social networks!

Not in the Window

In 2009, the European Commission investigated Microsoft’s practice of bundling its own browser, Internet Explorer, with new copies of Windows. It found that this was an abuse of market power and created an unfair barrier to entry of other browsers, such as Firefox.

An agreement was reached that Microsoft would include a ‘choice screen’ in which users in the EU would be given a full list of alternative browsers and asked which they would like to install. On making their selection, a link would take them to the browser site to download the installation program. This screen would be available until 2014. Between March 2010, when the choice screen was first provided and November of the same year, 84 million browsers were downloaded through it.

In May 2011, however, the screen was no longer present on new Windows 7 purchases. The Commission took some time to realise this: indeed it was Microsoft’s rivals that pointed it out. The screen reappeared some 13 months later, after some 15m copies of Windows software had been sold.

For this lapse, the Commission has just fined Microsoft €561m. Commission Vice President in charge of competition policy, Joaquín Almunia, said:

In 2009, we closed our investigation about a suspected abuse of dominant position by Microsoft due to the tying of Internet Explorer to Windows by accepting commitments offered by the company. Legally binding commitments reached in antitrust decisions play a very important role in our enforcement policy because they allow for rapid solutions to competition problems. Of course, such decisions require strict compliance. A failure to comply is a very serious infringement that must be sanctioned accordingly.

This may seem unduly harsh, given that Internet Explorer’s share of the browser market has fallen dramatically. In 2009, it had around 50% of the European market, with its main rival at the time, Mozilla’s Firefox, having just under 40%. By 2013, Internet Explorer’s share has fallen to around 24% and Firefox’s to around 29%. Google’s Chrome, which was just starting up in 2009, has seen its share of the European market rise to around 35% and is now the market leader. Partly this is due to the rise in tablets and smartphones, a large proportion of which use Google’s Android operating system and the Chrome browser.

Not surprisingly, the European Commission is investigating Google to see whether it is abusing a dominant position. Is Google’s case, it’s not just about its share of the browser market, it’s more about its share of the search market, which in the EU is around 90% (compared with around 65% in the USA). As The Economist article below states:

The Commissioner believes that Google may be favouring its own specialised services (eg, for flights or hotels) at rivals’ expense; that its deals with publishers may unfairly exclude competitors; and that it prevents advertisers from taking their data elsewhere.

Joaquín Almunia asked Google to respond to these concerns by January 31. Google delivered its suggestions on the deadline, but we await to hear precisely what it said and how the Commission will respond. It is understood that Google’s proposal is for clearly labelling its own products on its search engine.

Articles
Microsoft Fined $732 Million By EU Over Browser eWeek, Michelle Maisto (6/3/13)
Microsoft faces hefty EU fine The Guardian (6/3/13)
Sin of omission The Economist (9/3/13)
Microsoft fined by European Commission over web browser BBC News (6/3/13)
EU commissioner Joaquin Almunia announces Microsoft fine BBC News (6/3/13)
Microsoft’s European Fine Comes in an Era of Browser Diversity Forbes, J.P. Gownder (6/3/13)
Life after Firefox: Can Mozilla regain its mojo? BBC News, Dave Lee (11/4/12)
Google responds to European commission’s antitrust chief The Guardian, Charles Arthur (31/1/13)
Google May Clinch EU Settlement After ‘Summer,’ Almunia Says Bloomberg Businessweek, Stephanie Bodoni and Aoife White (22/2/13)

European Commission Press Release
Antitrust: Commission fines Microsoft for non-compliance with browser choice commitments Europa (6/3/13)

Questions

  1. Why did Microsoft’s share of the browser market continue to decline between May 2011 and June 2012?
  2. Why would it matter if Microsoft had market power in the browser market, given that it’s free for anyone to download a browser?
  3. In what ways might Google be abusing a dominant position in the market?
  4. Can Mozilla regain its mojo?
  5. According to the second Guardian article, the Microsoft-backed lobby group Icomp said “To be seen as a success, any settlement must … include specific measures to restore competition and allow other parties to compete effectively on a level playing field with Google in the key markets of search and search advertising.” Give examples of such measures and assess how successful they might be.
  6. Would “clearly labelling its own products on its search engine” be enough to ensure adequate competition?
Share in top social networks!

An auditing of competition

The Big Four are well known: Deloitte, Ernst and Young, KPMG and PWC. They act as auditors for 90% of the UK’s stock-market listed companies. They have a very close relationship with the companies that they audit and because of this have faced criticism of not warning of the financial crisis. A further accusation is that the relationship between auditors and managers has become blurred.

In some sense, there is a problem of divorce of ownership from control. The companies that are audited by the Big Four have shareholders who are interested in profits and their dividends. But they employ managers who are responsible for the day-to-day running of the business. However, there are concerns that the auditors have become more concerned with meeting the interests of the managers and not of the shareholders. It has been suggested that the company’s management tend to ‘present their accounts in the most favourable light, whereas shareholder interests can be quite different.’ Laura Carstensen, the chair of the Audit Investigation Group said:

It is clear that there is significant dissatisfaction amongst some institutional investors with the relevance and extent of reporting in audited financial reports … management may have incentives to present their accounts in the most favourable light, whereas shareholder interests can be quite different.

The Big Four have been criticised for limiting competition in the industry. The Competition Commission has said that companies typically stay with the same auditing firm and this acts to limit competition. One suggestion to encourage competition is to enforce rotation of Auditors. However, the Big Four have said that the market remains competitive, ‘healthy and robust’ and that any enforcement as noted above would not be in the public interest. Other, smaller auditing companies have praised the preliminary report of the Competition Commission. One firm said:

No one solution will achieve market correction, but rather a combination of tendering requirements, encouragement of transparency and dialogue between auditors, companies and investors, and reform of outdated exclusionary practices should provide a backdrop for a healthier FTSE 350 audit market.

The report is not yet final, but the future of the Big Four is somewhat uncertain, especially with the European Commission’s desire to break them up. The following articles look at this industry.

Big Four accountants reject claims over high prices and poor competition The Guardian, Josephine Moulds and David Feeney (22/2/13)
Competition Commission raps Big Four accountants BBC News (22/2/13)
Big Four’s rivals welcome audit shake-up Financial Times, Adam Jones (22/2/13)
UK’s “Big Four” accountants under fire from watchdog Reuters, Huw Jones (22/2/13)
Big Four chastised by Competition Commission The Telegraph, Helia Ebrahimi (22/2/13)
The uncompetitive culture of auditing’s big four remains undented The Guardian, Prem Sikka (23/2/13)
Big Four accountants ‘in closed club on audits’ Independent, Mark Leftly (23/2/13)

Questions

  1. What is the role of the Competition Commission?
  2. Explain with other examples the problem of the divorce of ownership from control. How might the interest of shareholders and managers differ? Can they ever be aligned?
  3. Is market share a good measure of the competitiveness of an industry?
  4. What are the benefits of competition?
  5. Why has the regulator suggested that the Big Four are limiting competition?
  6. What solutions have been proposed by the Competition Commission? Explain how they are likely to stimulate competition in this market.
Share in top social networks!

Will airline prices fly out of reach?

Investment is crucial in all sectors of the economy. With growing demand for travel abroad, airports across the world have begun implementing investment strategies to increase capacity. Airport bosses at Heathrow are currently considering a 5 year investment plan that is expected to cost £3 billion.

Although investment is certainly needed and passengers will benefit in the long run, the cost of this investment will have to be met by someone. If these plans are approved by the airport bosses, it is likely that ticket prices will be pushed upwards to pay for it. Any increase in charges will have to receive approval by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). The plan at the moment would see ticket prices, via landing charges, increase by £19.33 per passenger before a further rise to £27.30. The impact on customers has already been raised as a key concern.

If the investment plans proceed, Heathrow expects to see its passenger numbers increase by 2.6m over the next 5 years, despite the proposed price hikes. This would naturally increase revenue and this money would provide at least some of the funds to repay the cost of the investment.

The price rises have been described as ‘incredibly steep’ and there are concerns that they will penalize customers. Airlines, such as Virgin Atlantic have recognized the need for more investment, but are more focused on finding ways to provide it without the price rises.

However, Colin Matthews, the Heathrow Chief said:

Heathrow faces stiff competition from other European hubs and we must continue to improve the service we offer passengers and airlines.

Passengers have already seen prices rise and Heathrow’s cost base has been described by British Airways as ‘inefficient’. Despite the fact that the decision by the CAA is not expected until January 2014, speculation will undoubtedly continue until any decision is reach. The following articles consider this case.

Heathrow hits turbulence over airport charges The Telegraph, Nathalie Thomas (12/2/13)
Heathrow Airport proposes ‘to raise ticket prices’ BBC News (12/2/13)
Heathrow investment to raise ticket prices Sky News (12/2/13)
Cost of Heathrow flights to rise by £27 in five years thanks to investment surcharge plans Mail Online, Helen Lawson (12/2/13)
Airlines fly into a rage as Heathrow warns charges must climb steeply Independent, Simon Calder (12/2/13)
Heathrow investment plan may lead to ticket price rise Reuters (12/2/13)
Heathrow calls for rise in airline tariffs Financial Times, Andrew Parker (12/2/13)

Questions

  1. If you had to undertake a cost-benefit analysis concerning the above investment proposal, which factors would you consider as the private and external benefits?
  2. Which factors would have to be taken into account as the private and external costs for any cost-benefit analysis?
  3. How important is it for the CAA to consider external costs and benefits when making its decision?
  4. If prices rise as the plans propose, what would you expect to be the effect on passenger numbers? How would this change be shown on a demand and supply diagram?
  5. According to Heathrow, they are expecting passenger numbers to increase, despite the price rises. What does this suggest about the demand curve? Illustrate your answer.
  6. Would you expect such an investment to have any macroeconomic impact?
Share in top social networks!

Anyone want to take a bite out of Apple?

The technology sector is highly complex and is led by Apple. However, as the tablet market is continuing to grow, it is becoming increasingly competitive with other firms such as Samsung gaining market share. Although both firms sell many products, it is the growing tablet market which is one of the keys to their continued growth.

Tablet PCs have seen a growth in the final quarter of 2012 to a high of 52.5 million units, according to IDC. Although Apple, leading the market, has seen a growth in its sales, its market share has declined to 43.6%. Over the same period, Samsung has increased its market share from 7.3% to 15.1%. While it is still a huge margin behind Apple in the tablet PC market, Samsung’s increase in sales from 2.2 million to 7.9 million is impressive and if such a trend were to continue, it would certainly cause Apple to take note.

It’s not just these two firms trying to take advantage of this growing industry. Microsoft has recently launched a new tablet PC and although its reception was less than spectacular, it is expected that Microsoft will become a key competitor in the long run. There are many factors driving the growth in this market and the war over market share is surely only just beginning. The chart shows the 75.3% growth in sales in just one year. (Click here for a PowerPoint of the chart.)

A Research Director at IDC said:

We expected a very strong fourth quarter, and the market didn’t disappoint…New product launches from the category’s top vendors, as well as new entrant Microsoft, led to a surge in consumer interest and very robust shipments totals during the holiday season’

Apple has been so dominant in this sector that other companies until recently have had little success in gaining market share. However, with companies such as Samsung and ASUS now making in-roads, competition is likely to become fierce. There are already concerns that Apple’s best days are behind it and its share price reflects this. People are now less willing to pay a premium price for an Apple product, as the innovations of its competitors have now caught up with those of the leading brand name. The following articles consider this growing market.

Samsung gain tablet market share as Apple lead narrows BBC News (1/2/13)
Apple snatches US lead from Samsung Financial Times, Tim Bradshaw (1/2/13)
Apple revenues miss expectations despite high sales figures BBC News (24/1/13)
Samsung eats into Apple sales in the tablet market Mirror, Ruki Sayid (1/2/13)
MacWorld’s Apple celebration opens amid fears of tech giant’s decline Guardian, Rory Carroll (31/1/13)
Samsung’s tablet sales soar as Apple’s grip on market loosens Daily News and Analysis, Richard Blagden (2/2/13)
Samsung takes a nibble out of Apple’s tablet lead InfoWorld, Ted Samson(31/1/13)
Tablet Sales up 75% as Samsung and Asus Gain on Apple Interational Business Times, Edward Smith (31/1/13)

Questions

  1. Which factors are behind this exceptional growth in the tablet PC market?
  2. Using the Boston matrix, where do you think tablet PCs fit in terms of market size and market growth?
  3. Where would you place this market in terms of the product life cycle?
  4. What does the product life cycle say about the degree of competition, the impact on pricing on profits etc. in the phase that you placed the tablet PC market in your answer to question 3?
  5. Why have Apple’s shares fallen recently? Do you think this will be the new trend?
  6. Microsoft’s new tablet didn’t attract huge sales. What explanation was given for this? Use a diagram to help answer this question.
  7. Tablet PCs are relatively expensive, yet sales of them have increased significantly over the past few years. What explanation is there for this, given that we have been (and still are) in tough financial times?
Share in top social networks!

A lack of competition in banking

Over the past five years the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has been closely studying the market for personal bank accounts in the UK. Last week, it announced its latest findings and the evidence seems to suggest that there remains a lack of competition in the market.

On the positive side, it reports that there has been a large fall in unarranged overdraft fees. However, despite this, according to the OFT banks still make on average £139 per year from every active current account. Furthermore, concentration has increased with the four largest banks (Barclays, Lloyds, HSBC and RBS) now accounting for 85% of the market and there has been little new entry. It appears that one of the key factors in enabling these main players to dominate the market and reap high profits is a lack of consumer switching behaviour. According to the OFT chief executive, Clive Maxwell:

Customers still find it difficult to assess which account offers the best deal and lack confidence that they can switch accounts easily. This prevents them from driving effective competition between providers.

Despite all these concerns, the OFT declined to refer the market to the Competition Commission for a more in-depth investigation and potential remedial action. Instead, the OFT will look at the market again in 2015. Richard Lloyd, the executive director at the consumer organisation Which?, was disappointed with this decision and was quoted in the The Guardian as saying:

Everyone – consumers, the government, leading bankers and now the OFT – seems to agree that big change is needed in banking, and that much greater competition on the high street is urgently needed to make the banks work for customers, not bankers.

Whilst at least for the moment, the Competition Commission will not get the chance to take action, there are still several reforms underway that may affect competition in the market. First, the OFT is increasing pressure on banks to allow consumers to have portable account numbers that they can take with them if they switch provider. Second, as a result of the Independent Commission’s review, banks will be required to switch a customer’s account in one week, rather than the average of 18 days it currently takes, and this process will become much more seamless. Finally, Lloyds has agreed to sell over 600 branches to the Co-op in order to meet the European Commission’s requirements following the government bail-out of the bank in 2008. This will increase the Co-op’s share of the current account market to 7%. It will be interesting to see how these reforms affect the market. If there is not substantial evidence of increased competition then the market is likely to face more scrutiny from the competition authorities.

Bank accounts: OFT says significant change needed BBC (25/01/13)
OFT: banks failing consumers The Economic Voice (25/01/13)
Let’s make bank accounts as easy to switch as mobiles The Telegraph, Andrew Oxlade (28/01/13)
OFT chief calls for more competitive banking sector The Telegraph, Denise Roland (30/01/13)

Questions

  1. What type of market structure best fits the banking industry?
  2. What are the barriers to entry in this market?
  3. What are the key features of the market that reduce consumer switching behaviour?
  4. Do you think most people are more likely to switch their mobile phone or current account provider? Explain.
  5. Why does limited consumer switching reduce the intensity of competition?
  6. Do you think the current reforms will result in a substantial increase in competition?
Share in top social networks!