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Posts Tagged ‘equilibrium’

Death of a beautiful mind

John Nash was one of the pioneers of game theory and in 1994 was awarded the Nobel prize in economics for his work in this field. He was also the subject of the 2001 film, A beautiful mind, where the young John Nash was played by Russell Crowe, for which he won an Oscar.

Tragically, John Nash and his wife were killed in a car crash on May 23: he was 86 years old. Since his death there have been many tributes paid to him and his work.

As a student of economics you will almost certainly have studied the concept of a Nash equilibrium: a situation where everyone makes their best choice, given the choices of the other ‘players’ in a ‘game’. But a Nash equilibrium is not in the collective best interests of the participants in a non-cooperative game.

This is a very different concept of equilibrium from the simple equilibrium in a perfectly competitive market. In fact, in the complex world of strategic decision making, where firms are constantly looking at their rivals’ behaviour and possible reactions to their own behaviour, there are all sorts of Nash equilibria which are clearly sub-optimal. Competition may be highly destructive.

The following obituaries look at Nash’s contribution to the development of economics. As the Bloomberg article states:

The game theory concepts that Nash’s math[s] brought to the field were a true paradigm shift in economics. Macroeconomists, who continue to use the old Walrasian notion of equilibrium typically engage in hand-waving about how the macroeconomy is too big for strategic interactions to matter. But most of the economics profession has gradually shifted toward Nash equilibrium. The 2014 Nobel winner, Jean Tirole, is emblematic of the new economics. And many of the biggest successes in applied economics, like the auctions that power Google’s advertising, rely on Nash’s technique.

Do we owe him as much as Adam Smith?

Articles
Death of John Nash and His Beautiful Ideas Bloomberg, Noah Smith (26/5/15)
John Nash, economist and mathematician, 1928–2015 Financial Times, Ferdinando Giugliano (25/5/15)
Obituary: John Nash: Lost and found The Economist (28/5/15)
Remembering John Nash: Finding equations to explain the world The Economist (28/5/15)
John F. Nash Jr., Math Genius Defined by a ‘Beautiful Mind,’ Dies at 86 New York Times, Erica Goode (24/5/15)
Explaining a Cornerstone of Game Theory: John Nash’s Equilibrium New York Times, Kenneth Chang (24/5/15)
John Nash’s Indelible Contribution To Economic Analysis Forbes, Jon Hartley (25/5/15)
John Nash’s ground-breaking contributions to maths BBC News, John Moriarty (24/5/15)
From the archives: Nash’s Nobel prize The Economist (24/5/15)
A beautiful strategy: John Nash’s ‘game theory’ explained Hindustan Times, Gaurav Choudhury (25/5/15)

Interview with John Nash
Interview with John Nash Nobelprize.org (Sept 2004)

Questions

  1. What is meant by the ‘prisoners’ dilemma’? How is this a demonstration of a sub-optimal Nash equilibrium in a non-cooperative game?
  2. Why is it difficult to predict the outcome of a non-cooperative game?
  3. Give some examples of non-cooperative games played by companies competing with each other.
  4. Give some examples of non-cooperative games played by nations competing with each other.
  5. Why do competition authorities try to prevent cooperation between businesses?
  6. Why may a cooperative equilibrium between firms be an unstable one?
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The falling pound

With an election approaching in the UK, uncertainty is a term we will hear frequently over the next few weeks. Until we know which party or parties will be in power and hence which policies will be implemented, planning anything is difficult. This is just one of the factors that has caused the British pound sterling to fall last week by 2% to an almost five year low against the dollar.

In the last election, uncertainty also prevailed and continued even after the election before the Coalition was formed. Given how close this election appears to be at present, another Coalition may have to be formed and this is adding to the current election uncertainty. A currency strategist at Standard Bank said:

“A $1.40 level for sterling/dollar is certainly not out of reach if the election aftermath turns ugly”

With such uncertainty, investors are refraining from putting their money into the UK and this has contributed towards the deprecation of the British pound against the dollar.

Another factor adding to this downward pressure on the pound is the latest data on industrial output. Although economic growth figures for the UK in 2014 were very positive, there are some suggestions that 2015 will not be as good as expected, though still a strong performance. The first quarter data will not be available until just before the election, but data from the ONS on industrial output shows very minimal growth at just 0.1% from January to February. Chris Williams at Markit said:

“Clearly this all bodes ill for economic growth in the opening quarter of the year. It’s now looking like the economy slowed, and possibly quite markedly, compared to the 0.6% expansion seen in the closing quarter of 2014 … The trend should improve in March, however, according to survey data.”

These two factors have combined to push the pound down, with investors preferring to hold their money in dollars, despite the weak US unemployment data. However, it is not only against the dollar that we must consider sterling’s performance. Against the euro, it has performed better, rising by 1.5%. Whether this is positive for the UK or very negative for the Eurozone is another question. The following articles consider the performance of the British pound.

Sterling falls to five-year low Financial Times, Neil Dennis (10/4/15)
Sterling plummets to five year low as economic slowdown looms The Telegraph, Mehreen Khan (10/4/15)
Pound at five-year low against dollar on weak output BBC News (10/4/15)
Sterling falls after Bank of England’s Haldane says even chances of rate cut or rise Reuters (10/4/15)
Pound falls to five-year low as volatility jumps before election Bloomberg, Anooja Debnath and David Goodman (11/4/15)
Pound falls to a five-year low against the dollar as polls suggest election will create economic uncertainty Mail Online, Matt Chorley (10/4/15)

Questions

  1. Draw a diagram illustrating the way in which the $/£ exchange rate is determined.
  2. Explain why the election is causing economic uncertainty in the UK.
  3. How would uncertainty affect the demand and supply of sterling and hence the exchange rate?
  4. US job data is worse than expected. Shouldn’t this have caused the dollar to depreciate against the pound and not appreciate?
  5. Industrial output data for the UK economy is lower than expected. What has caused this?
  6. Why does slower growth in industrial output cause the exchange rate to depreciate?
  7. In order to keep the UK’s inflation rate on target, Haldane has said that we could expect a cut or rise in interest rates and policy should be prepared for both. How has this affected the exchange rate?
  8. Are there any advantages of having a lower pound?
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When will wine run out?

The model of demand and supply is one of the first diagrams that any student of Economics will see and it’s a very important model. We can apply it to a multitude of markets and understand how market prices for products and services are determined. One such market is that of wine, where a recent report suggests that wine is in short supply. Bad news for everyone!

The price of wine is set by the interact of demand and supply. As with any market, numerous factors will affect how much wine is demanded at any price. Since 1996, global consumption of wine has been on the increase: for many, wine is a luxury good and thus as income rises, so does consumption. With the emergence of markets, such as China and subsequent income growth, consumption has risen. Furthermore, tastes have changed such that wine is becoming an increasingly desirable drink. So, this has all led to the demand curve shifting to the right.

However, at the same time, the supply of wine has been falling, largely the result of ‘ongoing vine pull and poor weather’ across Europe. European production has fallen by around 10% over the past year and although production in other countries has been rising, overall production is still not sufficient to match the growth in demand.

So, what’s the result of this high growth in demand combined with the decline in supply? A shortage of wine. A report by analysts at Morgan Stanley suggests that the global wine shortage was some 300m cases in 2012. But, more importantly what is the effect of this shortage? When demand for a product exceeds the supply, the market mechanism will push up the price. As stocks of wine continue to be depleted and consumption of wine keeps rising, the only outcome is a rise in the price of a bottle and a crate of wine.

Concerns are also being raised about the future of prices of some of our other favourite luxury products, such as chocolate, goats cheese and olives. In each case, it’s all about demand and supply and how these curves interact with each other. The following articles consider the prices of some of these products.

Wine shortage: the top five wines to drink – before they run out The Telegraph, Susy Atkins (30/10/13)
World faces global wine shortage – report BBC News (30/10/13)
Luxury food shortage scares – should we believe the warnings? The Guardian, Emine Saner (5/11/13)
The global wine ‘shortage’ Napa Valley, Dan Berger (8/11/13)
Global Shortage of wine beckons Independent, Felicitiy Morse (30/10/13)
The global wine shortage is about to get worse (if you like Bordeaux) TIME World, David Stout (6/11/13)
Have no fears about a world wine shortage – the glass is still half fulll The Telegraph, Victoria Moore (31/10/13)
Drink it while you can, as study points to looming wine shortage Associated Press (31/10/13)
Don’t waste a drop! Wine prices to rise as demand grows Mail Online, Amie Keeley (31/10/13)

Questions

  1. Use a demand and supply diagram to illustrate how the market price for wine (or any other product) is determined.
  2. Why does the demand curve for wine slope downwards and the supply curve of wine slope upwards?
  3. Which factors will affect (a) the demand and (b) the supply of wine?
  4. One the diagram you drew in question, illustrate a shortage of wine. How will the price mechanism work to restore equilibrium?
  5. Why does the Morgan Stanley report suggest that a wine shortage might emerge?
  6. What suggestions are there that there is no wine shortage?
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Do bus lanes increase congestion?

Demand and supply analysis can be applied to a multitude of markets. When there is a disequilibrium in a market, prices will tend to adjust to eliminate any shortage or surplus. But, what of road space? There is a demand and a supply of road space and when there are too many cars for the road space available, congestion is the consequence.

When an additional car enters the road network, there is a cost and a benefit to the driver. However, there are not only costs/benefits to the driver, but there are also costs/benefits to other road-users. When one car drives on the M25 it adds to the number of cars on the road. Once we reach the point where there are too many cars given the road space and thus the flow of cars per minute begins to fall, congestion starts to build up. There is a negative externality involved here – the actions of one person (the driver) impose an additional cost on other drivers (the congestion). It takes every other road user a little bit of extra time to get from A to B the more cars there are on the road.

Congestion is a problem in many parts of the country and various solutions have been suggested. Policies to reduce demand will help the congestion problem by reducing the number of cars on the road. Numerous strategies have been tried, such as restrictions on parking; improvements in public transport; an integrated transport policy; higher parking charges; work place parking levies; higher taxes on petrol, higher car taxes and congestion charging schemes.

Alternatively, building more roads will directly increase the supply of road space, but this can (and has) simply led to more cars using the additional road space and thus the problem of congestion remains. Bus/taxi lanes are in use across the country and allow the users of public transport to benefit from faster journey times, thus encouraging them to forgo their cars and use buses. However, does this add to the congestion for other people?

In Liverpool, a nine month trial is taking place, where bus lanes will be removed to find out if they have a positive effect on reducing congestion. By increasing the amount of road space available to all road users, Liverpool City Council will be able to see if directly increasing the supply of road space will help to meet the existing demand. The possibility, however, is that by increasing the supply of road space, more individuals will choose to use their cars, thus fuelling demand. Many argue that this trial is a step backwards and will add to congestion, reduce the appeal of travelling by bus and impose further costs on the environment. The following articles consider the debate surrounding congestion.

Liverpool City Council will scrap bus lanes for nine months BBC News (27/9/13)
Liverpool bus lanes plan criticised by government Liverpool Daily Post (9/10/13)
Calls for single 30% income tax rate BBC News (21/5/12)
Liverpool scraps bus lanes in trial BBC News (including video) (21/10/13)
Government warning over Liverpool council plans to axe bus lanes in the city Liverpool Echo (9/10/13)

Questions

  1. Explain why congestion is a negative externality. What other externalities exist with regard to car usage?
  2. Using a diagram, show the point at which congestion occurs and explain why there is a difference between the marginal private and marginal social cost.
  3. What will happen to the difference between the marginal private and social cost curves before and after congestion sets in?
  4. Think about the different solutions to the problem of congestion. In each case, explain whether it is a demand-side or supply-side solution and how it will aim to combat congestion. You should also consider whether it is a short or long term solution and how feasible it actually is.
  5. How will the abolition of bus lanes aim to reduce congestion?
  6. There are supporters for bus lanes and supporters for the abolition of them. Justify the arguments on each side of the debate. You should consider the wider implications as well as the impact on congestion.
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Housing is ‘gaining momentum’, says Nationwide

The strength of the housing market is often a key indicator of the strength of the economy. But, the opposite is also true: a weak economy often filters through to create a weak housing market. With the current weak economy, a boost in confidence is needed and signs suggest that the housing market is beginning to recover.

While the picture of the housing market today is nothing like the pre-crisis view, things are beginning to look up. For a couple of years now, house price inflation in the UK has been very close, if not equal to zero. However, data from Nationwide Building Society suggests that in May, house prices rose by 0.4% and the once stagnant year-on-year change in house prices rose to 1.1% (see chart below: click here for a PowerPoint of the chart). This is the fastest it has grown since the end of 2011.

Commentators have suggested that this latest data is an indication that ‘the market is gaining momentum’. A further confirmation of this rejuvenated market came with the data that property sales were 5% up each month this year, than the average monthly level for 2012. Despite this improvement, they still remain well below the pre-crisis levels.

Which factors have contributed to this tentative recovery? Most households require a mortgage to purchase a house and, given the central role that the housing market played in the financial crisis with companies engaging in excessive lending as a means of expanding their mortgage books, the availability of mortgages fell. The number of mortgage approvals is likely to feed through to affect the number of house sales and these have improved in the first few months of 2013. Interest rates offered by lenders have also fallen, making mortgages more affordable, thus boosting demand. Furthermore, government assistance is available to help individuals put a deposit down on a house, by offering them an equity loan. Further measures are due to come into effect in January 2014, with the aim of providing a further boost to the housing market. The chief economist at Nationwide, Robert Gardner said:

Widespread expectations that the economy will continue to recover gradually in the quarters ahead, that interest rates will remain low, and the ongoing impact of policy measures aimed at supporting the availability and lowering the cost of credit all provide reasons for optimism that activity will continue to gain momentum in the quarters ahead.

Despite the optimism, the situation is different across the UK, with some areas benefiting more than others. London and the South-East are driving this 0.4% rise, whereas other areas may be in need of further assistance to keep pace (see The UK housing market: good in parts).

Although these latest data may be a sign of things to come, it is also possible that things could go the opposite way. Incomes remain low; employment data are hardly encouraging; and the spectre of inflation is always there. Perhaps most importantly, consumer confidence remains fragile and until that gains momentum, uncertainty will continue to plague the UK marketplace. The following articles consider this issue.

Articles
UK house prices again up in May, says Nationwide The Guardian, Hilary Osborne (30/5/13)
Housing market could boost retail industry, Kingfisher says The Telegraph, Graham Ruddick (30/5/13)
UK house prices see modest rise, says Nationwide BBC News (30/5/13)
Hugh’s Review: House prices in spotlight BBC News, Hugh Pym with Yolande Barnes of Savills and Matthew Pointon of Capital Economics (31/5/13)
House prices are racing ahead as stimulus for the market kicks in Independent, Russell Lynch (31/5/13)
’Pick up’ in house prices recorded in sign of market confidence, says Nationwide Independent, Vicky Shaw (30/5/13)
House prices at highest level for nearly two years as confidence in UK economy grows and mortgages get cheaper This is Money, Matt West (30/5/13)
Stamp duty is ‘choking’ housing market as it rises seven times faster than inflation over last 15 years Mail Online, Tara Brady (28/5/13)
Nationwide launches Help to Buy mortgages The Telegraph, William Clarke (29/5/13)
UK home prices rise most in 18 months, Nationwide says Bloomberg, Jennifer Ryan (30/5/13)

House price data
Links to house price data The Economics Network
Statistical data set – Property transactions Department of Communities and Local Government
Nationwide house price index Nationwide Building Society
Halifax House Price Index Lloyds Banking Group
Lending to individuals – November 2012 Bank of England

Questions

  1. How is the equilibrium determined in the housing market? Using a demand and supply diagram, illustrate the equilibrium. Make sure you think about the shapes of the curves you’re drawing.
  2. Which factors affect the demand for and supply of housing?
  3. Why are there regional variations in house prices?
  4. Why is the housing market a good indicator of the strength of the economy?
  5. Why have house prices risen throughout 2013? Is the trend likely to continue?
  6. If the housing market does indeed gain momentum, how might this affect the rest of the economy? Which sectors in particular are likely to benefit?
  7. Explain why the government’s intervention in the housing market could be seen to have a multiplier effect?
  8. Concerns have been raised that the government’s schemes to help the housing market may create a house price bubble. Why might this be the case?
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Have you got your Weetabix?

The market for any good or service is affected by countless factors. On the demand-side, things such as incomes, relative prices, expectations of price changes and tastes determine the shape and position of the demand curve. For the supply curve, it’s factors including costs of production, the profitability of alternative goods and in some cases, the weather or natural disasters. It is this last factor, which has presented Weetabix with problems.

An established breakfast cereal and brand, Weetabix is well-known for producing a range of high quality products. However, production of some of its most popular products has been stopped, as the quality of the British wheat used to make the various cereals was called into question. Last year, we had little summer to speak of and this led to the ‘worst harvest we have seen in decades’, so much so that the quality of the wheat was not sufficient to be used in making the breakfast cereal. This has caused production to cease on certain products and shortages have already begun to emerge, with some shops completely selling out and facing no prospect of being re-stocked.

Weetabix is now owned by a Chinese state-owned company, but still prides itself on using locally sourced wheat. However, with the weather affecting the harvest, wheat from abroad has had to be used, aiming to reduce the gap between demand and supply. The UK is typically an exporter of wheat, but with the poor harvest has come a drop in the amount of wheat produced and thus exported by some 2m tonnes – this is back to a similar level as was seen in the 1980s. A spokesman for Weetabix said:

Normally they’re proud to claim Weetabix is not just British wheat but from within 50 miles of Burton Latimer … They have had to source a bit from outside the UK, but Weetabix is still proud to say it sources its wheat within the UK … weather permitting.

Supply will be increased once wheat from abroad is used, but it is expected that this will take a couple of weeks. In the meantime, if you’re a consumer of the traditional Weetabix, you don’t need to worry, as it’s the less-known cereals that have been affected. The following articles consider this external factor and how it affects the supply of a product.

Weetabix products hit by poor wheat harvest BBC News (22/4/13)
Weetabix supplies hit by dismal harvest The Guardian, Rupert Neate (22/4/13)
Weetabix move to scale back production and re-engineer process is a commendable one The Grocer (20/4/13)
Britain’s disastrous wheat harvest halts production of Weatbix Minis and Oatibix Mail Online, Leon Watson (22/4/13)
Bad weather threatens wheat harvest Channel 4 News, Tom Clarke (3/4/13)
Weetabix halts production of Minis after poor harvest Farmers Weekly, Philip Case (22/4/13)

Questions

  1. With a poor harvest, which way would you expect the supply curve to shift? Illustrate this on a diagram.
  2. How should this shift in supply affect the market price and quantity of wheat, assuming all else remains the same?
  3. How can this example can be used to explain the interdependence between markets?
  4. With shortages possibly emerging, what might happen to demand today? Illustrate your answer on a demand and supply diagram.
  5. Does sourcing wheat from local areas give Weetabix a competitive advantage? If so, how might it be affected if it does choose to import wheat?
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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?
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Is there something fishy going on?

It’s a relatively common dish to see on a menu at a restaurant: mackerel. This particular fish has been promoted as a healthy and sustainable dish, but now its sustainability is coming into question and the Marine Conservation Society has taken it off its ‘fish to eat’ list. My brother Hugh is a marine biologist and often comments on which fish we should be avoiding due to sustainability issues (especially given how much I like fish!) So, how is this an economics issue?

There a couple of key things to pick out here. Firstly, with the conservationists’ warning of this issue of unsustainability, they have been asking consumers to reduce the amount of mackerel they buy. This will naturally have an impact on fisherman. If consumers do listen to the conservationists and hence reduce their demand for mackerel, we could see a fall in the price of this fish and a reduction in the fishermen’s turnover. It could be that we see a switch in consumption to other more sustainable fish, especially if we see some form of intervention.

Another area concerning economics is the idea of over-fishing. For years, there have been disputes over who has the rights to these fish stocks. In the past, the Faroe Isles and Iceland have increased their quotas significantly, as mackerel appear to have migrated to their shores, contributing to this question of sustainability. Iceland and the Faroe Isles have ‘unilaterally agreed their quotas … as they are not governed by the common fisheries policy’.

The question is: when fisherman catch one additional mackerel, what are they considering? Do they think about the private benefit to them (or their company) or do they consider the external cost imposed on others? Whenever one fish is taken from the sea, there is one less fish available for other fishermen.

This leads to over-consumption of fish and contributes towards the well-documented depletion of fish stocks and ‘The Tragedy of the Commons’, if account is not taken of the external cost imposed on other fishermen.

The total catch is now far in excess of what has been scientifically recommended and previously agreed upon by all participating countries. Negotiations to introduce new catch allowances have so far failed to reach agreement.

There are hopes that an international policy on quotas can be agreed to ensure mackerel levels return to or remain at a sustainable level. However, at present no progress has been made. Until some form of an agreement is reached, fishermen around Iceland and the Faroe Isles will continue to battle against the conservationists. The following articles consider this fishy topic.

Mackerel taken off conservationists’ ‘fish-to-eat’ list The Guardian, Rebecca Smithers (22/1/13)
Warning over mackerel stocks Scottish Herald (22/1/13)
Fishing quota talks begin amid ongoing disputes and finger-pointing The Scotsman, Fran Urquhart (14/1/13)
Mackerel no longer an ethical choice because of over-fishing The Telegraph, Louise Gray (22/1/13)
Ths fishy tale of macro-mismanagement The Guardian, Annalisa Barbieri (22/1/13)
You can still eat mackerel – just make sure it’s British The Telegraph, Louise Gray (22/1/13)
Dispute means mackerel is no longer fish of the day BBC News, Matt McGrath (22/1/13)
Mackerel struck off sustainable fish list Associated Press (22/1/13)

Questions

  1. Why are quotas set by the EU for fishing? Who do they apply to?
  2. Why is there an externality from fishing?
  3. What is the Tragedy of the Commons? Using a diagram with average and marginal revenue product and average and marginal cost illustrate the market equilibrium and the social optimum. Why are they different?
  4. Following on from question 3, what does this suggest about the role of governments?
  5. If the conservationists’ request regarding buying less mackerel is successful, what impact might this have on fishermen and fisheries?
  6. If consumers do switch to buying other fish, what would happen to the equilibrium in the mackerel market and in the market for other fish? Think about this question in terms of general equilibrium analysis.
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Market traders get a technology boost

Market trading has existed for centuries and in many respects it hasn’t changed very much. One thing that has developed is the means of exchange. Goods used to be traded for other goods – for example 1 pig for 4 chickens! But then money was developed as a means of exchange and then came cheques and plastic.

However, for many market traders, accepting credit and debit cards is relatively costly. It involves paying a monthly contract, which for many traders is simply not worthwhile, based on the quantity and value of the transactions. But, for many customers using debit or credit cards is the preferred method of payment and the fact that some traders only accept cash can be a deterrent to them making purchases and this therefore reduces the sales of the market traders.

But, with advances in technology a new way of paying has emerged. Small card readers can now be plugged into iphones, ipads, other tablets and smartphones. By putting a customer’s card into this device customers can then pay by card and either sign for their purchase or use the phone to enter their security details. There are plan for these companies to offer chip and pin technology to further ease payment by card on market stalls. The traders pay a small commission per transaction, but aside from that, the initial start-up cost is minimal and it is likely to encourage more customers to use markets. Jim Stewart, the Director of a firm that has begun using this technology said:

I think it’s definitely going to take off, the world is going that way … The money has always appeared in my bank account, no transactions have been declined, my accountant is happy, it’s all been good.

Some customers have raised concerns about the security of these transactions, as they have to put their cards into someone else’s ipad. However, traders have said that there are no risks and that customers can be sent a receipt for their purchase. The following few articles look at this latest (and other) technological developments.

Smartphone card payment system seeks small firms BBC News, Rob Howard (19/1/13)
POS Trends: What’s new for 2013 Resource News (17/1/13)
Payments by text message service to launch in UK in Spring 2014 BBC News (15/1/13)

Questions

  1. What are fixed cost and why does having a traditional card payment machine represent a fixed cost for a firm?
  2. How might this new technology affect a firm’s sales and profits?
  3. Will there be an increase in the firm’s variable costs from adopting this technology?
  4. Using a cost and revenue diagram, put your answers to questions 1 – 3 into practice and show how it will shift them and thus how the equilibrium may change for a market trader.
  5. What are the properties of money that allow it to be a good medium of exchange?
  6. How will this increased use of debit and credit cards affect the demand for money? Use a diagram to illustrate your answer.
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Currency news

The exchange rate for sterling is determined in much the same way as the price of goods – by the interaction of demand and supply.

When factors change that cause residents abroad to want to hold more or fewer pounds, the demand curve for sterling will shift. If, instead, factors change that cause UK residents to want to buy more or less foreign currency, then the supply curve of sterling will shift. It is these two curves that determine the equilibrium exchange rate of sterling.

There are concerns at the moment that sterling is about to reach a peak, with expectations that the pound will weaken throughout 2013. But is a weakening exchange rate good or bad for the UK?

With lower exchange rates, exports become relatively more competitive. This should lead to an increase in the demand for UK products from abroad. As exports are a component of aggregate demand, any increase in exports will lead to the AD curve shifting to the right and thus help to stimulate a growth in national output. Indeed, throughout the financial crisis, the value of the pound did fall (see chart above: click here for a PowerPoint) and this led to the total value of UK exports increasing significantly. However, the volume of UK exports actually fell. This suggests that whilst UK exporters gained in terms of profitability, they have not seen much of an increase in their overall sales and hence their market share.

Therefore, while UK exporters may gain from a low exchange rate, what does it mean for UK consumers? If a low exchange rate cuts the prices of UK goods abroad, it will do the opposite for the prices of imported goods in the UK. Many goods that UK consumers buy are from abroad and, with a weak pound, foreign prices become relatively higher. This means that the living standards of UK consumers will be adversely affected by a weak pound, as any imported goods buy will now cost more.

It’s not just the UK that is facing questions over its exchange rate. Jean-Claude Junker described the euro as being ‘dangerously high’ and suggested that the strength or over-valuation of the exchange rate was holding the eurozone back from economic recovery. So far the ECB hasn’t done anything to steer its currency, despite many other countries, including Japan and Norway having already taken action to bring their currencies down. Mario Draghi, the ECB’s president, however, said that ‘both the real and the effective exchange rate of the euro are at their long-term average’ and thus the current value of the euro is not a major cause for concern.

So, whatever your view about intervening in the market to steer your currency, there will be winners and losers. Now that countries are so interdependent, any changes in the exchange rate will have huge implications for countries across the world. Perhaps this is why forecasting currency fluctuations can be so challenging. The following articles consider changes in the exchange rate and the impact this might have.

A pounding for sterling in 2013? BBC News, Stephanomics, Stephanie Flanders (17/1/13)
UK drawn into global currency wars as slump deepens Telegraph, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard (16/1/13)
Foreign currency exchange rate predictions for GBP EUR, Forecasts for USD and NZD Currency News, Tim Boyer (15/1/13)
Euro still looking for inspiration, Yen firm Reuters (16/1/13)
Daily summary on USD, EUR, JPY, GBP, AUD, CAD and NZD International Business Times, Roger Baettig (16/1/13)
UK inflation bonds surge on Index as pound falls versus euro Bloomberg, Business News, Lucy Meakin (10/1/13)

Questions

  1. Which factors will cause an increase in the demand for sterling? Which factors will cause a fall in the supply of sterling?
  2. In the article by Stephanie Flanders from the BBC, loose monetary policy is mentioned as something which is likely to continue. What does this mean and how will this affect the exchange rate?
  3. Explain the interest- and exchange-rate transmission mechanisms, using diagrams to help your answer.
  4. If sterling continues to weaken, how might this affect economic growth in the UK? Will there be any multiplier effect?
  5. What is the difference between the volume and value of exports? How does this relate to profit margins?
  6. Why are there suggestions that the euro is over-valued? Should European Finance Ministers be concerned?
  7. Should governments or central banks intervene in foreign exchange markets?
  8. If all countries seek to weaken their currencies in order to make their exports more competitive, why is this a zero-sum game?
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