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Posts Tagged ‘equilibrium price’

What the market will bear? Secondary markets and ticket touts

If you want a ticket for an event, such as a match or a concert, but the tickets are sold out, what do you do? Many will go to an agency operating in the ‘secondary market’. A secondary market is where items originally purchased new, such as tickets, company shares, cars or antiques, are put up for sale at a price that the market will bear.

The equilibrium price in a secondary market is where supply equals demand and the actual price will approximate to this equilibrium. In the case of tickets, this equilibrium price can be much higher than the original price sold by the venue or its agents. The reason is that the original price is below the equilibrium.

This is illustrated in the figure (click here for a PowerPoint). Assume that the total supply of tickets is Qs. Assume also that the official box office price is Pbo and that demand is given by the demand curve D. At the box office price demand exceeds supply by QdQs. There is thus a shortage, with many fans unable to obtain a ticket at the official price. Many of you will be familiar with having to be as quick as possible to get hold of tickets where demand considerably outstrips supply. Events such as Glastonbury sell out within seconds of coming on sale.

If you buy a ticket and then find out you cannot go to the event, you can sell the ticket on the secondary market through an online site or agency. Such agencies could be seen as providing a useful service as it means that otherwise empty seats will be filled. But if the equilibrium price is well above the original ticket price, there is the potential for huge gain by the agencies, who may pay the seller considerably less than the agency then sells the ticket to someone else.

What is more, the difference between the original price and the equilibrium price in the secondary market makes ticket touting, or ticket ‘scalping’, highly profitable. This is where people buy tickets with no intention of using them themselves but in order to sell them at much higher prices on the secondary market. Such ticket touting has been illegal for football matches since 1994 and was illegal for the 2012 London Olympics, but it is legal for plays, concerts, festivals and other events.

Ticket touts are often highly organised in obtaining tickets at official prices by buying early and using multiple credit cards and multiple identities to avoid systems that restrict the number of tickets issued to a card. They often use internet bots to mass purchase tickets the moment they go on sale.

Those in favour of ticket touting argue that the high price in the secondary market is just a reflection of demand and supply (see the IEA article below). Ticket touting allows tickets to be directed to people who value them most and will get the greatest benefit from it. What is more, banning ticket touting, so the argument goes, would simply drive it underground.

Those against argue on grounds of equity. Ticket prices set below the equilibrium are designed to give greater equality of access to fans. Rationing on a first-come first-served system, either on the internet or by a queue, is seen to be fairer than one by ability/willingness to pay. A poor person may be just as keen to go to an event as a rich person and gain just as much enjoyment from it, but cannot afford the high equilibrium price. What is more, non of the profit from the higher prices reaches the event organisers or the artists or players. Yet the mark-up and hence profit made by ticket touts can be massive, as the first Observer article below shows.

Various measures are being tried to prevent ticket touting. One is the use of paperless tickets, with the number of tickets limited per person and with people having to show their ticket on their phones along with ID at the door or gate. If a person cannot attend, then the solution is a system where they can give the ticket back to the box office (perhaps electronically) which will re-sell it for them at the official price.

A government-backed investigation, the Waterson review reported in May 2016 and recommended that touts should be licensed and that there should be harsher penalties for firms that flout consumer rights law as applying to ticket sales. Whether this would be sufficient to bring secondary market prices down significantly, remains to be seen. In the meantime, organisers do seem to be trying to find ways of beating the touts through smarter means of selling.

Articles
MP Nigel Adams calls for secondary ticket marketing to be reformed Music Week, James Hanley (14/9/16)
Iron Maiden go to war with ticket touts BBC News, Mark Savage (22/9/16)
The new age of the ticket tout BBC World Tonight, Andrew Hosken (25/5/16)
Government urged to help music industry tackle ticket touts The Guardian, Rob Davies (13/9/16)
Ticket touts face licensing threat The Guardian, Rupert Jones (26/5/16)
How the ticket touts get away with bleeding fans dry The Observer, Rob Davies and Rupert Jones (15/5/16)
What sorcery is this? A £140 ticket for new Harry Potter play now costs £8,327 The Observer, Rob Davies and Laurie Chen (14/8/16)
Ticket touts made $3m from the last Mumford & Sons tour. $0 went back to the music industry. Music Business Woldwide, Adam Tudhope (6/9/16)
This is tout of order – join the Daily Mirror campaign to beat rip-off ticket resales Daily Mirror, Nada Farhoud (19/9/16)
Ticket touts: A muggle’s game The Economist (20/8/16)
Can We Fight Back Against The Robot Touts Ruining Live Music? Huffington Post, Andy Webb (6/9/16)
In defence of ticket touts Institute of Economic Affairs, Steve Davies (25/2/15)

Report
Consumer protection measures applying to ticket resale: Waterson review Department for Business, Innovation & Skills and Department for Culture, Media & Sport 26/5/16)

Guide
#Toutsout MMF & FanFair Alliance September 2016

Questions

  1. Why can ticket touts sell tickets above the equilibrium price shown in the diagram?
  2. In what ways could ticket touts be said to be distorting the market?
  3. How do ticket touts reduce consumer surplus? Could they reduce it to zero?
  4. Why may allowing ticket touting to take place result in empty seats at concerts or other events?
  5. Would it be a good idea for event organisers to charge higher prices for popular events than they do at present, but still below the equilibrium
  6. How does the price elasticity of demand influence the mark-up that ticket touts can make? Illustrate this on a diagram similar to the one above.
  7. Is it in ticket touts’ interests to adjust prices as an event draws closer, just as budget airlines adjust seat prices as the plane fills up? Could organisers sell tickets in the primary market in this way with prices rising as the event fills up?
  8. Discuss the various ways in which the secondary ticket market could be reformed? To what extent do these involve reforms in the primary ticket market?
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One little piggy went to market …

Pork – a favourite food of many Brits, whether it’s as a key ingredient of a roast dinner or a full English Breakfast! But, British pig farmers may be in for a tricky ride and we might be seeing foreign pork on our plates in the months to come. This is because of the falling price of pork, which may be driving local farmers out of the market.

As we know, market prices are determined by the interaction of demand and supply and as market conditions change, this will affect the price at which pork sells at. This in turn will have an impact on the incomes of farmers and hence on farmers’ ability to survive in the market. According to forecasts from Defra, specialist pig farms are expected to see a fall in income by 46%, from £49,400 to £26,500 in 2016. A key driver of this, is the decline in the price of pork, which have fallen by an average of £10 per pig. This loss in income has led to pig farmers facing the largest declines of any type of farm, even beating the declines of dairy farmers, which have been well-documented.

If we think about the forces of demand and supply and how these have led to such declines in prices, we can turn to a few key things. Following the troubles in Russia and the Ukraine and Western sanctions being imposed on Russia, a retaliation of sorts was Russia banning European food imports. This therefore reduced demand for British pork. Adding to this decline in demand, there were further factors pushing down demand, following suggestions about the adverse impact that bacon and ham have on health. If pig farmers in the UK continue with the number of pigs they have and bearing in mind they would have invested in their pig farms before such bans and warnings were issued, then we see supply being maintained, demand falling and prices being pushed downwards.

Zoe Davies, Chief Executive of the National Pig Association said:

“This year is going to be horrendous for the British pig industry … Trading has been tough for at least 18 months now and we are starting to see people leave. We’re already seeing people calling in saying they’ve decided to give up. All we can hope is that more people leave European pig farms before ours do.”

We can also look to other factors that have been driving pig farmers out of business, including a strong pound, the glut of supply in Europe and productivity in the UK. Lily Hiscock, a commentator in this market said:

“It is estimated that the average pig producer is now in a loss-making position after 18 months of positive margins … The key factors behind the fall in markets are the exchange rate, UK productivity and retail demand … Indeed, pigmeat seems to be losing out to cheaper poultry meat in consumers’ shopping baskets … The recent fall in prices may stimulate additional demand, and a strengthening economy could help, but at present these are hopes rather than expectations.”

The future of British pig farms is hanging in the balance. If the economy grows, then demand may rise, offsetting the fall in demand being driven by other factors. We will also see how the exit of pig farmers affects prices, as each pig farmer drops out of the market, supply is being cut and prices rise. Though this is not good news for the farmers who go out of business, it may be an example of survival of the fittest. The following articles consider the market for pork.

Podcast
UK pork market, Poppers, Scrap Metal BBC Radio 4, You and Yours (28/01/16)

Articles
Drop in global pork prices to bottom out – at 10-year lows agrimoney.com (29/01/16)
UK pork crisis looms as pig farmers expect income to half in 2016 Independent, Zlata Rodionova (5/02/16)
British pig farmers et for horrendous year as pork prices fall Western Morning News (17/01/16)

Questions

  1. What are they demand-side and supply-side factors which have pushed down the price of pork?
  2. Illustrate these effects using a demand and supply diagram.
  3. Into which market structure, would you place the pork industry?
  4. Using a diagram showing costs and revenues, explain why pig farmers in the UK are being forced out of the market.
  5. How has the strength of the pound affected pork prices in the UK?
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Morrisons Brand: ‘Milk for Farmers’

Most of us will have milk in our fridges – it’s a basic product consumed by the majority of people on a daily basis and hence a common feature of most shopping trolleys. As we saw in the post Got milk?, the low price of milk has been causing problems for farmers. This has caused one Morrisons store to take a different approach.

In the increasingly globalised world, British dairy farmers are no longer competing against each other. The global market place means that they are now facing growing competition from abroad and in this global world, supply exceeds demand. Even in the EU, the member states in 2015 are exceeding the milk production levels from 2014. In many markets, we wouldn’t be so concerned about production (or supply) rising, as demand can keep pace. However, in the market for milk, it’s not a product that you consume (that much) more of as your income rises. So, as the world gets richer, demand for milk is not increasing at the same pace as supply – demand in China has collapsed. This means that prices are being forced down. Adding to this global market place, we saw the European Union remove its quotas on milk production, thus boosting supply and Russian bans on imports.

The farmers themselves are in a tricky situation. They are often the small players in the supply chain, with prices being forced down by customers, supermarkets and milk processors. AHDB Dairy, the trade body, says that the average price of milk has decreased to just 23.66p per litre. According to leading industry experts this is well below the costs of production, suggested to be closer to 30p per litre. If these figures are even close to being accurate, then clearly dairy farmers’ costs of production per litre are no longer covered by the price they receive. Every litre of milk produced represents a loss.

The price that supermarkets pay to farmers for milk does vary, with some such as Marks and Spencer and Tesco ensuring that they pay farmers a price above cost. However, Morrisons in Bradford has adopted a new strategy and brand. Their new milk brand ‘Morrisons Milk for Farmers’ has been launched at a 23p price rise for every four pint bottle. The catch: they will become the first UK retailer where the 23p price hike goes directly to farmers. This represents 10 pence per litre of milk going directly back to the farmers that produce it. This is a bold strategy, but data and surveys do suggest a willingness to pay more from customers, if it means that dairy farmers get a fairer deal. The protests we have seen across the country have certainly helped to generate interest and created awareness of the difficulties that many farmers are facing. Rob Harrison from the NFU said:

“We are pleased that Morrisons has acknowledged the desperate situation that many dairy farmers still find themselves in and recognise that retailers have a big role to play in, helping customers to support the UK dairy sector…

…Research from Mintel revealed over half of people who drink cows milk, would be prepared to pay more than £1 for a four-pint bottle of milk, as long as it is dairy farmers that benefit. This new initiative will enable them to do just that. The 10p a litre extra will go directly back into the dairy sector will make a difference on farm.”

The interesting thing will be to observe the impact on sales following this 23p price rise. We would normally expect customers to look for the cheaper substitutes, but evidence does suggest that British consumers are willing to pay the price premium if it means helping British farmers. A similar strategy adopted for British Cheddar Cheese proved fruitful and over the coming weeks, we will see if the average consumer is willing to pay directly the dairy farmers. The following articles consider this topic.

Morrisons milk for farmers brand goes nationwide at £1.12 for four pints The Grocer, Carina Perkins (12/10/15)
Morrisons to create new milk brand for farmers BBC News (11/10/15)
Milk price row: farming union leaders meet Morrisons bosses The Guardian, Graham Ruddick (11/10/15)
Morrisons to sell new ‘Milk for farmers’ brand to support British dairy producers Independent, Loulla-Mae Eleftheriou-Smith (11/8/15)
Government to give one-off milk payment for dairy farmers as Morrisons launches premium milk brand City A.M., Catherine Neilan (12/10/15)
New Morrisons milk brand pays farmers more The Yorkshire Post (12/10/15)

Questions

  1. Using demand and supply analysis, explain which factors have caused the price of milk to fall.
  2. When incomes rise, the demand for milk does not really change. What does this suggest about the income elasticity of demand for milk and the type of product that it is?
  3. If prices rise and sales also rise, does this suggest that British milk has an upward sloping demand curve?
  4. If we do see little effect on the demand for milk following Morrisons 23p price rise, what conclusion can we come to about the price elasticity of demand?
  5. Why do supermarkets and milk processors have the power to force down prices paid to dairy farmers?
  6. What type of market structure do you think dairy farmers compete in?
  7. If dairy farmers are unable to sell a litre of milk for a higher price than it costs to produce, is it a sensible strategy for them to remain in the market?
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Got milk?

You’ll be familiar with these types of posts from me, which typically start with a comment like: ‘On my commute to work on …’. That’s one of the good things about a long drive – the interesting and informative discussions that you hear on the radio. This one is another interesting piece from BBC Radio 4, looking at a very topical issue, especially to those living in the South West and other rural areas in the UK.

We have recently seen pictures of farmers protesting about the price of milk and in places like Somerset, the protest took a rather odd method, where farmers from across the region entered supermarkets and simply bought all of the milk, before giving it away. The issue is that dairy farming is no longer profitable, as the price that dairy farmers receive for each pint of milk is now lower than the cost of providing it. Thus, for each pint they make a loss.

There are many reasons that have contributed to this situation, including pressures imposed by customers demanding cheaper prices; pressures from supermarkets using their monopsony power to force down the prices paid to farmers; and pressures from abroad. In the case of milk, we have a surplus and with a perishable product, i.e. one that cannot be stored, unlike wheat, this has contributed to falling prices. Data suggest that we are seeing approximately one farmer per day being forced to leave the indsutry.

This programme explores the current dairy farming crisis and draws some similarities with the wheat crisis that the UK experienced in the 1930s. The programme below is 30 minutes and provides some interesting insights on two important commodities and the economics behind the markets.

Today’s crisis in dairy farming and the wheat crisis of the 1930s BBC Radio 4; The Long View, Jonathan Freedland (29/9/15)

Questions

  1. Using demand and supply analysis, explain the situation in the milk market.
  2. Now consider the wheat industry and provide a similar analysis of how prices are set and what caused the problems seen in the 1930s.
  3. Although these two commodities have similarities they are also very different. Why can two different commodities experience such similar problems at such different times?
  4. What are the key demand and supply-side factors affecting the current low price of milk?
  5. Consider the market for (a) milk and (b) wheat. What are (if any) the market failures within each area?
  6. Agriculture is an area where we do see significant government intervention. Should the UK government be doing more to help the UK’s dairy farmers? If so, what should they do and would this intervention create further problems, e.g. unintended consequences?
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A housing bubble

The housing market is often a good indicator of the level of confidence in an economy. Prior to the credit crunch, there had been a house price bubble and as the financial crisis began and economies plunged into recession, house prices began to fall significantly. In the last few months, the housing market has begun its recovery and data from the ONS shows average property prices up by 5.4% across the UK in November, compared with a year earlier.

When we analyse the housing market, or any market, we have to give attention to both demand-side and supply-side factors. It is the combination of these factors that yields the equilibrium price. For most people, buying a house will represent their single biggest expenditure and so there are many factors that need to be considered.

The demand for housing is affected by incomes, by the availability of mortgages, the rate of interest and hence the cost of mortgages. Speculation also tends to be a key factor that influences the demand for houses, as people may buy houses if they believe that prices will soon rise. Of course, simply by responding to expectations about future price changes causes the price changes to happen – a classic case of self-fulfilling speculation.

The availability of mortgages has been one of the biggest factors increasing the demand for and hence price of houses in recent months. More individuals have been able to get onto the property ladder and, with confidence returning to the market, these factors have caused a rightward shift in the demand for owner-occupied houses.

Another key factor has been the growth in the demand for housing as an investment opportunity, in particular from the global super rich. This has been of particular concern in London, where there are fears of a housing bubble developing and of lower-income households being priced out of the market.

At the same time, there has been a growth in the supply or housing and thus a rightward shift of the supply curve. Ceteris paribus, this would push down average prices. However, the data suggest that house prices, especially in London, have increased, implying that the impact on price of the increase in demand has more than offset the downward force in prices from the increase in supply. Part of this can be explained by the demand-side factor of an increase in demand for top-end properties, which ‘has been distracting developers from the need for more affordable accommodation.’ When asked about the changes observed in the London housing market, Civitas said:

London is one of the most – if not the most – attractive property markets for international investors all over the world. It is also at the centre of an affordability crisis in the UK which is having serious consequences for younger people and the less well-off…For too many it [investment at the top end of the market] is providing financial shelter rather than human shelter.

With the upward pressure on house prices, many are now warning of another bubble developing in London. When comparing house prices in London with a Londoner’s income, Ernst and Young found that house prices were 11 times average annual income. Data like this were last seen prior to the financial crisis and it is this which has led to concerns of a post-crisis bubble.

There are suggestions that more action is needed to combat this bubble, such as imposing a limit in income multiples in relation to how much of a mortgage you are able to borrow. Another criticism levelled at the market is the government’s Help to Buy scheme, which critics argue is raising demand and pushing up prices, because there is no matched increase in supply.

So, with the rest of the market returning to some semblance of normality, it is currently just London showing signs of a bubble and we are all well aware of what the consequences might be if a bubble is allowed to grow and then eventually burst. The following articles consider the housing market.

Housing bubble forming in London, warns Ernst and Young BBC News (3/2/14)
London housing market shows new bubble sign – report Reuters, Andrew Winning (3/2/14)
Expert calls for stronger action to tame London housing bubble risks Independent (21/5/12)
London shows signs of house price ‘bubble’, experts warn The Telegraph, Scott Campbell (3/2/14)
Economic forecasters call for measures to cool down London’s property market The Guardian, Rupert Neate (3/2/14)
Think-tank calls for a ban on rich foreigners buying homes in London to puncture property bubble Mail Online, Lizzie Edmonds (2/2/14)
London property bubble to last until 2018 Sky News (3/2/14)

Questions

  1. What are the key factors that will affect (a) the demand for and (b) the supply of housing?
  2. Which factors explain why house prices in London have increased relative to prices across the country? Identify which factors are demand-side and which are supply-side.
  3. How has Help to Buy affected the housing market?
  4. What government policies could be implemented to ‘puncture’ the bubble?
  5. Why is a housing bubble a problem?
  6. Why has a house price bubble not emerged in the rest of the UK?
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Shortages in Venezuela – what’s the solution?

A simple model in economics is that of demand and supply. Through the price mechanism, signals are sent between consumers and producers and this interaction results in an equilibrium market price and quantity. However, what happens when the market for a good or service is in disequilibrium?

When a market is in equilibrium, demand equals supply. However, as we discussed in a previous blog concerning baby milk in China (see Milking the economy), markets are not always in equilibrium. If demand exceeds supply, a shortage will emerge and to eliminate this, the price must rise. If, on the other hand, supply exceeds demand, there will be an excess supply and thus the price must fall to restore equilibrium.

The market in question here is toilet paper in Venezuela! A severe shortage of this product has emerged in recent months, with shops running out of supplies. In a bid to relieve this shortage, the country’s Minister of Commerce has received approval for a $79 million credit, which can be used to import this basic product in short supply. Fifty million rolls will be imported to help fill the shortage that has emerged. The shortage is not just a problem for toilet paper, but also across a range of basic consumer goods. The article from Reuters comments that:

The government says the toilet paper shortages, like others, are the results of panicked buying and unscrupulous merchants hoarding the goods to artificially inflate prices.

Opposition critics say the problem is caused by the currency controls, created a decade ago by late socialist leader Hugo Chavez, and years of nationalizations that weakened private industry and left businesses unwilling to invest.

With shortages across a variety of products, the President has begun to work closely with business leaders to address this situation. The following articles consider this basic market, the intervention and consequences.

Venezuela hopes to wipe out toilet paper shortage by importing 50m rolls The Guardian (16/5/13)
Venezuela ends toilet paper shortage BBC News (22/5/13)
With even toilet paper scarce, Venezuelan president warms to business Reuters, Eyanir Chinea (22/5/13)
Toilet paper shortage in Venezuela to end after lawmakers back plans to import 39 million rolls Huffington Post, Sara Nelson (22/5/13)
Venezuela’s toilet paper shortage ended; 3 other basic goods that went scarce in the country International Business Times, Patricia Rey Mallen (22/5/13)

Questions

  1. Using a demand and supply diagram, explain how equilibrium is determined in a free market.
  2. Illustrate the shortage described in the aticles on your above demand and supply diagram. How should the price mechanism adjust?
  3. What types of government intervention have led to the shortages of such basic consumer goods?
  4. How have currency controls created a problem for Venezuela?
  5. With an increase in imported products, what impact might there be on Venezuela’s exchange rate and on its balance of payments?
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A tasty deal for Heinz

Few people have £18bn worth of funds to spend. But someone that does is Warren Buffett and a Brazilian firm, who look set to purchase Heinz for this sum. Heinz, known for things like baked beans and ketchup already has an exceptionally strong brand and is cash rich – these are two ingredients which Warren Buffett likes and have undoubtedly played their part in securing what looks to be a tasty deal.

The company’s Board has already approved the deal, but shareholders still need to have their say and have been offered $72.50 per share. 650 million bottles of Heinz ketchup are sold every year and its baked beans, at the least in the UK, are second to none. Products like this have given Heinz its global brand name and have provided the opportunity to shareholders to make significant gains. Its Chairman said:

The Heinz brand is one of the most respected brands in the global food industry and this historic transaction provides tremendous value to Heinz shareolders.

This statement was certainly reciprocated by Warren Buffett when he spoke to CNBC, saying:

It is our kind of company … I’ve sampled it many times … Anytime we see a deal is attractive and it’s our kind of business and we’ve got the money, I’m ready to do.

The deal therefore looks to be profitable to both sides, but is there more to it? An investigation has already been launched by the Securities and Exchange Commission as to whether information about this purchase was leaked early and was used to make money. Insider trading occurs when someone is given information early about a merger such as the one described above. They then use this information, before it is made public, to buy up a company’s stock. It is incredibly difficult to prosecute and huge amounts of money can be made by hedge funds, amongst others. This is certainly one aspect of the deal to keep your eye on.

So, what does the future hold for Warren Buffett and Heinz? Buffett likes to extract extra value from companies he purchases and has in the past split up his businesses to create separate trading companies. However, given his taste for ketchup and his appreciation for strong global brands, it’s unlikely that we’ll see a change to the recipe of any of the well-known products. The following articles consider the takeover and the case of insider trading.

Will Buffet ‘squeeze value’ from Heinz BBC News (15/2/13)
Heinz-Buffett deal: will anyone spill the beans on insider trading? The Guardian, Heidi Moore (15/2/13)
Heinz bought by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway for $28bn BBC News (14/2/13)
Traders sued over Heinz share bets Independent, Nikhil Kumar (16/2/13)
Heinz deal brings it back to its roots Financial Times, Alan Rappeport, Dan McCrum and Anoushka Sakoui (14/2/13)
Beanz means Buffet: Heinz purchased in $28bn takeover The Guardian, Dominic Rush (14/2/13)
US SEC sues over Heinz option trading before buyout Reuters (15/2/13)
Warren Buffet and Brazil’s ‘Sage’ Jorge Leman strike £18bn Heinz deal The Telegraph, Richard Blackden (15/2/13)

Questions

  1. What type of take-over would you class this as?
  2. Consider the Boston matrix – in which category would you place Heinz when you think about its market share and market growth?
  3. Why is a company that has a global brand and that is cash rich so tempting?
  4. Given your answer to question 3, why have other investors not taken an interest in purchasing Heinz?
  5. If you were a shareholder in Heinz, what factors would you consider when deciding whether or not to vote for the takeover?
  6. What growth strategy has Heinz used to establish its current position in the global market place?
  7. What is insider trading? Explain how early information can be used to make money in the case of Heinz.
  8. Explain how the share price of $72.50 is set. How does the market have a role?
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A 3p delay?

Increases in the cost of living over the past few years have put many families under financial pressure. One of the main factors that has been hurting households is the price of petrol and diesel. Road fuel duty was due to be increased last August, but the Chancellor delayed it in June. However, a planned 3p rise in duty by the Coalition, which has faced rebellion from numerous MPs may now be delayed further, following a hint from the Treasury.

The government has said that it will do everything it can to support struggling families with the cost of living and this has led many to conclude that in the Autumn Statement, the Chancellor will delay the planned 3p rise. Labour was defeated in its efforts to force a delay of the proposed 3p duty rise, as Tory bankbenchers were given this hint that the Treasury would decide to delay the increase anyway. The Economic Secretary to the Treasury said that fuel duty is part of the government’s strategy to help cut the cost of living. He commented that fuel duty was 20% lower in real terms compared to March 2000, when it was at its peak.

If we had continued with the policies of the previous government, quite simply prices would be higher, fuel would be 10p more expensive per litre. I know some will call for a further freeze in fuel duty today. I can assure them this government understands the financial pressures hard-working families are facing. Subject to the constraints of the public finances, this government is determined to help families with the cost of living.

A key economic question to consider is why is fuel one of the products that is frequently taxed? When a tax is imposed on a product, its price will rise and as the law of demand tells us, this will cause people to purchase less of it. But, what is so special about petrol? Why do people continue to purchase petrol even when its price rises? The following articles consider the concerns surrounding the 3p fuel duty rise.

Treasury to defer planned increase in fuel duty The Guardian, Nicholas Watt (13/11/12)
Asda chief Andy Clarke urges scrapping fuel duty rise BBC News (15/11/12)
Fuel Duty: Labour to force vote to delay 3p rise The Guardian, Helene Mulholland (12/11/12)
Fuel duty delay called for by Which? BBC News (11/11/12)
Fuel Duty: Government may still axe increase Sky News (13/11/12)
Chancellor heads off fuel duty rebellion Financial Times, George Parker (12/11/12)
Osborne pressed to shelve fuel duty rise Financial Times, George Parker (8/11/12)
Planned 3p petrol increase could be abandonedThe Telegraph, Christopher Hope (11/11/12)

Questions

  1. Why is petrol a good that is taxed so heavily?
  2. Illustrate the impact of a tax on petrol using a demand and supply diagram. Explain what happens to the equilibrium price and quantity.
  3. Which factors will make the change in price and quantity relatively larger or smaller? Think about how elasticity is relevant here.
  4. What other factors have contributed towards the increased cost of living over the past few years?
  5. Which factors in particular would make a January rise in fuel duty especially painful for many families?
  6. What are the arguments both for and against delaying the 3p rise in duty?
  7. According to the Economic Secretary to the Treasury, fuel duty is 20% lower in real terms. What does this actually mean?
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Energising the debate

The energy sector has a history of criticism with regards to prices and practices. In the past, Ofgem have tried to make the sector more competitive, by ensuring that price comparisons are easier. At the beginning of this year, many of the big six providers announced price cuts, but within the next few weeks, we will see the reverse occurring, as energy prices begin to rise.

British Gas has announced price rises of 6% from 16th November that will affect over 8 million customers by adding approximately £80 per year to the annual dual fuel bill. Npower will also put its prices up 10 days later (8.8% for gas and 9.1% for electricity), creating higher bills for 3 million people.

In January of this year, when we saw energy prices fall, it was not solely due to Ofgem’s findings. We had a relatively mild winter, which reduced the demand for energy and this fed into lower prices. As the winter now approaches once more, demand for energy will begin to increase, feeding into prices that are now higher.

Furthermore, the energy companies have said that a range of external factors are also adding to their costs and putting increasing pressure on them to increase their charges. Npower’s Chief Commercial Officer said:

“There is never a good time to increase energy bills, particularly when so many people are working hard to make ends meet…But the costs of new statutory schemes, increases in distribution charges and the price of gas for the coming winter are all being driven up by external factors, for example government policy”

Significant investment is needed in the energy sector. Energy companies are required to set aside money for maintaining and improving the national grid and investing in renewable energy, such as wind and solar power. In order for the energy companies to fund these investments, more money must be raised and the logical method is to put up prices. However, critics are simply blaming ‘these very big lazy companies’ who are passing ‘above-inflation price rises’ onto already squeezed households.

Part of this is undoubtedly to do with the market structure of this sector. A typical oligopoly creates a market which, under certain circumstances, can be highly competitive, but because of barriers to entry that prevent new firms from entering the market may charge higher prices and be inefficient. Indeed, Ofgem has plans to reduce the power of the main energy providers by forcing them to auction off some of the electricity they generate. The aim of this is to free up the market and make it more competitive.

While only three providers have announced price rises, it is inevitable that the other three will follow. The relative increases will create incentives for consumers to switch providers, but crucial to this is an ability to understand the different tariffs on offer and lack of clarity on this has been a big criticism previously levelled at the energy sector. Indeed, half of UK customers have never switched energy providers. Perhaps this is the time to think about it, firstly as a means of saving money and secondly as a means of putting the energy companies in competition with each other. The following articles consider this market.

Energy price rises: how to switch, save and safeguard your supply The Guardian, Mark King (12/10/12)
Npower and British Gas raise energy prices (including video) BBC News (12/10/12)
Energy price rises? We’re like turkeys voting for Christmas The Telegraph, Rosie Murray-West (12/10/12)
British Gas and Npower to raise prices fuelling fears of a ‘long, cold winter’ for more households Independent
, Graeme Evans
(12/10/12)Wholesale prices rise as energy costs jump Wall Street Journal, Sarah Portlock and Jeffrey Sparshott (12/10/12)
British Gas raises gas and electricity prices by 6pc The Telegraph (12/10/12)
Osborne warns energy firms over price hikes Reuters (12/10/12)
Energy price hikes to take effect from next week Independent, Simon Read(13/10/12)

Questions

  1. What are the main reasons influencing the recent price rises? In each case, explain whether it is a demand- or supply-side factor.
  2. Using your answer from question 1, illustrate the effect of it on a demand and supply diagram.
  3. Which features of an oligopolistic market are relevant to the energy sector. How can we use them to explain these higher prices.
  4. How has government policy affected the energy sector and energy prices?
  5. Why are customers reluctant to change energy providers? Does this further the energy company’s ability to raise prices?
  6. Are there any government policies that could be implemented to reduce the power of the energy companies?
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A shock for energy provision

EU environmental legislation is beginning to cause problems in the UK. As it prohibits coal-fired power plants from generating power, they will be forced to close. This means that the UK will be forced to rely more on imported energy, which could lead to price rises, as energy shortages emerge.

Ofgem, the energy regulator has said that the risk of a gas shortage is likely to be at its highest in about 3 years time, as the amount of spare capacity is expected to fall from its current 14% to just 4%. Energy shortages have been a concern for some time, but the report from Ofgem indicates that the predicted time frame for these energy shortages will now be sooner than expected. Ofgem has said that the probability of a black-out has increased from 1 in 3,300 years now to 1 in 12 years by 2015.

The government, however, has said that its Energy Bill soon to be published will set out plans that will secure power supply for the UK. Part of this will be through investment, leading to new methods of generating energy. The Chief Executive of Ofgem, Alistair Buchanan said:

‘The unprecedented challenges in facing Britain’s energy industry … to attract the investment to deliver secure, sustainable and affordable energy supplies for consumers, still remain.’

One particular area that will see growth is wind-farms: a controversial method of power supply, due to the eye-sore they present (to some eyes, at least) and the noise pollution they generate. But with spare capacity predicted to fall to 4%, they will be a much needed investment.

Perhaps of more concern for the everyday household will be the impact on energy prices. As we know, when anything is scarce, the price begins to rise. As energy shortages become more of a concern, the market mechanism will begin to push up prices. With other bills already at record highs and incomes remaining low, the average household is likely to feel the squeeze. The following articles and the Ofgem report considers this issue.

Report
Electricity Capacity Assessment Ofgem Report to Government, Ofgem (5/12/12)

Articles
Power shortage risks by 2015, Ofgem warns BBC News (5/10/12)
Britain faces risk of blackout The Telegraph (5/10/12)
Ofgem estimates tightening margins for electricity generation Reuters (5/10/12)
Electricity shortages are ‘risk’ by 2015 Sky News (5/10/12)
Future energy bills could give customers a nasty shock ITV News, Chris Choi (5/10/12)

Questions

  1. What is the role of Ofgem in the UK?
  2. Explain the way in which prices adjust as resources become more or less scarce. Use a demand and supply diagram to illustrate your answer.
  3. To what extent do you think the UK should be forced to close down its coal-fired plants, as a part of EU environmental legislation?
  4. Are there any market failures associated with the use of wind farms? Where possible, use a diagram to illustrate your answer.
  5. Explain why an energy shortage will lead to an increase in imports and how this in turn will affect energy prices.
  6. What are the government’s plans to secure energy provision in the UK? Do you think they are likely to be effective?
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