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Posts Tagged ‘income elasticity of demand’

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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The decline of luxury

Globalisation has led to an increasingly interdependent world, with companies based in one country often dependent on a market abroad. In recent years, it is the rapid growth of countries like China that has led to growth in the size of the markets for many products. With incomes rising in emerging countries, demand for many products has been growing, but in the past year, the trend for Prada has ended and seems to be reversing.

As the market in China matures and growth of demand in Europe slows, Prada has seen its shares fall by the largest margin since June last year.

Prada is a well-known luxury brand. The products it sells are relatively expensive and hence its products are likely to have an income elasticity of demand well above +1. With changes in China and Europe, Prada expects its growth in sales to January 2015 will be ‘low single-digit’ – less than the 7% figure recorded for the last financial year.

This lower growth in same-store sales is likely to continue the following year as well. Add on to this the lower-than-expected profits, which missed analysts’ forecasts, and you have a prime example of a brand that is suffering because of its customer base and the economic times.

Prada isn’t alone in suffering from economic conditions and, relative to its European counterparts, is expected to have higher growth in sales and profits in the next 12 months – at 11.5% and 14.8% respectively. This is according to a survey by Thomson Reuters.

Prada has exploited high demand by Chinese consumers, but has recently been affected by the strength of the euro. A strong euro means that the Italian-based Prada is struggling with exports, which only adds to its problems. As economic growth picks up in China and as other emerging economies begin to experience more rapid economic growth, the fortunes of this luxury-retailer may change once more. However, with volatile economic times still around in many countries, the future of many retailers selling high-end products to higher income customers will remain uncertain. The following articles consider the fortunes of Prada.

Prada shares fall sharply after China luxury warning BBC News (3/4/14)
Prada falls after forecasting slowing luxury sales growth Bloomberg, Andrew Roberts and Vinicy Chan (3/4/14)
Prada profits squeezed by weakness in Europe and crackdown in China The Guardian (2/4/14)
Prada bets on men to accelerate sales growth Reuters, Isla Binnie (2/4/14)
Prada misses full year profit forecast Independent, Laura Chesters (2/4/14)

Questions

  1. How can we define a luxury product?
  2. Explain the main factors which have led to a decline in the demand for Prada products over the past 12 months.
  3. Using a diagram, illustrate what is meant by a strong euro and how this affects export demand.
  4. What business strategies are Prada expected to adopt to reverse their fortunes?
  5. Using a diagram, explain the factors that have caused Prada share prices to decline.
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Earning and spending in the UK

The ONS has just published two of its major annual publications on income and expenditure in the UK. The first is the Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings (ASHE) and looks at earnings from 1998 to 2013. The second is Family Spending and looks at the level and pattern of household spending each year from 2001 to 2012.

Figures from the two publications show that average real incomes have fallen each year since 2008. This is illustrated in the first chart (click here for a PowerPoint of the chart). They also show that household expenditure in real terms is falling and is at the lowest level since 2006.

Overall picture
In 2012, households’ average weekly disposable income was £597. In 2012 prices, this was down from £621 in 2010 (after the recession) and £659 in 2008 (before the recession).

Household expenditure is at its lowest level in real terms for over a decade. In 2012 households spent on average £489.00 per week. In 2012 prices, this compares with £521.90 in 2001/2 and £533.80 in 2006 (the peak year).

Picture for particular income groups and products
Although average real incomes have fallen, not everyone has been affected the same. For example, not all occupations have seen a fall in incomes (see the table at the end of the BBC article, Earnings rise slower than inflation for fifth year running). Also, as income distribution has become less equal, so those in lower income groups have seen their real incomes fall the fastest. This is partly the result of nominal wages rising less fast for low-paid workers and partly the result of price increases for various essentials, such as food and power being greater than the rate of inflation, and these products constituting a higher proportion of expenditure for poor people than rich people (see Squeezed Britain 2013).

Likewise expenditure hasn’t fallen on all categories of product. Since 2006, real expenditure on clothing and footwear and on housing, fuel and power has risen. The second chart illustrates expenditure on some of the different categories and how the balance has changed (click here for a PowerPoint). This partly reflects the changes in prices of products, with some items, such as electricity, gas and rent having risen faster than the average, and with the demand for such items being relatively price inelastic.

The changing pattern is also partly the result of different income elasticities of demand for different items. Thus, with falling real incomes, the proportion of income spent on products with a low income elasticity of demand is likely to rise.

Expenditure also varies by income group. People on higher incomes tend to spend a greater proportion of their income on things such as leisure activities (e.g. eating out and holidays), motoring, and clothing and footwear. Poorer people tend to spend proportionately more on food and drink, and on electricity, gas and rent (even net of housing benefit). These differences are illustrated in the third chart which looks at certain categories of expenditure of three different disposable income groups: the poorest 10% (decile), the richest 10% and the 6th decile (i.e. the 6th group up from the bottom – the group with average or just above average income) (click here for a PowerPoint for the chart). Detailed figures can be found here, which is Table 3.2 from Family Spending.

Just as the time-series data looking at changing income and expenditure over time can illustrate the different income elasticities of demand for different products, so can the cross-sectional data in Tables 3.1 and 3.2 of Family Spending.

Articles
Earnings rise slower than inflation for fifth year running BBC News (12/12/13)
Energy and rent are now the biggest family bills The Telegraph, Steve Hawkes (11/12/13)
Families spend £489 each week – on what? The Guardian, Mona Chalabi (11/12/13)
Cost of energy hits family budgets, says ONS BBC News (11/12/13)
Family spending interactive: how has it changed? The Guardian Datastore, Mona Chalabi (11/12/13)

Data
Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings, 2013 Provisional Results ONS (12/12/13)
Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings, 2013 Provisional Results: Statistical Bulletin ONS (12/12/13)
Family Spending, 2013 Edition ONS (11/12/13)
Family spending in 2012: Infographic ONS (11/12/13)
Video Summary: Are you an average spender? ONS (11/12/13)
Household expenditure based on COICOP classification, 2001-02 to 2012 at 2012 prices: Table 4.1 of Family Spending ONS (11/12/13)
Detailed household expenditure as a percentage of total expenditure by disposable income decile group, 2012: Table 3.2 of Family Spending ONS (11/12/13)

Questions

  1. What are the determinants of the price elasticity of demand for a product?
  2. What are the limitations of using time-series data of prices and expenditure to estimate the price elasticity of demand for particular products?
  3. What are the determinants of the income elasticity of demand for a product?
  4. What are the limitations of using time-series data of incomes and expenditure to estimate the income elasticity of demand for particular products?
  5. What are the limitations of using cross-sectional data of expenditure of different income groups to estimate the income elasticity of demand for particular products?
  6. How do your answers to the above questions demonstrate the significance of the ceteris paribus (other things being equal) assumption?
  7. If real earnings are falling, why are people able to spend more in real terms?
  8. What are the macroeconomic implications of increased consumer spending at a time of falling real incomes?
  9. How could increased consumer spending help to reverse the fall in real incomes (a) in the short run (b) over a period of a few years? Distinguish between the effects on aggregate demand and aggregate supply.
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Chocolate prices set to soar

Your favourite chocolate bar or your drink of hot chocolate could soon be much dearer. Since March, the price of cocoa has risen by 34% and much of this increase remains to be passed on to the consumer. The price of cocoa butter is up 70% since the beginning of the year.

On the demand side, sales of luxury cocoa-rich chocolate and hot chocolate have been rising and chocolate manufacturers, with relatively low forward purchases of cocoa, are likely to have to buy more in spot markets. What is more, there is growing speculative demand as traders anticipate higher prices to come.

On the supply side, dry weather in West Africa, where 70% of cocoa beans are produced, has led to a fall in output. Estimates suggest that cocoa production in the 12 months to end-September 2013 will be 2.7% down on the previous 12 months. Supply is expected to be 60,000 tonnes less than demand, resulting in a fall in stocks from 1,833,000 to 1,773,000.

The following articles look at the ‘crisis’ for chocoholics and at the market conditions that lie behind it.

Articles
Craving for a chocolate fix? Prepare to pay more Reuters, Lewa Pardomuan and Marcy Nicholson (15/9/13)
Hot chocolate demand sends cocoa prices soaring Financial Times, Emiko Terazono (15/10/13)
Price of chocolate ‘to triple’ The Telegraph (8/10/13)
Paying more for chocolate? You will be CNN Money, Alanna Petroff (14/10/13)
Chocolate Prices Soar in Dark Turn The Wall Street Journal, Leslie Josephs and Neena Rai (22/9/13)
Chocolate prices could increase as cocoa costs soar BBC News, Nigel Cassidy (21/10/13)
… and on a lighter note: Rising Prices Signal A ‘Devastating’ Global Chocolate Crisis: Should Government Act To Save Us? Forbes, Doug Bandow (14/10/13)

Data
Cocoa beans: monthly price Index Mundi
ICCO daily prices of cocoa beans International Cocoa Organization (click on calendar to select month)
Production of cocoa beans International Cocoa Organization (click on Statistical Data links in right hand panel
Monthly review of the market International Cocoa Organization

Questions

  1. What happened to cocoa prices from January 2009 to March 2013? Explain this movement in prices.
  2. Why have cocoa prices risen so much since March 2013? Illustrate your analysis with a supply and demand diagram.
  3. If the demand for luxury chocolate fluctuates considerably with the state of the business cycle, what does this suggest about the income elasticity of demand for luxury chocolate?
  4. How would you establish whether or not cheap chocolate is an inferior good?
  5. If cocoa prices rise by 34%, what determines the percentage by which a bar of chocolate will rise?
  6. What determines the difference between cocoa futures and spot prices?
  7. How realistically could government intervention improve the lot of chocoholics?
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What’s more important: the volume or the value of the Scotch you drink?

In the blog No accounting for trade, the rise in the UK’s balance of trade deficit was discussed. Many factors have contributed to this weakening position and no one market is to blame. But, by analysing one product and thinking about the factors that have caused its export volumes to decline, we can begin to create a picture not just of the UK economy (or more particularly Scotland!), but of the wider global economy.

Scotch whisky may not have been the drink of choice for many British adults, but look outside Great Britain and the volume consumed is quite staggering. For example, French consumers drink more Scotch whisky in one month than they drink cognac in one year. The volume of Scotch whisky exported from our shores was £4.23 billion for 2011, accounting for 90% of all sales and making its way into 200 markets. However, one problem with this product is that it is highly susceptible to the business cycle. Add to this the time required to produce the perfect Scotch (in particular the fact that it must be left to mature) and we have a market where forecasting is a nightmare.

Producers typically look to forecast demand some 10 years ahead and so getting it right is not always easy, especially when the global economy declines following a financial crisis! So what has been the impact on exports of this luxurious drink? In the past few years, it has been as key growth market for UK exports rising by 190% in value over the past decade. But in 2012 the volume of Scotch whisky exports fell by 5% to 1.19 billion bottles. What explains the decline in sales?

The biggest importer of Scotch whisky is France and its volumes were down by 25%. Part of this decline is undoubtedly the economic situation. When incomes decline, demand for normal goods also falls. Many would suggest Scotch whisky is a luxury and thus we would expect to see a relatively large decline following any given fall in income. However, another factor adding to this decline in 2012 is the increased whisky tax imposed by the French government. Rising by 15% in 2012, commentators suggest that this caused imports of Scotch whisky to rise in 2011 to avoid this tax, thus imports in 2012 took a dive. Spain is another key export market and its economic troubles are clearly a crucial factor in explaining their 20% drop in volume of Scotch whisky imported.

But, it’s not all bad news: sales to Western Europe may be down, but Eastern Europe and other growth countries/continents, such as the BRICs and Africa have developed a taste for this iconic product. Latvia and Estonia’s value of Scotch whisky imports were up by 48% and 28% respectively, as Russian demand rises and China, still growing, is another key market. Gavin Hewitt, chief executive of the Scotch Whisky Association said:

A combination of successful trade negotations, excellent marketing by producers, growing demand from mature markets, particularly the USA, and the growing middle class in emerging economies helped exports hit a record £4.3bn last year.

Furthermore, while the volume of exports worldwide did fall, the value of these exports rose to £4.27 billion, a growth of 1%. This suggests that although we are exporting fewer bottles, the bottles that we are exporting are more expensive ones. Clearly some people have not felt the impact of the recession. For Scotland and the wider UK, these declining figures are concerning, but given the cyclical nature of the demand, as the world economy slowly begins to recover, sales are likely to follow suit. Gavin Hewitt continued his comments above, saying:

We are contributing massively to the Government’s wish for an export-led recovery. There is confidence in the future of the industry, illustrated by the £2bn capital investment that Scotch whisky producers have committed over the next three to four years.

The following articles consider the rise and fall of this drink and its role as a key export market across the world.

Scottish whisky industry puts export hope in new market BBC News (2/4/13)
Scotch whisky sales on the slide The Guardian, Simon Neville (2/4/13)
Growth stalls for Scotch whisky exports BBC News (2/4/13)
Scotch whisky accounts for 25pc of UK’s food and drink exports The Telegraph, Auslan Cramb (2/4/13)
Whisky sales fall but value of exports hits new high Herald Scotland (3/4/13)
Scotch whisky exports rise to record value The Telegraph, Auslan Cramb (2/4/13)
Scotch whisky exports hit by falling demand in France The Grocer, Vince Bamford (2/4/13)
New markets save Scotch from impact of austerity Independent, Tom Bawden (2/4/13)
Scotch exports hit by falling demand Financial Times, Hannah Kichler (2/4/13)

Questions

  1. Which is the better measure of an industry’s performance: the value or the volume of goods sold?
  2. Why would you expect volumes of Scotch sold to decline during an economic downturn?
  3. When a higher tax was imposed on Scotch whisky in France, why did volumes fall? Use a demand and supply diagram to illustrate the impact of the tax.
  4. What type of figure would you expect Scotch whisky to have for income elasticity of demand? Does it vary for different people?
  5. Why is forecasting demand for Scotch so difficult? What techniques might be used?
  6. Why does demand for Scotch whisky remain high and even rising in many emerging markets?
  7. Is the market for Scotch whisky exports a good indication of the interdependence of countries across the world?
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Driving down the miles

From early January to late February 2013, the average pump price of petrol in the UK rose by over 6p per litre – a rise of 4.7% in just seven weeks. There have also been substantial rises in the price of diesel.

The higher prices reflect a rise in the dollar wholesale price of oil and a depreciation in the pound. From 2 January to 21 February the pound fell from $1.63 to $1.53 – a depreciation of 6.1% (see). Crude oil prices (in dollars) rose by just under 7% over this period. With oil imports priced in dollars, a weaker pound pushes up the price of oil in the UK. The price has then been pushed up even higher by speculation, fuelled by the belief that prices have further to rise.

The higher price of road fuel, plus the general squeeze on living standards from the recession, with prices rising faster than wages, has caused a reduction in the consumption of road fuel. Petrol sales have fallen to their lowest level for 23 years. Sales in January 2013 were 99m litres down on the previous month’s sales of 1564m litres (a fall of 6.3%).

Not surprisingly motorists’ groups have called for a reduction in fuel taxes to ease the burden on motorists. They also argue that this will help to drive recovery in the economy by leaving people with more money in their pockets.

Equally not surprisingly, those concerned about the environment have welcomed the reduction in traffic, as have some motorists who like the quieter roads, allowing journey times to be cut, with resulting reductions in fuel consumption per mile.

The following videos and articles discuss the causes of the most recent fuel price rises and also examine the responsiveness of demand to these higher prices and to the reductions in real incomes.

Webcasts
Rising petrol prices are ‘forcing drivers off the road’ BBC News, Richard Westcott (22/2/13)
Fuel prices ‘forcing drivers off road’ – AA BBC News (22/2/13)
Fuel Prices Head For Highest Level Ever Sky News (22/2/13)
Commodities Next Week: Fuel Prices Hit Fresh 2013 Highs CNBC (22/2/13)
Ministers to blame for high fuel prices, says competition watchdog The Telegraph, Peter Dominiczak (30/1/13)

Articles
Petrol price surge adds 6.24p to a litre in a month The Guardian (22/2/13)
Petrol prices set for record highs as speculators and weak pound drive up pump costs again This is Money (22/2/13)
How are motorists saving fuel? NNC Magazine, Tom Geoghegan (9/3/11)

AA Report
Fuel Price Report (February 2013)

Data
Weekly road fuel prices Department of Energy and Climate Change
Energy consumption in the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change
Oil and oil products: section 3, Energy Trends Department of Energy and Climate Change
Europe Brent Spot Price FOB (Dollars per Barrel) US Energy Information Administration
Crude Oil (petroleum), Price index Monthly Price – Index Number Index Mundi

Questions

  1. Is it possible to calculate the price elasticity of demand for petrol from the data given? Try making the calculation.
  2. How important is the ceteris paribus (other things being equal) assumption when calculating the price elasticity of demand for petrol?
  3. Why is the long-run price elasticity of demand for road fuel likely to different from the short-run price elasticity?
  4. If wholesale oil prices go up by x%, will prices at the pumps go up by approximately x% or by more or less then x%? Similarly, if the pound depreciates by y% would you expect prices at the pumps go up by approximately y% or by more or less then y%? Explain.
  5. How has speculation affected fuel prices? Is this effect likely to persist? Explain.
  6. Under what circumstances would a reduction in road fuel taxes help to drive the recovery? Are such circumstances likely?
  7. Which groups in society suffer most from higher fuel prices? Is this reflected in their price elasticity of demand and if so why?
  8. Is a rise in fuel prices above inflation likely to increase or decrease inequality in living standards? Explain.
  9. Should externalities from fuel consumption and production be taken into account when setting the duty on petrol and diesel and, if so, what would be the implication for prices?
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The emerging pints of beer

For some people, a pint of beer is a regular thing each week. Add all your pints of beer together, then add your friend’s pints, their friends’ pints and … you get the idea. Once you’ve done that for the entire population, you have an estimate of total beer consumption in the UK. This can then be compared with total consumption of beer in other countries and between continents.

Prior to 2007, Europe and the Americas were the biggest beer drinking continents, but since then, Asia has emerged as the leader of pints of beer consumed, drinking 67bn litres of beer compared with the Americas’ 57bn and Europe’s 51bn in 2011. In per capita terms, Asia is still some way off, with Japan leading the way as the highest Asian country in 41st place, consuming 64 litres of beer per year per capita of the population. So how is this relevant to economics and business?

Consumption of anything provides jobs – bar workers, manufacturers and in the case of beer, probably law enforcement! It probably also increases utility – after all, why consume it if it’s not going to give you some degree of satisfaction!

We can analyse the demand for beer and see how it varies with changes in price and income. Minimum prices for alcohol have been proposed as a means of reducing consumption, and tax and excise duties are always linked to alcoholic beverages and clearly have an effect on demand. In this case, however, we can also consider the emergence of Asia and how tastes have changed. It is the fastest growing beer market in the world; so what can we deduce from that? As the BBC News article states, it is ‘a sign of a young, upwardly mobile, and increasingly hedonistic population.’

Experts also say that the increased consumption of beer in Asian countries is closely correlated with growing incomes and prosperity. A consumer research analyst from Standard Chartered, Nirgunan Tiruchelvam, said:

“Beer has a clearer correlation with strong economic growth … People tend to drink beer in times of growth. They drink spirits when times are good and when times are bad.”

Data suggest that when a certain level of prosperity is reached in a nation, beer sales begin to rise. As many Asian economies begin to develop rapidly, beer sales have taken off. This could be regarded as a good thing for Europe. With stagnant Western economies, beer producers within Europe may be grateful for a growing demand in Asia. Indeed, many of the world’s biggest breweries are expanding rapidly, providing jobs and income. Consumers in Europe will also be happy to see that beer production remains profitable in other parts of the world. With unemployment still high and recession ongoing, a pint of beer will be a much needed pick-me-up for many people. At least, that’s what the evidence from the Great Depression of the 1930s suggested!!

It’s not good news for everyone, however. Beer production has also increased in Asian countries, most notably in China, which now leads the world as the largest beer producer. This clearly reduces the export potential for European beer producers.

Also, many argue that the growing consumption of beer in Asia is simply an illustration of growing Western influence and it is likely to create severe medical problems in the future. Binge drinking and under-age consumption is already a big problem in Western countries and this could soon begin to extend across the world. The following articles consider the growth in consumption of beer.

Brewers thirsty for expansion as taste for beer grows in emerging markets Guardian, Simon Neville (3/9/12)
Beer in Asia: the drink of economic growth BBC News, Saira Syed (6/9/12)
Study says world beer production hits new high Long Island Business News, Associated Press (8/8/12)
Global beer sales go up for 27th year running News Track India (9/8/12)

Questions

  1. Use a supply and demand diagram to analyse recent trends in beer consumption across the world.
  2. Which factors have caused demand in emerging markets to increase? Based on your answer to the previous question, how might that have affected equilibrium prices?
  3. How has growth in beer consumption throughout Asia benefited Western producers?
  4. What would you expect the price and income elasticities of demand to be for a product such as beer? Explain your answer.
  5. To what extent do you think this trend in beer production is a sign of globalisation?
  6. Evaluate the extent to which the growth in consumption and production of beer in Asia is a good thing. You should consider everyone who and everything might be affected!
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Oil slipping

Oil prices have been falling in recent months. By early June they had reached a 17-month low. The benchmark US crude price (the West Texas Intermediate price) fell to $83.2 at the beginning of the month, and Brent Crude (the North Sea reference price for refining into petrol) fell to $97.7 (see chart). (For a PowerPoint of the chart below, click here.)

At the same time various commodity prices have also been falling. The IMF all commodities price index has fallen by 7.2% over the past 12 months and by 6.2% in May alone. Some commodities have fallen much faster. In the 12 months to May 2012, natural gas fell by 44%, wheat by 25%, lamb by 37%, Arabica coffee by 36%, coconut oil by 45%, cotton by 47%, iron ore by 23% and tin by 29%.

Although part of the reason for the fall in the price of some commodities is increased supply, the main reason is weak world demand. And with continuing problems in the eurozone and a slowdown in China and the USA, commodity price weakness is likely to continue.

So is this good news? To the extent that commodity prices feed through into consumer prices and impact on the rate of inflation, then this is good news. As inflation falls, so central banks will be encouraged to make further cuts in interest rates (in the cases where they are not already at a minimum). For example, the Reserve Bank of Australia cut its cash rate last week from 3.75% to 3.5%. This follows on from a cut from 4.25% on 1 May. In cases where there is no further scope for interest rate cuts (e.g. the US Federal Reserve Bank, whose interest rate is between 0% and 0.25%), then the fall in inflation may encourage a further round of quantitative easing.

But falling commodity prices are also a reflection of bad news, namely the low economic growth of the world economy and fears of turmoil from a possible Greek exit from the euro.

Update
A day after this was written (9/6/12), a deal was agreed between eurozone ministers to provide support of up to €100 billion for Spanish banks. This helped to reduce pessimism about the world economy, at least temporarily. Stock markets rose and so too did oil prices, by around 1%. But if pessimism increases again, then the fall is likely to resume.

Articles
Oil prices hit a 17-month low on China slowdown fears BBC News (8/6/12)
Oil gives up gains without signs of Fed move BloombergBusinessweek, Sandy Shore (7/6/12)
Oil Heads for Longest Run of Weekly Losses in More Than 13 Years BloombergBusinessweek, (8/6/12)
Gold plunges as Bernanke gives no hint of stimulus Live5News(7/6/12)
Oil Price Tumbles Below $83 on Weak Economy Money News(8/6/12)
World food price index expected to fall for May Reuters(6/6/12)
Oil price losing streak continues Guardian, Julia Kollewe (8/6/12)

Data
Spot fuel prices US Energy Information Administration
Commodity Prices Index Mundi
Crude Oil Price Index Index Mundi

Questions

  1. Why have crude oil prices fallen to their lowest level for 17 months?
  2. How can the concepts of income elasticity of demand, price elasticity of supply and price elasticity of demand help to explain the magnitude of the fall in crude oil prices?
  3. Would a fall in inflation linked to a fall in commodity prices be a fall in cost-push or demand-pull inflation? Explain.
  4. What are the macroeconomic implications of the fall in crude oil prices?
  5. What factors are likely to have significant impact on crude oil prices in the coming months
  6. Why is it difficult to predict crude oil prices over the coming months?
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Car sales to drive the economy?

With tight incomes, the first things that families tend to cut back on are the more luxury items. Extensions to houses are delayed, interior refurbishments are put off and the old car that was going to be traded in becomes something you can live with for another few years.

Car sales have been adversely affected during the recession, but data for May 2012 show a positive turn. Manufacturers have said that car sales are up by 7.9% compared with May last year. According to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMTT), much of the increased demand has come from private sales, where the increase has been over 14%.

This data may not be the answer to the economic troubles, but it is perhaps an indication that confidence is beginning to return. However, should things go from bad to worse in the eurozone, it isn’t hard to see data for the coming months showing the opposite trend. One other key piece of information to take from this data is the growth in the sales of lower-emissions vehicles. Sales of these were up 31.8% in May 2012 compared to the same time last year. Jonathan Visscher from SMMT said:

‘The green sector is growing fast…Every car manufacturer is going to have a hybrid model on its lists by the end of this year, even Ferrari.’

The continuing upward trend in car sales is by no means guaranteed to continue, especially with things like the expected rise in fuel duty later this year and the ongoing crisis in the eurozone, with Spanish banks potentially looking for help via a bail-out in the not too distant future. The following articles consider the acceleration in car sales.

UK sees biggest annual rise in car sales for nearly 2 years Reuters (8/6/12)
New car sales accelerate ahead Press Association (8/6/12)
UK new car sales accelerated in May, say manufacturers BBC News (8/6/12)
New car sales accelerate ahead Independent, Peter Woodman (8/6/12)
Car registrations accelerate in May Financial Times, John Reed (8/6/12)

Questions

  1. How would you define a luxury good? What is the relationship with income?
  2. How could an increase in car sales benefit the economy? How could the multiplier effect have an impact?
  3. Which factors have contributed towards the growth in low-emissions cars?
  4. Sales of low-emissions cars have significantly increased. However, why is this increase
  5. What are some of the key things that can help to bring a recession to an end? Into which general category would you place this increase in car sales?
  6. Fuel duty is expected to rise later this year. How might this affect the number of new car registrations? What does your answer tell you about the cross elasticity of demand?
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Olive oil and the fallacy of composition

A bumper olive crop in Spain would seem to be good news for Spanish olive growers. But the effect has been a fall in the prices of olives and olive oil. With 43% of the global supply, Spain is the world’s largest olive oil producer and changes in Spanish output have a big effect on the world price.

Premium extra virgin olive oil has fallen to its lowest level (even in nominal terms) since 2002. Today the price is around $2900 (£1850) a tonne in the wholesale market; in May 2006 it peaked at nearly $5854 – double today’s price.

And while this is bad news for Spanish farmers, for farmers in countries without bumper harvests, the low prices are even harder to bear.

The problem is being exacerbated by a fall in demand in many countries currently suffering recession, such as Greece, Portugal and Italy – all big olive oil consumers. Although olive oil prices have fallen, it is still more expensive than various substitutes. Many people are thus buying these cheaper alternatives, such as sunflower oil, especially for cooking.

What is more, cheaper substitutes for olive oil are increasing in supply. Take the case of rape seed oil in the UK. As the Mail Online article, linked to below, reports:

“UK rape planting is thought to have hit an all-time high this year as British farmers take advantage of the high prices being demanded for rapeseed – base ingredient of many vegetable oils and other edible oils.

Much of the UK crop is used by the local food industry, although some analysts are predicting strong UK yields will give farmers the opportunity to export more to Europe. Because of rising export demand, oil users in the UK claim there is little to indicate the price they are paying for rapeseed oil will drop substantially in the near future.”

The market for olive oil is global. Crop yields in one part of the world, both of olives and of substitute crops, affect global prices and hence growers’ incomes worldwide.

Webcast
Debt hit countries suffer from olive oil price dip Euronews (28/5/12)

News articles
Olive oil price slides as glut hits southern Europe Gulf News, Javier Blas (29/5/12)
Farmers feel squeeze as olive oil price slips The National, Gregor Stuart Hunter (29/5/12)
Olive oil surplus adds to economic pain in Spain The Week (29/5/12)
Olive oil price fall brings further pain for Spain, Italy and Greece The Telegraph (28/5/12)
Pass notes No 3183: Olive oil Guardian (28/5/12)
More Storage Aid for Virgin Olive Oil Olive Oil Times, Julie Butler (17/5/12)
Yellow Britain from the air: Rapeseed’s relentless march across the country pictured in vivid colour as farmers cash in after price of crop’s oil soars Mail Online, Sean Poulter (29/5/12)

Data
Commodity Prices Index Mundi
Olive Oil, extra virgin Monthly Price – US Dollars per Metric Ton Index Mundi

Questions

  1. Identify the factors that have contributed to the fall in the price of olive oil. Illustrate the effects on a demand and supply diagram.
  2. Explain what is meant by the fallacy of composition and how it relates to a price taker, such as a farmer.
  3. How do the price elasticities of demand and supply of olive oil help to explain the magnitude of the price fall?
  4. What developments in other vegetable oils are affecting the olive oil market? What determines the magnitude of these effects?
  5. What actions have been taken by the EU to support the olive oil market? Is this the most appropriate policy response?
  6. Why are Middle Eastern olive producers unable to compete on cost with the major EU producing countries?
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