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Posts Tagged ‘rationing’

Milking the economy

When you hear about China, it’s often regarding their huge population, their strong growth or their dominance in exports. But, when it comes to baby milk, China is certainly an importer – and a big one at that. For many new parents, getting the ‘real thing’ when it comes to baby formula is absolutely essential.

Chinese baby formula is feared by many new parents, due to the potential for it to contain hormones and dangerous chemicals. This has led them to go to great lengths to ensure they have sufficient supplies of imported baby formula, often only trusting it if it has been hand carried from overseas. However, such is the demand for this safe version of baby milk that the global response has been to place restrictions on it. Essentially, we are seeing a system of rationing emerging.

Hong Kong was the first government to limit the amount bought to two cans of formula per day, with the potential for a fine of over $64,000 and up to two years in prison for those who do not abide by the rules. The UK has now also responded with restrictions on the quantity that can be purchased and other countries may follow suit if the excess demand continues.

According to Sainsburys:

As a short-term measure, retailers including Sainsbury’s are limiting the amount of baby milk powder that people can buy. In this way we aim to ensure a constant supply for our customers and we therefore hope they won’t be inconvenienced.

The Chinese government has reacted to this and is aiming to restore confidence in the food industry, but as yet there has been little positive effect and until there are 100% guarantees of food safety the surge in demand for baby formula from abroad is likely to continue.

This policy of rationing is clearly not only going to affect Chinese parents looking to import baby formula, but is already having an impact on domestic residents. Parents living in the UK are feeling the rationing effects and are also being restricted in terms of how many cans of formula they can buy per day. For many families this isn’t a problem, but for those with multiple children and for whom a trip to the supermarket is not a simple task, the restrictions on baby milk purchases is likely to become a problem. The following articles consider this topic.

Baby milk rationing: Chinese fears spark global restrictions BBC News, Celia Hatton (10/4/13)
Stop rationing information about baby formula milk The Telegraph, Rosie Murray-West (9/4/13)
Baby milk rationed in UK over China export fear BBC News (8/4/13)
Baby Formula rationed in UK over China demand Sky News (9/4/13)
Supermarkets limit sales of baby milk to stop bulk buying to feed China market Independent, Emma Bamford (8/4/13)
Cahinese thirst for formula spurs rationing Financial Times, Amie Tsang and Louise Lucas (7/4/13)
Entrepreneurs milk Chinese thirst for formula Financial Times, Amie Tsang and Louise Lucas (7/4/13)
Baby milk powder rationing introduced by supermarkets The Guardian, Rebecca Smithers (8/4/13)

Questions

  1. Using a diagram of demand and supply, illustrate how a shortage for a product can emerge. How does the price mechanism usually work to eliminate a shortage?
  2. What actions can be taken to deal with a shortage?
  3. How will more stringent regulations by the Chinese government help to restore confidence in Chinese baby milk formula?
  4. What impact will the imports of baby milk formula into China have on China’s exchange rate and its balance of payments?
  5. How could this situation be taken advantage of by entrepreneurs? Could it be used as a viable business opportunity?
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Stamp ‘profiteering’

46p – that buys you a First Class stamp. However, the price will now rise to 60p and the price of a Second Class stamp will increase to 50p from 36p, as Ofcom lifts some price caps. These significant price rises have seen shortages of stamps emerging across the country. As people anticipate the price rise, individuals and businesses are buying up stamps while they remain relatively cheap.

The problem is that this has started to result in a stamp shortage, so much so that the Royal Mail has now begun rationing retailers’ supply of stamps, capping each retailers’ supply this month to 20% of its annual allocation. A Royal Mail spokesman said:

“We are more than happy for retailers to receive the normal commercial return they obtain on stamps and no more than that … That is why we have put in place a prudent allocation policy to safeguard Royal Mail’s revenues and ensure there are more than enough stamps for people to buy both now and in the future.”

With postage volumes falling, as individuals turn to other methods of communication, Royal Mail says that this price rise is essential to keep this universal service going. Revenues have been low and the Royal Mail has been loss-making for some time.

However, while the price rise may help the Royal Mail, many businesses may suffer in its place. One optician, who sends out approximately 5,000 reminders to patients each year intends to bulk-buy 10,000 stamps in the hopes of saving some £1,400 when prices of stamps rise. An IT worker bought 20 books of 12 first-class stamps and said ‘If I could afford it, I would buy a lot more’. Many are unhappy at the ‘shameless profiteering at the public’s expense’, but whatever your opinion about the price rise, it does make for an interesting case of demand and supply. The following articles consider this stamp shortage.

Man’s 10,000 stamp panic: stampede for stamps leaves a 1st class mess as Royal Mail introduces rationing ahead of 30% price rise Mail Online, Colin Fernandez and John Stevens (15/4/12)
Stamps rationed by Royal Mail in run up to price rise (including video) BBC News (13/4/12)
Stamp rationing could hit pensioners Telegraph, James Hall (14/3/12)
Stamp sales limited ahead of price hike Sky News (13/4/12)
How stamp collecting came unstuck Guardian, Hunter Davies (13/4/12)
Royal Mail limits supply of stamps ahead of price rise Telegraph, James Hall and Andrew Hough (12/4/12)
’Profiteering’ Royal Mail limits supply of stamps before price rise Guardian, David Batty (13/4/12)
Royal Mail’s stamp price rises come into force BBC News (30/4/12)
How businesses will be affected by Royal Mail’s changing prices BBC News, Catherine Burns (28/4/12)

Questions

  1. If people expect prices to rise, what will happen to the demand curve? Illustrate this idea on a demand and supply diagram?
  2. If suppliers anticipate a price rise, what would their best strategy be?
  3. On a demand and supply diagram, illustrate the shortage of stamps that has emerged. If left to the free market, what should happen to the price of stamps?
  4. Why could pensioners and those in rural areas be the most adversely affected by this shortage and price rise?
  5. Why could ‘children and new collectors’ be priced out of the market?
  6. Why will small businesses be affected by this price hike? How could their customers be affected?
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Mortgage rationing

Throughout the credit crunch and since then, one of the major problems in the global economy has been a lack of lending by banks. A key cause of the credit crunch and many of the debt problems countries and people face today is because of people living off borrowed money. In the past, credit was so easy to obtain – people could receive a mortgage for more than 100% of the value of their property. However, when more and more people began to struggle to make their monthly mortgage repayments, the banking crisis began and since then mortgage lenders have become increasingly wary about who they lend to and how much.

The Bank of England has said that in the coming months it will become even harder to obtain mortgages, as banks become increasingly wary about who becomes their customer and potential home buyers put off even applying for a mortgage. Although mortgage approvals are at a 2-year high, they still remain significantly below their pre-crisis level. Indeed, the Bank of England said:

“Lenders expected the proportion of total loan applications being approved to fall over the coming quarter with some lenders commenting that they had revised down expectations for households’ disposable incomes and hence the affordability of taking out new secured loans.”

As part of this new rationing of mortgages, lenders are requiring applicants to put down larger and larger deposits and so for first time buyers, getting on to the property ladder is becoming more and more of a dream. The property market has been suffering from this mortgage rationing as house sales are down below their pre-crisis level. The housing market is crucial to any economy, as so many other sectors and hence jobs depend on it. If mortgages remain scarce and the required deposit so high, the UK housing market is likely to remain stagnant and this will certainly prove damaging for the prospects of the UK economy in 2012.

Articles
Mortgage approvals hit new two-year high The Telegraph, Angela Monaghan (4/1/12)
Mortgage approvals up but overall lending weak Reuters (4/11/12)
Mortgage rationing becomes worse, Bank of England says BBC News (5/1/12)
Mortgage demand fell in Q4 2011, say lenders Mortgage Strategy, Tessa Norman (5/11/12)
Mortgage lending still stagnant, Bank figures show BBC News (4/11/12)
BoE: Lending to be tighter in Q1 2012 Mortgage Introducer, Yuan Phoon (5/11/12)

Data
Lending to Individuals Bank of England

Questions

  1. Why are mortgages being rationed?
  2. Why is the housing market so important for the UK economy?
  3. Which other sectors of the economy employ people whose jobs are dependent on a buoyant housing market?
  4. Why has the Bank of England said that in the coming months it will become harder to get a mortgage?
  5. Why would increased mortgage lending be a much needed stimulus for the UK economy?
  6. Using an aggregate demand and aggregate supply diagram, show how rationing of mortgages and other loans will affect the UK economy.
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