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Posts Tagged ‘share prices’

Interest rates – too low, for too long?

Interest rates have been at record lows across the developed world since 2009. Interest rates were reduced to such levels in order to stimulate recovery from the financial crisis of 2007–8 and the resulting recession. The low interest rates were accompanied by extraordinary increases in money supply under various rounds of quantitative easing in the USA, UK, Japan and eventually the eurozone. But have such policies done harm?

This is the contention of Brian Sturgess in a new paper, published by the Centre for Policy Studies. He maintains that the policy has had a number of adverse effects:

 •  There will be nothing left in the monetary policy armoury when the next downturn occurs other than even more QE, which will compound the following problems.
 •  It has had little effect in stimulating aggregate demand and economic growth. Instead the extra money has been used to repair balance sheets and support unprofitable businesses.
 •  It has inflated asset prices, especially shares and property, which has encouraged funds to flow to the secondary market rather than to funding new investment.
 •  The inflation of asset prices has benefited the already wealthy.
 •  By keeping interest rates down to virtually zero on savings accounts, it has punished small savers.
 •  By rewarding the rich and penalising small savers, it has contributed to greater inequality.
 •  By keeping interest rates down to borrowers, it has encouraged households to take on excessive amounts of debt, which will be hard to service if interest rates rise.
 •  It has lowered the price of risk, thereby encouraging more risky types of investment and the general misallocation of capital.

Sturgess argues that it is time to end the policy of low interest rates. Currently, in all the major developed economies, central bank rates are below the rate of inflation, making the real central bank interest rates negative.

He welcomes the two small increases by the Federal Reserve, but this should be followed by further rises, not just by the Fed, but by other central banks too. As Sturgess states in the paper (p.12):

In place of ever more extreme descents into the unknown, central banks should quickly renormalise monetary policy. That would involve ending QE and allowing interest rates to rise steadily so that interest rates can carry out their proper functions. Failure to do so will leave the global financial system vulnerable to potential shocks such as the failure of the euro, or the fiscal stresses in the US resulting from the unfinanced spending plans announced by Donald Trump in his presidential campaign.

Although Sturgess argues that the initial programmes of low interest rates and QE were a useful response to the financial crisis, he argues that they should have only been used as a short-term measure. However, if they were, and if interest rates had gone up within a few months, many argue that the global economy would rapidly have sunk back into recession. This has certainly been the position of central banks. Sturgess disagrees.

Articles
Damaging low interest rates and QE must end now, think thank warns The Telegraph, Julia Bradshaw (23/1/17)
QE has driven pension deficits up, think-tank argues Money Marketing, Justin Cash (23/1/17)
Hold: The ECB keeps interest rates and QE purchases steady as Mario Draghi defends loose policy from hawkish critics City A.M., Jasper Jolly (19/1/17)
Preparing for the Post-QE World Bloomberg, Jean-Michel Paul (12/10/16)

Paper
Stop Depending on the Kindness of Strangers: Low interest rates and the Global Economy Centre for Policy Studies, Brian Sturgess (23/1/17)

Questions

  1. Find out what the various rounds of quantitative easing have been in the USA, the UK, Japan and the eurozone.
  2. What are the arguments in favour of quantitative easing as it has been practised?
  3. How might interest rates close to zero result in the misallocation of capital?
  4. Sturgess claims that the existence of ‘spillover’ effects has had damaging effects on many emerging economies. What are these spillover effects and what damage have they done to such economies?
  5. How do low interest rates affect interest rate spreads?
  6. Have pensioners gained or lost from QE? Explain how the answer may vary between different pensioners.
  7. What is meant by a ‘natural’ or ‘neutral’ rate of interest (see section 3.2 in the paper)? Why, according to Janet Yellen (currently Federal Reserve Chair, writing in 2005), is this somewhere between 3.5% and 5.5% (in nominal terms)?
  8. What are the arguments for and against using created money to finance programmes of government infrastructure investment?
  9. Would helicopter money be more effective than QE via asset purchases in achieving faster economic growth? (See the blog posts: A flawed model of monetary policy and New UK monetary policy measures – somewhat short of the kitchen sink.)
  10. When QE comes to an end in various countries, what are the arguments for absorbing rather than selling the assets purchased by central banks? (See the Bloomberg article.)
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When pessimism takes over

Over 2015 quarter 3, stock markets around the world have seen their biggest falls for four years. As the BBC article states: ‘the numbers for the major markets from July to September make for sobering reading’.

  US Dow Jones: –7.9%
  UK FTSE 100: –7.04%
  Germany Dax: –11.74%
  Japan Nikkei: –14.47%
  Shanghai Composite: –24.69%

So can these falls be fully explained by the underlying economic situation or is there an element of over-correction, driven by pessimism? And, if so, will markets bounce back somewhat? Indeed, from 30 September to 2 October, markets did experience a rally. For example, the FTSE 100 rose from a low of 5877 on 29 September to close at 6130 on 3 October (a rise of 4.3%). But is this what is known as a ‘dead cat bounce’, which will see markets fall back again as pessimism once more takes hold?

As far as the global economic scenario is concerned, things have definitely darkened in the past few months. As Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the IMF, said in an address in Washington ahead of the release of the IMF’s 6-monthly, World Economic Outlook:

I am concerned about the state of global affairs. The refugee influx into Europe is the latest symptom of sharp political and economic tensions in North Africa and the Middle East. While this refugee crisis captures media attention in the advanced economies, it is by no means an isolated event. Conflicts are raging in many other parts of the world, too, and there are close to 60 million displaced people worldwide.

Let us also not forget that the year 2015 is on course to be the hottest year on record, with an extremely strong El Niño that has spawned weather-related calamities in the Pacific.

On the economic front, there is also reason to be concerned. The prospect of rising interest rates in the United States and China’s slowdown are contributing to uncertainty and higher market volatility. There has been a sharp deceleration in the growth of global trade. And the rapid drop in commodity prices is posing problems for resource-based economies.

Words such as these are bound to fuel an atmosphere of pessimism. Emerging economies are expected to see slowing economic growth for the fifth year in succession. And financial stability is still not yet assured despite efforts to repair balance sheets following the financial crash of 2008/9.

But as far as stock markets are concerned, the ECB is in the process of a massive quantitative easing programme, which will boost asset prices, and Japan looks as if it too will embark on a further round of QE. Interest rates remain very low, and, as we discussed in the blog Down down deeper and down, or a new Status Quo?, some central banks now have negative rates of interest. This makes shares relatively attractive for savers, so long as it is believed that they will rise over the medium term.

Then there is the question of speculation. The falls were partly due to people anticipating that share prices would fall. But has this led to overshooting, with prices set to rise again? Or, will pessimism set in once more as people become even gloomier about the world economy? If only I had a crystal ball!

Articles
Markets see their worst quarter in four years BBC News (1/10/15)
Weak Jobs Data Can’t Keep U.S. Stocks Down Wall Street Journal, Corrie Driebusch (2/10/15)
What the 3rd Quarter Tells Us About The Stock Market In October EFT Trends, Gary Gordon (2/10/15)
The bull market ahead: Why shares should make 6.7pc a year until 2025 The Telegraph, Kyle Caldwell (5/9/15)
Is the FTSE 100′s six year run at an end? The bull and bear points The Telegraph, Kyle Caldwell (24/8/15)

Webcasts
The stock market bull may not be dead yet CNNMoney (29/9/15)
IMF’s Lagarde: More volatility likely for emerging markets CNBC, Everett Rosenfeld (30/9/15)
What’s next for stocks after worst quarter in four year CNBC, Patti Domm (30/9/15)
Global markets to log worst quarter since 2011 CNBC, Nyshka Chandran (30/9/15)

Speech
Managing the Transition to a Healthier Global Economy IMF, Christine Lagarde (30/9/15)

Questions

  1. Distinguish between stabilising and destabilising speculation. Is it typical over a period of time that you will get both? Explain.
  2. What is meant by a ‘dead cat bounce’? How would you set about identifying whether a given rally was such a phenomenon?
  3. Examine the relationship between the state (and anticipated state) of the global economy and share prices.
  4. What is meant by (a) the dividend yield on a share; (b) the price/earnings ratio of a share? Investigate what has been happening to dividend yields and price/earnings ratios over the past few months. What is the relationship between dividend yields and share prices?
  5. Distinguish between bull and bear markets.
  6. What factors are likely to drive share prices (a) higher; (b) lower?
  7. Is now the time for investors to buy shares?
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A take-over between medical giants

When Kraft took over Cadbury, it was seen as a large take-over, but its size pales in comparison to the potential takeover of AstraZeneca by Pfizer. However, having made two offers for the UK drugs firm, the US company has been rejected twice, saying the terms of the offer were ‘inadequate, substantially undervalue AstraZeneca and are not a basis on which to engage with Pfizer.’

Pfizer initially made an offer of £46.61 per share, valuing the company at £58.5bn, but this latest offer increased the share price to around £50 and raised the company value to £63bn. The rejection was relatively swift and the price still too low, though analysts are suggesting that a price closer to £53 may tempt shareholders. At the moment the negotiations between these two giants remain ‘friendly’, but with this second offer being rejected by the Board, there are now concerns that the takeover could become ‘hostile’ with Pfizer going directly to shareholders. Indeed one investor has said:

We were very keen that the two boards actually get around the table and disucss the bid … I’m never very keen when companies just dismiss things and don’t allow shareholders to take a decision on it … The key thing is that these businesses get talking to each other so they can hammer out a deal.

Following the second offer, shares in AstraZeneca rose by 10p, as the debate continued as to whether such a take-over would be good or bad for British jobs.

Cadbury was seen as a jewel in the crown of British industry and the same can be said of AstraZeneca, especially with the growing importance placed on the Science sector in the UK. While Pfizer has now given the British government further assurances about protection for Britain’s science base, there are still concerns about what this take-over would mean for British jobs. Pfizer has said that 20% of the company’s workforce in research and development would work in the UK and the planned R&D base in Cambridge would still go ahead. However, asset-stripping is a phrase that has been thrown around, based on Pfizer’s previous take-overs and, based on this history, many are suggesting that any assurances made by Pfizer will be pointless. In particular, Allan Black from the GMB union said:

Similar undertakings were given by US multinationals before which have proved to be worthless.

This was echoed by Lord Sainsbury who commented that any assurances made by Pfizer would be ‘frankly meaningless’. However, Vince Cable seems more confident about the consequences for British industry and said:

We’ve now received some assurances from the company that they will strengthen the British science base, they will protect British manufacturing … We need to look at that in detail, we need to look at the small print, we need to establish that it is binding, but as far as it goes, on the basis of what we’ve seen so far, it is welcome and encouraging.

We therefore seem to have a tale of two stories. On the one hand, the assurances of a US company that British jobs and its science base will be protected, but on the other hand, suggestions that we should take Pfizer’s assurances with a pinch of salt and that any take-over could be ‘devastating’. The truth of the matter will only be known if and when the take-over goes ahead and perhaps more importantly, whether it remains friendly and co-operative or does indeed go ‘hostile’. The following articles consider this medical take-over between giants.

AstraZeneca rejects Pfizer bid as US Pharma giant courts UK government The Guardian, Julia Kollewe and Sean Farrell (2/5/14)
AstraZeneca rejects new Pfizer offer BBC News (2/5/14)
AstraZeneca Pfizer: major shareholder urges talks The Telegraph, Denise Roland (2/5/14)
AstraZeneca rejects Pfizer’s raised bid of 63 billion pounds Reuters (2/5/14)
Pfizer-AstraZeneca offer: IoD warns intervention ‘disastrous’ for Britain. The Telegraph, Louise Armitstead (2/5/14)
Pfizer enters takeover discussions with AstraZeneca, sources say Wall Street Journal (2/5/14)
Exclusive: Pfizer insider warns that takeover of AstraZeneca could be ‘devastating’ Independent, Jim Armitage and Chris Green (2/5/14)
The Cadbury deal: how it changed takeovers BBC News, Ben Morris (2/5/14)
Pfizer set to make higher bid for AstraZeneca The Guardian, Julia Kollewe (1/5/14)
The UK’s response to Pfizer’s takeover bid is incoherent and misguided The Guardian, Larry Elliott (4/5/14)

Questions

  1. What type of take-over would this be classified as? Explain your answer.
  2. What would occur if the take-over became ‘hostile’?
  3. Using a demand and supply diagram, explain why share prices in AstraZeneca went up by 10p on the day the second offer was made.
  4. How would such a take-over affect British jobs?
  5. Explain how this proposed take-over could (a) boost British R&D in science and (b) harm British R&D in science.
  6. To what extent might there be concerns from the competition authorities were this take-over to go ahead? How might such a takeover affect Pfizer’s market share and hence its ability to charge a high price?
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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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Supermarket price wars

The supermarket industry is a classic example of an oligopoly. A market dominated by a few large companies, which is highly competitive and requires the companies to think about the reactions of the other competitors whenever a decision is made. Throughout the credit crunch, price cutting was the order of the day, as the big four tried to maintain market share and not lose customers to the low cost Aldi and Lidl. Morrisons, however, has found itself in exactly that position and is now looking to restructure to return to profitability.

Morrisons is well known for its fresh food, but it seems that with incomes still being squeezed, even this is insufficient to keep its customers from looking for cheaper alternatives. Morrisons’ market share has been in decline and its profits or the last financial year have been non-existent. It’s been losing ground to its big competitor, Tesco and part of this is due to the fact that Morrisons was late to enter the ‘Tesco metro’ market. It remained dependent on its large supermarkets, whereas Tesco saw the opportunity to expand onto the highstreets, with smaller stores. It was also late arriving to the online shopping business and while it has now developed more sophisticated IT systems, it did lose significant ground to Tesco and its other key competitors.

Another problem is that Morrisons has found itself unable to compete with the low cost supermarkets. The prices on offer at Morrisons are certainly not low enough to compete with prices at Aldi and Lidl and Morrisons has seen many of its customers switch to these cheaper alternatives. But Morrisons is fighting back and has announced plans to cut prices on a huge range of products across its stores. The fresh food aspect of the business will still remain and the hope is that the fresh food combined with cheaper price tags will allow Morrisons to re-gain lost ground to Tesco and take back some of its lost customers from the low-cost alternatives. However, it’s not just Morrisons that has been losing customers to the budget retailers. Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Asda have all lost market share to Aldi and Lidl, but it is Morrisons that has fared the worst.

The latest news on Morrisons’ profits and overall performance, together with its promise of restructuring and price cuts worth £1 billion has caused uncertainty for shareholders and this has reduced the value of shares. However, Morrisons’ Directors have tried to restore confidence by purchasing shares themselves. With expectations of price wars breaking out, the other supermarkets have also seen significant declines in their share values, with a total of £2 billion being wiped off the value of their shares collectively. The consequences of Morrisons’ performance will certainly continue: customers are likely to benefit from lower prices in all of the big four supermarkets, but investors may lose out – at least in the short run. The impact on jobs is uncertain and will certainly depend on how investors and customers react in the coming weeks. The following articles consider this sector.

UK grocer Morrison warns on profit, threatens price war Reuters, James Davey (13/3/14)
Morrisons and the threat to mainstream supermarkets BBC News, Robert Peston (13/3/14)
Morrisons expected to sell property in response to profit drop The Guardian (9/3/14)
Morrisons restructuring sparks fears of new price war BBC News (13/3/14)
Morrisons’ dividend up while profit falls? It’s hard to believe The Guardian, Nils Pratley (13/3/14)
Morrisons boss talks tough as group slides into red The Scotsman, Scott Reid (13/3/14)
Morrisons plots price cuts after annual loss Sky News (13/3/14)
Morrisons’ declaration of £1bn price war with budget stores hammers Sainsbury and Tesco shares This is Money, Rupert Steiner (14/3/14)
Ocado on track for first profit in wake of Morrisons deal Independent, Simon Neville (14/4/14)

Questions

  1. What are the key characteristics of an oligopoly?
  2. To what extent do you think the supermarket sector is a good example of an oligopoly?
  3. Why is the characteristic of interdependence a key cause of the potential price war between the supermarkets?
  4. Why has Morrisons been affected so badly with the emergence of the budget retailers?
  5. By using the income an substitution effect, explain how the big four supermarkets have been affected by retailers, such as Aldi and Lidl.
  6. Using a demand and supply diagram, explain how the share prices of companies like Morrisons are determined. Which factors affect (a) the demand for and (b) the supply of shares?
  7. What do you think will happen to the number of jobs in Morrisons given the performance of the company and its future plans?
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Miliband’s freeze

For all households, energy is considered an essential item. As electricity and gas prices rise and fall, many of us don’t think twice about turning on the lights, cooking a meal or turning on the heating. We may complain about the cost and want prices brought down, but we still pay the bills. But, is there anything that can be done about high energy prices? And if there is, should anything be done?

The worlds of politics and economics are closely linked and Ed Miliband’s announcement of his party’s plans to impose a 20-month freeze on energy prices if elected in 2015 showed this relationship to be as strong as ever. The price freeze would certainly help average households reduce their cost of living by around £120 and estimates suggest businesses would save £1800 over this 20 month period. The energy companies have come in for a lot of criticism, in particular relating to their control of the industry. The sector is dominated by six big companies – your typical oligopoly, and this makes it very difficult for new firms to enter. Thus competition is restricted. But is a price freeze a good policy?

Part of the prices we pay go towards investment in cleaner and more environmentally friendly sources of energy. Critics suggest that any price freeze would deprive the energy sector of much needed investment, meaning our energy bills will be higher in the future. Furthermore, some argue this price freeze suggests that Labour is abandoning its environmental policy. Energy shortages have been a concern, especially with the cold weather the UK experienced a few years ago. This issue may reappear with price freezes. As Angela Knight, from Energy UK, suggests:

Freezing the bill may be superficially attractive, but it will also freeze the money to build and renew power stations, freeze the jobs and livelihoods of the 600,000-plus people dependent on the energy industry and make the prospect of energy shortages a reality, pushing up the prices for everyone.

There is a further concern and that is that large energy companies will be driven from the UK. This thought was echoed by many companies, in particular the British Gas owner Centrica, commenting that:

If prices were to be controlled against a background of rising costs it would simply not be economically viable for Centrica to continue to operate and far less to meet the sizeable investment challenge that the industry is facing…The impact of such a policy would be damaging for the country’s long-term prosperity and for our customers.

Share prices naturally fluctuate with global events and a political announcement such as this was inevitably going to cause an effect. But, perhaps the effect was not expected to be as big as the one we saw. Share prices for Centrica and SSE fell following the announcement – perhaps no great shock – but then they continued to fall. The market value tumbled by 5% and share prices kept falling. This has led to Ed Miliband being accused of ‘economic vandalism’ by a major shareholder of Centrica, which is hardly surprising, given the estimated cost of such a price freeze would be £4.5 billion.

The economic implications of such a move are significant. The announcement itself has caused massive changes in the FTSE and if such a move were to go ahead if Labour were elected in 2015, there would be serious consequences. While families would benefit, at least in the short term, there would inevitably be serious implications for businesses, the environmental policy of the government, especially relating to investment and the overall state of the economy. The following articles consider the aftermath of Ed Miliband’s announcement.

Miliband stands firm in battle over fuel bills plan The Guardian, Patrick Wintour and Terry Macalister (25/9/13)
Michael Fallon calls Miliband’s energy prices pledge ‘dangerous’ Financial Times, Elizabeth Rigby and Jim Pickard (26/9/13)
Britain’s labour treads narrow path between populism and prudence Reuters (26/9/12)
Ed Miliband’s radical reforms will make the energy market work for the many Independent (26/9/13)
Has Labour fallen out of love with Business? BBC News (26/9/13)
Top Centrica shareholder Neil Woodford accuses Labour leader Ed Miliband of economic vandalism The Telegraph, Kamal Ahmed (25/9/13)
Centrica and SSE slide after Labour price freeze pledge The Guardian (26/9/13)
Ed Miliband’s energy price freeze pledge is a timely but risky move The Guardian, Rowena Mason (24/9/13)

Questions

  1. Why are energy prices such a controversial topic?
  2. How are energy prices currently determined? Use a diagram to illustrate your answer. By adapting this diagram, illustrate the effect of a price control being imposed. How could it create an energy shortage? What impact would this have after the 20-month price freeze
  3. Why would there be adverse effects on energy companies if prices were frozen and costs increased? Use a diagram to illustrate the problem and use your answer to explain why energy companies might leave the UK.
  4. How would frozen energy prices help households and businesses?
  5. Why were share prices in Centrica and SSE adversely affected?
  6. Is there an argument for regulating other markets with price controls?
  7. Why is there such little competition in the energy sector?
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2020 Tokyo Olympics

The 2020 Olympics has just been awarded to Tokyo, beating Madrid and Istanbul. Concerns over the safety of the games in Tokyo, with the city being perceived as relatively close to the Fukushima nuclear plant, were overcome with the help of an address by the Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe. So, what are the economic implications of this latest development in the sporting world?

When London was awarded the 2012 Olympic Games, estimates suggested that it would generate a £16.5 billion contribution to GDP. With many new construction projects, there was the inevitable injection of government expenditure. This led to the creation of new jobs and thus successive employment multiplier effects were generated. This is also likely to be true for Tokyo, with current proposals suggesting that ten new permanent sites will be built to host the various sports of the Games. This will undoubtedly generate new jobs and will provide an almost certain boost to the construction industry. This, in turn, will generate further multiplier effects across a multitude of industries and across the rest of the country.

There will also be further economic effects, for example on Japanese investment and stocks and shares, with a boost in confidence and optimism. A Tokyo-based fund manager, Hiroshi Fujumonto, said:

Olympics-related stocks are yet to fully price in the decision, even though they’ve already outperformed … In the short term the entire Japanese share market will get a boost from celebratory buying and expectations for the event’s economic impact.

This was also confirmed by Shinzo Abe, when he commented after the victory was announced that ‘I want to make the Olympics a trigger for sweeping away 15 years of deflation economic shrinkage.’ The Japanese economy has been struggling for many years and this may be the much needed boost to the country’s optimism, infrastructure and economy.

As the world’s third largest economy, this economic boost is also likely to have knock-on effects on other countries across the world, though it is more likely to be the long-term impact that is important here. Just as it was with the London Olympics, the final effect and cost will only be known some years after the Olympics are held, but for now the work will start for Japan.

Olympics 2020: Tokyo wins race to host games BBC Sport (7/9/13)
Tokyo Olympics win seen boosting infrastructure, recovery Bloomberg, Yoshiaki Nohara and Satoshi Kawano (8/9/13)
Tokyo wins bid to host 2020 Olympic Games Telegraph, Ben Rumsby (8/9/13)
Tokyo chosen as ‘safe pair of hands’ to host 2020 Olympics Financial Times, Benedict Mander (8/9/13)
Japanese bid’s passion earns Tokyo the 2020 Olympic Games Guardian, Owen Gibson (7/9/13)
Olympics 2020: Why Tokyo is a ‘safe pair of hands’ to host Games BBC News, David Bond (8/9/13)

Questions

  1. What is the multiplier effect and how is it calculated?
  2. How can the overall economic benefits of the Olympic Games be estimated?
  3. Which industries in Tokyo are likely to be the ones that benefit from the Olympic Games?
  4. Outline a cost–benefit analysis of the Olympic Games.
  5. Why are share prices likely to go up in Japan based on this news? Look at both the demand and supply factors that will affect share prices.
  6. Is it possible that there will be wider multiplier effects on other countries besides Japan?
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A stock market beauty contest of the machines

Each day many investors anxiously watch the stock market to see if their shares have gone up or down. They may also speculate: buying if they think share prices are likely to go up; selling if they think their shares will fall. But what drives these expectations?

To some extent, people will look at real factors, such as company sales and profits or macroeconomic indicators, such as the rate of economic growth or changes in public-sector borrowing. But to a large extent people are trying to predict what other people will do: how other people will react to changes in various indicators.

John Maynard Keynes observed this phenomenon in Chapter 12 of his General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money of 1936. He likened this process of anticipating what other people will do to a newspaper beauty contest, popular at the time. In fact, behaviour of this kind has become known as a Keynesian beauty contest (see also). Keynes wrote that:

professional investment may be likened to those newspaper competitions in which the competitors have to pick out the six prettiest faces from a hundred photographs, the prize being awarded to the competitor whose choice most nearly corresponds to the average preferences of the competitors as a whole; so that each competitor has to pick, not those faces which he himself finds prettiest, but those which he thinks likeliest to catch the fancy of the other competitors, all of whom are looking at the problem from the same point of view. It is not a case of choosing those which, to the best of one’s judgement, are really the prettiest, nor even those which average opinion genuinely thinks the prettiest. We have reached the third degree where we devote our intelligences to anticipating what average opinion expects the average opinion to be. And there are some, I believe, who practise the fourth, fifth and higher degrees.

When investors focus on people’s likely reactions, it can make markets very unstable. A relatively minor piece of news can cause people to buy or sell in anticipation that others will do the same and that others will realise this and do the same themselves. Markets can overshoot, until, when prices have got out of line with fundamentals, buying can turn into selling, or vice versa. Prices can then move rapidly in the other direction, again driven by what people think other people will do. Sometimes, markets can react to very trivial news indeed. As the New York Times article below states:

On days without much news, the market is simply reacting to itself. And because anxiety is running high, investors make quick, sometimes impulsive, responses to relatively minor events.

The rise of the machine
In recent years there is a new factor to account for growing stock market volatility. The Keynesian beauty contest is increasingly being played by computers. They are programmed to buy and sell when certain conditions are met. The hundreds of human traders of the past who packed trading floors of stock markets, have been largely replaced by just a few programmers, trained to adjust the algorithms of the computers their finance companies use as trading conditions change.

And these computers react in milliseconds to what other computers are doing, which in turn react to what others are doing. Markets can, as a result, suddenly soar or plummet, until the algorithms kick the market into reverse as computers sell over-priced stock or buy under-priced stock, which triggers other computers to do the same.

Robot trading is here to stay. The articles and podcast consider the implications of the ‘games’ they are playing – for savers, companies and the economy.

The Beauty Contest That’s Shaking Wall St. New York Times, Robert J. Schiller (3/9/11)
Speculative bubbles don’t just pop – they may deflate and reflate The Guardian, Robert Shiller (19/7/13)
A dark magic: The rise of the robot traders BBC News, Laurence Knight (8/7/13)
Stock markets under computer control BBC News, Robert Peston
Eunuchs of the Universe: Wall Street Today The Daily Beast, Tom Wolfe (4/1/13)

Questions

  1. Give some other examples of human behaviour which is in the form of a Keynesian beauty contest.
  2. Why may playing a Keynesian beauty contest lead to an undesirable Nash equilibrium?
  3. Does robot trading do anything other than simply increase the speed at which markets adjust?
  4. Can destabilising speculation continue indefinitely? Explain.
  5. Explain what is meant by ‘overshooting’? Why is overshooting likely to occur in stock markets and foreign exchange markets?
  6. In what ways does robot trading (a) benefit and (b) damage the interests of savers?
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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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The end of the line

Vodafone has offered to purchase Cable & Wireless Worldwide (C&WW), with Vodafone paying 38p per share, making this deal worth £1.044bn.

This deal, however, was rejected by C&WW’s largest shareholder, Orbis, within hours, as the price was not high enough, despite the 38p per share offer representing a 92% premium to the level of C&WW’s share price before the bid interest emerged in February. A spokesperson for Orbis said:

‘Although we believe the C&WW management team has handled the bid process responsibly, we have declined to give an irrevocable undertaking or letter of intent to the support the transaction.’

However, with the only other interested party, Tata Communications withdrawing, Vodafone was the only remaining bidder. As such, many suggest that this deal is a good one for the struggling business, despite Orbis’ claim that it under-values the business.

Adding a UK fixed-line cable to Vodafone’s business will increase its capacity, which is much needed at this moment in time with the added demand for mobile data from increased Smartphone usage. Cost savings are also expected from this merger, as the company will no longer have to pay to other companies to lease its fixed-line capacity.

The bid from Vodafone did help C&WW’s trading performance, which had been worsening for some time and so some shareholders will be glad of the bid. Its shares were up following this deal and it went to the top of the FTSE250. Vodafone will also benefit, as this merger would make it the second largest combined fixed and mobile line operator in the UK.

The trends of these two companies in recent years have been very much in contrast. C&WW had been the larger of the two firms up until 1999, yet the price Vodafone would now pay for the company represents a mere 1% of its current market value. The following articles consider this merger.

Vodafone bids for Cable and Wireless: The end of the line The Economist (24/4/12)
Questor shares tip: Vodafone deal looks goodThe Telegraph, Garry White(23/4/12)
Vodafone puts paid to once-revered C&WW Financial Times, Daniel Thomas (23/4/12)
Top CWW shareholder rejects sale to Vodafone Independent, Gideon Spanier (24/4/12)
CWW accepting Vodafone’s £1bn bid is a good call The Telegraph, Alistair Osborne (23/4/12)
Vodafone agrees £1bn deal for Cable & Wireless Worldwide Guardian, Julia Kollewe and Juliette Garside (23/4/12)
Vodafone agrees £1bn takeover of C&W Worldwide BBC News (23/4/12)

Questions

  1. Into which market structure would you place the above industry? Explain your answer.
  2. Which factors have caused C&WW’s worsening position? In each case, explain whether they are internal or external influences.
  3. What type of merger is that between C&WW and Vodafone?
  4. Explain some of the motives behind this merger.
  5. Which factors have caused these two companies to have such different trading performances in the last 15 years?
  6. Why was the announcement of the bid followed by better share prices for C&WW?
  7. Is there any reason why the competition authorities should be concerned about this merger?
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