The UK energy industry (electricity and gas) is an oligopoly. There are six large suppliers: the ‘Big Six’. These are British Gas (Centrica, UK), EDF Energy (EDF, France), E.ON UK (E.ON, Germany), npower (RWE, Germany), Scottish Power (Iberdrola, Spain) and SSE (SSE Group, UK). The Big Six supply around 73% of the total UK market and around 90% of the domestic market.
Energy suppliers buy wholesale gas and electricity and sell it to customers. The industry has a considerable degree of vertical integration, with the energy suppliers also being involved in both generation and local distribution (long-distance distribution through the familiar pylons is by National Grid). There is also considerable horizontal integration, with energy suppliers supplying both electricity and gas and offering ‘dual-fuel’ deals, whereby customers get a discount by buying both fuels from the same supplier.
Smaller suppliers have complained about substantial barriers to entry in the industry. In particular, they normally have to buy wholesale from one of the Big Six. Lack of transparency concerning their costs and internal transfer prices by the Big Six has led to suspicions that they are charging more to independent suppliers than to themselves.
Under new regulations announced by Ofgem, the industry regulator, the Big Six will have to post the prices at which they will trade wholesale power two years in advance and must trade fairly with independent suppliers or face financial penalties. In addition, ‘a range of measures will make the annual statements of the large companies more robust, useful and accessible.’ According to the Ofgem Press Release:
From 31 March new rules come into force meaning the six largest suppliers and the largest independent generators will have to trade fairly with independent suppliers in the wholesale market, or face financial penalties. The six largest suppliers will also have to publish the price at which they will trade wholesale power up to two years in advance. These prices must be published daily in two one-hour windows, giving independent suppliers and generators the opportunity and products they need to trade and compete effectively.
But will these measures be enough to break down the barriers to entry in the industry and make the market genuinely competitive? The following articles look at the issue.
Boost for small energy firms as Big Six are ordered to trade fairly on wholesale markets or face multi-million pound fines This is Money, Rachel Rickard Straus (26/2/14)
Energy firms told to trade fairly with smaller rivals BBC News, Rachel Fletcher (26/2/14)
Ofgem ramps up scrutiny of Big Six accounts The Telegraph, Denise Roland (26/2/14)
‘Big six’ told to trade fairly – will it make a difference? Channel 4 News, Emma Maxwell (26/2/14)
Energy regulator Ofgem forces trading rules on ‘big six’ suppliers Financial Times, Andy Sharman (26/2/14)
Ofgem tears down barriers to competition to bear down as hard as possible on energy prices Ofgem Press Release (26/2/14)
The energy market explained Energy UK
Energy in the United Kingdom Wikipedia
Big Six Energy Suppliers (UK) Wikipedia
- Describe the structure of the UK energy industry.
- What are the barriers to the entry of new energy suppliers and generators in the UK?
- To what extent is vertical integration in the electricity generation and supply industry in the interests of consumers?
- To what extent is horizontal integration in the electricity and gas markets in the interests of consumers?
- How will requiring the six largest energy suppliers to post their wholesale prices for the next 24 months increase competition in the energy market?
- Is greater transparency about the revenues, costs and profits of energy suppliers likely to make the market more competitive?
- Identify and discuss other measures which Ofgem could introduce to make the energy market more competitive.
The growth of emerging economies, such as China, India and Brazil brings with it both good and bad news for the once dominant countries of the West. With growth rates in China reaching double digits and a much greater resilience to the credit crunch and its aftermath in these emerging nations, they became the hope of the recovery for the West. But, is it only benefits that emerge from the growth in countries like China?
Chinese business has grown and expanded into all areas, especially technology, but countries such as the USA have been reluctant to allow mergers and takeovers of some of their businesses. Notably, the takeovers that have been resisted have been in key sectors, particularly oil, energy and technology. However, it seems as though pork is an industry that is less important or, at least, a lower risk to national security.
Smithfield Foods is a US giant, specialising in the production and selling of pork. A takeover by China’s Shuanghui International Holdings has been approved (albeit reluctantly) by the US Committee on Foreign Investment. While the takeover could still run into obstacles, this Committee’s approval is crucial, as it alleviates concerns over the impact on national security. The value of the deal is some $7.1bn, including the debt that Shuangui will have to take on. While some see this takeover as good news, others are more concerned, identifying the potential negative impact it may have on prices and standards in the USA. Zhijun Yang, Shuanghui’s Chief Executive said:
This transaction will create a leading global animal protein enterprise. Shuanghui International and Smithfield have a long and consistent track record of providing customers around the world with high-quality food, and we look forward to moving ahead together as one company.
The date of September 24th looks to be the decider, when a shareholder meeting is scheduled to take place. There is still resistance to the deal, but if it goes ahead it will certainly help other Chinese companies looking for the ‘OK’ from US regulators for their own business deals. The following articles consider the controversy and impact of this takeover.
US clears Smithfield’s acquisition by China’s Shuanghui Penn Energy, Reuters, Lisa Baertlein and Aditi Shrivastava (10/9/13)
Chinese takeover of US Smithfield Foods gets US security approval Telegraph (7/9/13)
US clears Smithfield acquisition by China’s Shuanghui Reuters (7/9/13)
Go-ahead for Shuanghui’s $4.7bn Smithfield deal Financial Times, Gina Chon (6/9/13)
US security panel approves Smithfield takeover Wall Street Journal, William Mauldin (6/9/13)
- What type of takeover would you classify this as? Explain your answer.
- Why have other takeovers in oil, energy and technology not met with approval?
- Some people have raised concerns about the impact of the takeover on US pork prices. Using a demand and supply diagram, illustrate the possible effects of this takeover.
- What do you think will happen to the price of pork in the US based on you answer to question 3?
- Why do Smithfield’s shareholders have to meet before the deal can go ahead?
- Is there likely to be an impact on share prices if the deal does go ahead?
With news of the economy contracting in the previous quarter, it was perhaps a surprise to some that BSkyB has seen growth in its customer numbers to above 10 million: much of this increase due to growth in broadband numbers. In the second half of 2010, BSkyB reported that revenues increased by 15% to £3.2bn and their pre-tax profits were also on the way up to £467m. These latest figures are likely to put increasing pressure on News Corp’s takeover bid for the shares they do not own in BSkyB (61%), as share prices increase by 2%. Last summer, a bid of 700p per share was rejected and while both companies did agree to work together to determine if a future merger was viable, these higher share prices put BSkyB in a much stronger position.
However, before anything else happens, Rupert Murdoch’s company is waiting for regulatory approval from Ofcom for this takeover. BBC reports sugges that Ofcom has made an:
“unambiguous recommendation that News Corp’s plan to acquire all of BSkyB should be referred to the Competition Commission for further investigation.”
The Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, has spoken of his intention to refer this potential merger to the Competition Commission, following Ofcom’s recommendation. There are concerns about the impact on competition and Rupert Murdochs’ increased influence over public opinion, if this merger were to go ahead. Any delays in finalizing a deal could benefit BSkyB, if their financial performance continues. Analysts suggest that the delay could be 6 months, while any investigation takes place. If profits continue to rise, share prices may also go up, requiring higher and higher bids by News Corp. Watch this space!
BSkyB profits soar 26% to £520m putting pressure on NewsCorp to increase takeover bid Daily Mail (27/1/11)
BSkyB reports big jump in profits BBC News (27/1/11)
BSkyB spends £7m on News Corp bid Guardian, Mark Sweney (27/1/11)
BSkyB result to highlight pressure on News Corp Reuters, Kate Holton (26/1/11)
HD TV, broad demand boosts BSkyB Telegraph (27/1/11)
News Corp bud for Sky should go to Competition Commission, recommends Ofcom Telegraph (27/1/11)
Call off the hunt Financial Times (20/1/11)
Numis raises BSkyB on expected News Corp deal delay Reuters (21/1/11)
- Explain what type of merger it would be between News Corp and BSkyB.
- What are the arguments (a) for the merger and (b) against the merger? Consider the impact on the public, the competitors, the workers etc.
- What is the role of Ofcom and the Competition Commission? How do their responsibilities differ?
- As demand for Sky’s products increases, what could we expect to see in terms of price? Now explain why your answer may not happen!
- Why have BSkyB’s share prices been affected? Is it the demand of supply of shares that has changed? Illustrate your answer on a diagram.
It’s one of a declining number of UK-owned industries still left in the UK: Cadbury. However, over the past few years, mergers have become the norm and Cadbury looks set to become the next. Kraft, an American food giant, has been interested in taking over Cadbury for some time and this topic was covered on the Sloman Economics News Site at the beginning of September, when we considered Kraft’s bid of £10.2 billion. (see Cadbury: Chocolate all change). Since then Kraft shares have dropped in value and so Kraft’s current bid is now worth less: a hostile bid of £9.8 billion. This has been refused by Cadbury’s Board of Directors, calling it ‘derisory’.
From the time that Kraft’s bid was formally submitted, the stopwatch begins to tick. A 60-day period is allowed under the ‘takeover code’ which is in place to protect shareholders without resorting to a date in court. Following Kraft’s bid, Cadbury share prices immediately fell, but then began to recover as the implications became clearer. Other companies mentioned as potential rivals include Nestlé and Unilever, although, given Cadbury’s recent boost in sales, Unilever has said that it is no longer interested. So, what does the future hold for Cadbury? Will it be the latest in a long line of British companies to leave their UK owners?
Kraft’s Cadbury takeover bid will set 60-day timetabling ticking Guardian, Jill Treanor (9/11/09)
Kraft plays long game in Cadbury pursuit Reuters (9/11/09)
Cadbury rejects hostile Kraft bid BBC News (9/11/09)
Kraft facing 5pm deadline in battle for Cadbury Guardian, Julia Kollewa and Elena Moya (9/11/09)
Strong sales rise boosts Cadbury BBC News (21/10/09)
Cadbury rejects £9.8bn hostile bid from Kraft Guardian, Julia Kollewe (9/11/09)
Kraft may offer more cash in bid for Cadbury Telegraph, Amy Wilson (4/11/09)
Paulson raises Cadbury stake Guardian, Nick Fletcher(11/11/09)
Unilever rule out Cadbury bid as sales beat forecasts Telegraph, Amy Wilson (5/11/09)
Cadbury’s fight for independence BBC News, Edwin Lane (24/12/09)
- Kraft is looking to expand by taking over Cadbury. What type of takeover would you classify this as and what do you think Kraft’s motives are for this takeover bid?
- If Kraft is successful, what are the likely advantages and disadvantages for (a) consumers of Cadbury chocolate; (b) shareholders of Kraft; (c) shareholders of Cadbury; (d) competitiors?
- Cadbury has said that the £9.8bn bid was ‘derisory’. How will Kraft have decided on the price it’s willing to offer and what factors are likely to influence this?
- John Paulson has raised his stake in Cadbury by purchasing another 6.3m shares. What effect do you think this will have on Cadbury’s share price and why? Does this make the takeover by Kraft more or less likely?
- Is there a role for the Competition Commission in this possible takeover? If so, why; and if not, why not?
- Cadbury has reported a boost in sales. What effect will this have on the takeover bid from Kraft? Why has this sales boost caused Unilever to pull out?
In February 2009, the world’s largest concert ticket agency, Ticketmaster, and the world’s largest concert promoter, Live Nation, announced that they intended to merge. The deal would have been worth around £550 million. This immediately sparked concerns that the new company would have such power in the market that ticket prices would rise. On 10 June 2009, the Office of Fair Trading, in line with the 2002 Enterprise Act, referred the proposed merger to the Competition Commission.
On 8 October 2009, the Competition Commission published its preliminary findings that “the creation of that situation may be expected to result in a substantial lessening of competition (SLC) in the UK market for the primary retailing of tickets for live music events”. The following articles look at the findings and the competition issues. You will also find links below to the Competition Commission press release and the Provisional Findings Report.
Competition body opposes Ticketmaster and Live Nation merger Guardian (8/10/09)
Competition watchdog vetoes Ticketmaster deal Times Online (8/10/09)
The Competition Commission has ruled against the proposed Ticketmaster / Live Nation merger MusicWeek (8/10/09)
British Regulator Objects to Ticketmaster Merger New York Times (8/10/09)
See also the following documents from the Competition Commission:
Provisional findings report
- How would the proposed merger benefit the two companies concerned?
- How would it affect CTS (the second largest ticket agent in the world)?
- From the consumer’s perspective, what would be the potential advantages and disadvantages of the merger?
- What additional evidence would the Competition Commission require to make its final judgment?