Everyone who drives in the UK is required to take out car insurance. Whilst fully comprehensive is voluntary, it is compulsory to have at least third party insurance, which covers damage to other vehicles. Insurance premiums are calculated based on a number of different variables, such that two people driving the same car may face wildly different costs.
Although there are many insurance companies to choose from, this industry has been referred to the Competition Commission by the OFT as it was ‘worried the structure of the market was making costs and premiums unnecessarily high.’
According to Moneysupermarket, the average cost of car insurance reached a high of £554 in April 2011, but have fallen by £76 since. With tight incomes across the UK for many families, high car insurance premiums is another strain and thus this investigation will come at an apt time, even though the findings of the CC may not be reported for 2 years. The Association of British Insurers (ABI) said that the investigation would:
‘bring much-needed reforms to the market that will, in turn, result in lower car insurance premiums for consumers’.
The problem seems to be that when an individual is involved in an accident and sends their car off for repairs, their insurance company doesn’t have much control over the bills they end up paying, which can be inflated by £155 each time. This therefore leads into higher costs for the insurance company, which are then passed on the driver in the form of an increased premium. Other concerns were that courtesy cars were being offered, at an estimated cost of £560 per vehicle (according to the OFT) and that drivers were using these cars for longer than necessary, once again causing costs to rise.
Altogether, it has been suggested that the actions of the insurance company of ‘not-at-fault’ drivers, car hire companies, repairers and brokers push up the prices for ‘at-fault’ drivers’ insurance companies. Given that any insurance company is just as likely to be the ‘at-fault’ insurance company, they all face rising costs.
Back in May, the OFT had already decided that the car insurance market required a more detailed investigation, because of the ‘dysfunctionality’ of the market. Following a public consultation, the industry will now face an investigation by the CC. One additional area that may be of interest to the CC came to light last year, where it was found that insurance companies were claiming against themselves in a bid to drive up premiums. Although the investigation will take some time, it is still a timely review for many drivers, who have seen the cost of motoring reach record highs. The following articles consider the market for car insurance.
Car insurance market referred to Competition Commission BBC News (28/9/12)
No quick fix for motor insurance abuses, says watchdog Independent, Simon Read (29/9/12)
Car insurance industry faces probe The Press Association (28/9/12)
Competition Commission referral will take time to lower motor insurance premiums The Telegraph, Rosie Murray-West (28/9/12)
UK car insurance probe over-shadows Direct Line IPO Reuters, Matt Scuffham and Myles Neligan (28/9/12)
Car insurance scrutinized over high premiums Sky News (28/9/12)
Rip-off motor insurance firms face competition watchdogs probe over £225million racket Mail Online, Ray Massey (28/9/12)
- Why are car insurance firms willing to take on other people’s risks?
- What conditions must exist in a market for private companies to provide acr insurance (or insurance of any kind)?
- Why is third-party insurance compulsory, whereas people can opt for fully comprehensive insurance?
- What powers does (a) the OFT and (b) the Competition Commission have? Is it likely that this report will have any impact on car insurance premiums?
- What allegations have been made that help to explain why insurance premiums I this industry have increased?
- Is there an argument for allowing the industry itself to provide its own regulation?
- In which market structure would you place the car insurance industry?
Oligopoly: it’s a complex market structure and although closer to the monopoly end of the ‘Market Structure Spectrum’, it can still be a highly competitive market. The characteristics are well-documented and key to the degree of competition within any oligopoly is the number of competitors and extent to which there are barriers to entry.
The greater the barriers and the fewer the competitors the greater the power the established firms have. This can then spell trouble for pricing and hence for consumers. The following articles are just some examples of the oligopolies that exist around the world and some of the benefits and problems that accompany them.
Oligopoly of PSU oil cos reason for high ATF prices The Indian Express, Smita Aggarwal (30/4/12)
Group energy buying hits the UK headlines Spend Matters UK/Europe(18/1/11)
German cartel office probes petrol companies on pricing Fox Business (4/4/12)
Gov’t unveils steps to lower fuel prices Yonhap News (19/4/12)
How big banks threaten our economy Wall Street Journal, Warren Stephens (29/4/12)
UK Governance: Call for Whitehall to simplify the landscape for SME suppliers to win more government contracts The Information Daily (26/4/12)
Pumping up the price: fuel cartels in Germany April 2012
Energy profit margins up by over 700% October 2011
Every basket helps October 2011
The art of oligopoly December 2010
- What are the assumptions of an oligopolistic market structure?
- Consider (a) the energy sector and (b) the banking sector. To what extent does each market conform with the assumptions of an oligopoly?
- In the ‘Spend Matters’ article, a group of people in a Lincolnshire village formed a local buying consortium to negotiate deals for heating oil. What could we refer to this as?
- To what extent is an oligopoly in the public interest?
- Explain how barriers to entry in oligopolies affect the competitiveness and efficiency of a market.
- Illustrate how an oligopolistic market structure can fix prices and hence exploit consumers.
- How have the actions of the big oil companies in both the UK and Germany been against independent retailers and the consumer interest?
- What action can governments take to break up oligopolies? Will it always be effective?
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)
- Into which market structure would you place the above industry? Explain your answer.
- Which factors have caused C&WW’s worsening position? In each case, explain whether they are internal or external influences.
- What type of merger is that between C&WW and Vodafone?
- Explain some of the motives behind this merger.
- Which factors have caused these two companies to have such different trading performances in the last 15 years?
- Why was the announcement of the bid followed by better share prices for C&WW?
- Is there any reason why the competition authorities should be concerned about this merger?
It’s not the first retailer to go into administration and it won’t be the last, but the well-known high street retailer Peacocks will continue to trade for the foreseeable future thanks to Edinburgh Woolen Mill.
The administrators were called in at the beginning of 2012, as Peacocks total debt reach £750 million and it was unable to restructure £240 million of this debt. Edinburgh Woollen Mill has bought the company out of administration, protecting 6000 jobs in the UK. However, at the same time more than 3000 workers will be made redundant, as 224 stores cease trading.
Throughout the recession, retailers across the UK have been struggling, as household incomes have remained low, causing consumer spending to fall. One of the administrators from KMPG, commented that:
‘This (the low consumer demand), combined with a surplus of stores and unsustainable capital structure, led to the business becoming financially unviable.’
The coming months will be crucial in determining whether more jobs are lost and if there are any further store closures. Much hinges on the ability of Edinburgh Woollen Mill to stabilize the financial performance of Peacocks and stimulate renewed customer demand. The following articles consider this take-over.
Peacocks closes 19 Ulster stores with 263 job losses Belfast Telegraph (23/2/12)
Peacocks Takeover: Edinburgh Woollen Mill buy retailer but 3,100 jobs lost BBC News (including video) (22/2/12)
Peacocks piqued by PIKs Guardian, Nils Pratley (22/2/12)
Edinburgh Woollen Mill buys Peacocks Independent, James Thompson (23/2/12)
Peacocks sold to Edinburgh Woollen Mill – KPMG The Wall Street Journal, Jessica Hodgson (23/2/12)
- Why has consumer demand in the retails sector fallen during the recession?
- What type of take-over would you classify this as?
- Who are Peacocks’ main competitors? In which market structure would you place the retail sector? Explain your answer.
- The Guardian article refers to the Management-buy-out of Peacocks in 2005. What is a management-buy-out? What were the problems associated with it?
- What are the problems that have been identified as causing Peacocks to go into administration?
- To what extent do you think the Management-buy-out of 2005 is the main reason why Peacocks has fallen into administration?
We frequently hear about two companies merging with each other, whether for certainty, market share or economies of scale. However, in this case, we’re looking at a de-merging of one company to create two companies. Foster’s will be split to create two stand-alone companies.
With Foster’s retaining its beer business, a new company called Treasury Wine Estates will take over its ailing wine division. This split comes after 99% of investors cast their votes in favour of the split. The future profitability of this demerger is uncertain and how the stocks of the two separate companies trade in the coming months will give a clear indication of whether or not this divorce is the right move.
Foster’s votes to split beer and wine business Telegraph, Richard Fletcher and Jonathan Sibun (29/4/11)
Investors agree to split Foster’s into beer, wine units BBC News (29/4/11)
Two halves: Foster’s to split its beer and wine operations Mail Online (29/4/11)
Foster’s wine-beer demerger to clarify divisions’ value The Australian (30/4/11)
- What type of de-merger could we call this?
- How do you think the share prices of the 2 separated companies will fare following the de-merger?
- How concentrated is the beer and wine market? What effect will the de-merger have?
- In the BBC News article, Donald Williams says ‘The wine business needs a better pricing environment before it is likely to perform.’ What does this mean?
- Why has the wine division been a financial drain for so long?