Category: Economics for Business: 8e Ch 14

Banks appearing in the news has become commonplace in the past year or so. Everyday, there has been something newsworthy happening in the banking sector, whether in the UK or abroad. A recent development in this sector is Barclays agreeing to sell its fund management division, BGI, to Blackrock for £8.2 billion. Barclays says that there are strategic reasons for the sale, which undoubtedly add to the 8.2 billion other reasons. This deal will put the bank in a strong position to make acquisitions next year in creating the world’s biggest asset manager. It will also allow Barclays to weather any further storms on the horizon. The articles below look at recent developments.

Blackrock in £8.2 billion Barclays deal BBC News (12/6/09)
Blackrock and a hardplace The Economist (12/6/09)
Bob Diamond: The builder of Barclays Telegraph, Louise Armitstead (13/6/09)
Barclays offloads fund management business BGI to Blackrock for £13.5 billion Telegraph, James Quinn (12/6/09)
Inside Look: Blackrock buys Barclays fund unit for $13.5 billion Bloomberg, youtube (12/6/09)
Sovereign wealth funds back BlackRock move to acquire Barclaysd Global Investors Telegraph, Louise Armitstead, James Quinn (12/6/09)
Blackrock targets Barclays firm BBC News (8/6/09)

Questions

  1. What are the ‘strategic reasons’ behind Barclays’ decision to sell its fund management division?
  2. The Blackrock and a hardplace article talks about the benefits of economies of scale. What does it mean by this?
  3. What are the advantages and disadvantages of combining fund management with banking and creating such a large business?
  4. Given that Barclays’ fund management, BGI is a successful part of its business, does their agreement to sell it put them in a stronger position?
  5. What will be the likely impact of this deal on the economy? Consider who will be (a) the winners and (b) the losers.

The traditional macroeconomic issues are well-known: unemployment, inflation, economic growth and the balance of payments. However, the environment, and specifically climate change, have become increasingly important objectives for the global economy. Over recent months, many countries have announced new policies and measures to tackle climate change.

The costs of not tackling climate change are well-documented, but what about the costs of actually tackling it? Why is a changing climate receiving such attention and what are the economics behind this problem? The articles below consider this important issue.

Tougher climate target unveiled BBC News (16/10/08)
Brown proposes £60 billion climate fund BBC News (26/6/09)
EU says tackling climate change will cost global economy €400 billion a year Irish Times, Frank McDonald (26/6/09)
Obama makes 11th-hour climate change push Washington AFP, Ammenaul Parisse (25/6/09)
UK to outline emission cut plans BBC News (26/6/09)
What’s new in the EU: EU examines impact of climate change on jobs The Jerusalem Post, Ari Syrquin (25/6/09)
Climate change: reducing risks and costs The Chronicle Herald, Jennifer Graham (25/6/09)
Obama to regulate ‘pollutant’ CO2 BBC News (17/4/09)
Billions face climate change risk BBC News (6/5/07)
Obama vows investment in science BBC News (27/4/09)
Japan sets ‘weak’ climate target BBC News (10/6/09)

Questions

  1. Why is climate change an example of market failure?
  2. Apart from imposing limits on emissions, what other interventionist policies could be used? What are the advantages and disadvantages of each of them?
  3. According to the EU, the cost of tackling climate change is very high. So, why are we doing it? See if you can carry out a cost-benefit analysis!
  4. Why is climate change presenting a problem for insurance companies? Can it be overcome?
  5. Why is finance such an issue between developed and developing countries in relation to tackling climate change?
  6. What is the likely impact of climate changing policies on the labour market? Will we be able to adapt in the current economic crisis?

Many industries are struggling in the current climate and, in particular, car sales have been at an all time low. General Motors was the biggest car company in the world, but recently we have seen them becoming the biggest industrial bankruptcy, which will have consequences for many car manufacturers around the world. UK car sales were 25% lower in May 2009 than at the same time last year and Chrysler will sell most of their assets to Fiat when they form a strategic alliance in a bid to help them exit bankruptcy protection.

The troubles of the carmakers have passed up the production chain to automotive suppliers, component manufacturers and engineering firms, and down the chain to the dealerships at a time when consumer confidence has taken a knock. The following articles look at some of the recent developments in the car industry and consider their likely economic impact.

UK new car sales 25% lower in May BBC News (4/6/09)
Creditors cry foul at Chrysler precedent The Wall Street Journal, Ashby Jones, Mike Spector (13/6/09)
The decline and fall of General Motors The Economist (4/6/09)
GM pensioner’s fears for future BBC News (1/6/09)
Opel staff face wait for job news BBC News (2/6/09)
From biggest car maker to biggest bankruptcy BBC News (1/6/09)
GM sales executive lays out company’s direction Chicago Tribune, Bill Vidonic (14/6/09)
Chrysler and Fiat complete deal BBC News (10/6/09)
Fiat gambles on Chrysler turnaround Telegraph, Roland Gribben (1/6/09)
Obama taskforce faces Congress over car industry rescue Times Online, Christine Seib (10/6/09)
Has pledge of assistance revved up the car industry? EDP24, Paul Hill (10/6/09)

Questions

  1. What is a strategic alliance and how should it help Chrysler?
  2. What are some of the methods that governments have used to help stimulate the car industry? Consider their advantages and disadvantages.
  3. Think about the consequences beyond the car industry of the decline of General Motors. Who is likely to suffer? Will there be any winners?
  4. General Motors was established in 1908. How were they able to expand so quickly and what do you think are the main reasons for their current decline?
  5. The article in The Economist suggests that, despite the current problems in the car industry and the global recession, selling cars will never really be a problem. What do you think are the reasons for this?

Are businesses concerned solely with profits or sales, or do they take broader social objectives into account? Is ‘corporate social responsibility’ (CSR) a key part of their decision-making? In other words, do they care about the welfare of their employees, about being honest with shareholders and customers, about being energy efficient and non-polluting and about caring for local communities? In general, do they make a genuine attempt to be ethical? One view is that they should do this because, in the end, it’s profitable to do so. Another view is that they should be socially responsible because they have a duty to be so.

In the current economic climate, CSR is being tested. Is CSR something that should be inextricably part of everything a firm does? Or is it a luxury that can be dispensed with when times get tough? The first article below looks at this issue and comes to a fairly optimistic conclusion. The other articles look at approaches to CSR in various countries.

A stress test for good intentions The Economist (14/5/09)
The Future of CSR: 2009 report CSR Asia (05/09) (This may take a little while to load: try right clicking and saving it before opening)
CSR efforts score well in trusted brand poll BusinessMirror (Philippines) (29/5/09)
Minister Presents Corporate Responsibility Index Awards Australia.TO (28/5/09)
CSRwire Welcomes New Members to its Global Network of CSR News and Information CRSwire (27/5/09)
Straight Talk about Corporate Social Responsibility The Huffington Post (13/5/09)
Social Responsibility WA Today
See also the UK government’s CSR site Corporate Social Responsibility
and Business in the Community’s Corporate Responsibility Index

Questions

  1. Explain how self-interest can go some way to making companies more socially responsible.
  2. Why may the free market fail to provide the optimum level of CSR?
  3. To what extent does the current recession threaten CSR? Are there any ways in which it could encourage companies to be more socially responsible?

The following articles look at a recently published book by George Akerlof of the University of California, Berkeley, and Robert Shiller of Yale. They examine the role of what Keynes called ‘animal spirits’ and is the title of the book.

The motivation to make economic decisions (to buy, to sell, to invest, etc) may not be ‘rational’ in the sense of carefully weighing up marginal costs and marginal benefits. Rather it can be one of over-optimism in good times or over-pessimism in bad times. Just as individuals have ‘mood swings’, so there can be collective mood swings too. After all, confidence, or lack of it, is contagious. This motivation that drives people to action is what is meant by animal spirits.

But are animal spirits a blessing to be nurtured or a curse to be reined in? Should governments seek to constrain them?

An economic bestiary The Economist (26/3/09)
Good Government and Animal Spirits Wall Street Journal (23/4/09)
Irrational Exuberance New York Times (17/4/09)
Animal Spirits: A Q&A With George Akerlof Freakonomics: New York Times blog (30/4/09)

Questions

  1. Describe what is meant by ‘animal spirits’ and their effects on human behaviour.
  2. Why may animal spirits make economies less stable?
  3. How may animal spirits help to explain exchange rate overshooting?
  4. Discuss whether governments should seek to constrain animal spirits and make people more ‘rational’? Also consider what methods governments could/should use to do this?