Category: Essential Economics for Business: Ch 05

Transfer pricing is a technique used by multinational companies to avoid tax liabilities in countries they regard as having high levels of taxation. The articles below from the Guardian give the results of an investigation by Guardian journalists into the elaborate structures that have been created by multinational companies in the banana industry to funnel their profits through tax havens like the Cayman Islands, Bermuda and the British Virgin Islands. In some cases they have paid an effective tax rate as low as 8% when the tax rate in their home country is 35%.

Revealed: how multinational companies avoid the taxman Guardian (6/11/07)
Bananas to UK via the Channel islands? It pays for tax reasons Guardian (6/11/07)
‘I get up at 4am, work to 6-7pm – it doesn’t feel like a life’ Guardian (6/11/07)

Questions

1. Define the term ‘transfer pricing’.
2. Explain how multinational banana companies use transfer pricing to reduce their tax liabilities.
3. “The trend in the last 30 years has been to shift the burden of tax away from companies on to the consumer and labour. Capital is increasingly going untaxed.” Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of this shift in the method of taxation.

British Airways has been fined £270m for their part in a price-fixing cartel. Fines were levied by both the US Department of Justice and the UK Office of Fair Trading following an agreement between British Airways and Virgin to fix the level of surcharges charged to passengers as a result of rising fuel prices.

Where’s Branson’s apology? BBC News Online (Robert Peston blog) (7/8/07)
BA’s price-fix fine reaches £270m BBC News Online (1/8/07)
OFT defends ‘snitch’ policy Guardian (5/8/07)
BA boss speaks out over price fixing Guardian (3/8/07)
How arch rivals colluded to hike up cost of air travel Guardian (2/8/07)

Questions

1. Define what is meant by the term ‘price-fixing cartel’.
2. Explain the characteristics of a market that are most likely to result in a cartel.
3. Discuss policies that the government could put in place to prevent this kind of price-fixing arising in the future..

Reading the first article linked to below, you may be forgiven for thinking that farming has moved into the realms of science fiction. Dairy farming has moved determinedly into the era of technology and now benefits from extensive economies of scale with much higher productivity levels than even a decade ago. Yet 3000 dairy farmers are planning to leave the industry in the next two years and even the largest farms are struggling to make money. The processing sector has become significantly more concentrated and margins are being squeezed ever further by the power of the supermarkets, so has the market become unbalanced with too much power in the hands of supermarkets and processors?

Rising prices, failing farms. The strange story of milk Guardian (24/4/07)
Why British dairy farming is in crisis Guardian (24/5/07)

Questions

1. Describe the market structure of the milk industry.
2. Discuss the extent to which this market structure has changed the level of prices in the market for milk in recent years.
3. Evaluate possible measures that governments could implement to make the market for milk more competitive.

Passenger groups have reacted angrily to the raising of off-peak fares by South West Trains by around 20% on many journeys. The train company has increased unregulated fares significantly where there is little competition, but appears to have limited the increases on journeys where there is competition. Is this an abuse of their monopoly position?

Train firm accused of abusing monopoly Times Online (8/5/07)
Price hike angers train watchdog BBC News Online (8/5/07)


Questions
1. Discuss the extent to which South West Trains has a monopoly on its rail journeys.
2. Using diagrams as appropriate, show the reasons why South West Trains has chosen to increase off-peak prices by as much as 20%.
3. Discuss the likely value of the price elasticity of demand for off-peak rail journeys. To what extent will this have influenced South West Trains’ pricing decision?

The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) is to set up an investigation into the reality of ‘free banking’ to establish whether greater transparency in charging would benefit consumers. The articles linked to below consider the scope of this investigation and look at what some consider the ‘myth’ of free banking.

OFT probe into bank charges could mean end of ‘free banking’ The Scotsman (27/4/07)
‘Free’ banking could end as overdraft charges challenged Guardian (27/4/07)
Watchdog probes cost of banking BBC News Online (27/4/07)
Charges inquiry may spell end of free banking Telegraph (28/4/07)
OFT considers ending ‘free’ banking Times Online (27/4/07)
Q&A: Banking investigation and you BBC News Online (26/4/07)
Calling banks’ bluff BBC News Online – Robert Peston blog (26/4/07)
Free banking ‘myth’ to be probed Guardian (26/4/07)

Questions

1. Explain the reason why some people consider free banking to be a ‘myth’.
2. Examine the likely impact of the market structure in the market for banking on the level of competition.
3. Assess two policies that the government could implement to ensure that consumers get a fairer deal from their banks.