Category: Essential Economics for Business: Ch 05

Dutch brewers including Heineken and Grolsch have been fined a total of nearly £185m between them for stifling competition and sharing price information with the intention of fixing prices. This cartel was discovered by EU investigators and the fine has been imposed by the EU competition commission.

Dutch brewers fined over cartel BBC News Online (18/4/07)
Beer makers fined in Dutch price probe Business Week (18/4/07)
EU fines Heineken for fixing beer prices Business Week (18/4/07)
Heineken and Grolsch fined for price-fixing Guardian (18/4/07)
Heineken fined 219m euro for fixing beer prices Times Online (18/4/07)

Questions

1. Explain the conditions required for a cartel to develop.
2. Explain the methods used by the brewing firms to fix prices in the beer market.
3. Evaluate two policies that could be used by the EU competition commission to try to prevent cartels reemerging in the future in the brewing industry.

In what is being heralded as a historic deal, the EU has reached agreement with the USA on what is termed an ‘open skies’ deal. This will allow EU-based airlines to fly from anywhere in Europe to anywhere in the USA and US carriers can operate to any European destination. So what will this deal mean for travellers, the environment and the airlines. The articles below look at the issues and also at the detail of the agreement, which still maintains many of the previous limitations on airlines and their ownership.

EU backing for ‘open skies’ deal BBC News Online (22/3/07)
Q&A: Open skies BBC News Online (22/3/07)
EU agrees open skies deal Guardian (22/3/07)
Open skies: Q&A Guardian (22/3/07)
Transatlantic fares set to tumble after ‘open skies’ deal Times Online(22/3/07)

Questions

1. What criteria should be used to assess the success of the ‘open skies’ deal?
2. Assess the extent to which the ‘open skies’ deal will increase the level of competition in the transatlantic market for air travel.
3. Discuss the options available to the EU to increase competition further in the market for air travel.

A recent report from the Office of Fair Trading has argued that the NHS may be paying up to £500m too much for branded medicines for drugs companies and has recommended reforms to the system. The Pharmaceutical Price Regulation Scheme (PPRS) sets a cap on the profits that any drug company can earn on branded medicines from the NHS and the OFT is recommending changes to the system. They argued that there are “a number of drugs where prices are significantly out of line with patient benefits”.

NHS ‘spending £500m a year too much on drugs’ Guardian (20/2/07)
NHS paying too much for drugs BBC News Online (20/2/07)
Drugs giants to be told to ‘cut prices for NHS’ Times Online (20/2/07)
NHS ‘overspending by millions’ on drugs Telegraph (20/2/07)
Drugs price fixing scheme costs health service millions, says OFT Guardian (20/2/07)
Drugs buddies Guardian – comment is free blog (20/2/07)
Prescribing prices BBC News Online – Robert Peston blog (20/2/07)

Questions

1. Explain the way in which prices for branded drugs are determined.
2. Assess the extent to which the PPRS represents a price-fixing scheme.
3. Discuss the policies that the government could put in place to implement the OFT recommendations.

Have you ever had a drink or packet of peanuts from a hotel minibar and then regretted being tempted when you saw the price on checkout? If things like minibars and internet access are so over-priced in hotels, then how can they get away with it? Why do people pay these amounts and what can economics tell us about this pricing behaviour?

Minibar economics MSN Slate (17/2/07)

Questions

1. Explain the reasoning behind hotel pricing strategies for rooms and minibars.
2. Discuss the impact of competition on hotel pricing strategies for rooms and extras like minibars and internet access.
3. Examine the reasons why more companies do not do “advertising campaigns boasting about their what-you-see-is-what-you-get pricing”.

Try having a browse around the web for the price of an 8GB iPod Nano. How much variation can you find in price? It is almost certainly the case that you will find very little variation in price. So, why is this? Is it that Apple have such dominance over the market that they can force retailers to charge the price they want? Well no, they can’t. However, they do have some interesting marketing strategies that help them maintain the price at the level they want. The article below looks at these and the implications for retailers and the market price of these strategies.

Gadgets for sale… or not MSN Slate (22/12/06)

Questions

1. Explain what is meant by the term ‘price dispersion’.
2. Explain how Apple manage to keep the price of iPods from falling below a certain level.
3. Discuss the impact on competition of using minimum advertised price and marketing subsidies as tools to maintain the desired market price.