Category: Essentials of Economics: 8e Ch 06

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.

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.