Petrol prices have been a bone of contention for some time. With household incomes remaining low and the cost of living rising, the fact that average petrol prices have reached their highest level of more than 1.37p per litre on average will undoubtedly put growing pressure on the approaching budget.
There have already been calls for the Chancellor to reduce fuel duty and with this latest data, the pressure will only mount. The problem is, if fuel duty does fall, so will tax revenues and as one of the Coalition’s key objectives has been to cut the budget deficit, this could pose further problems. Even the calls to cut VAT on fuel will also put a dent in the budget deficit.
Although everyone is undoubtedly feeling the effects of these higher prices, the key thing with petrol is its elasticity of demand. Whether the price of petrol was 0.90p or 1.37p per litre, I continue to buy the same amount. Therefore, for me, the price elasticity of demand for petrol is highly inelastic – at least between those prices. After all, if the price increase above say £3 per litre, I might think twice about driving to work!
So what has been driving this increase in prices? Petrol prices are hugely dependent on the cost of oil and on the demand for any product that uses fuel. With growing demand from countries like India and China, as they continue to develop and grow very quickly; the continuing concerns with Iran’s nuclear programme and the political problems in the Middle East, oil prices have been forced up. The future trend in prices will depend on many factors, not least whether or not there is any change in fuel duty in the 2012 budget and whether something like a regulator is introduced to monitor increases in fuel prices. This is definitely an area to pay close attention to in the coming months.
Petrol prices reach record high Independent, Peter Woodman (3/3/12)
Petrol prices hit record high with further rises expected Guardian, Hilary Osborne (2/3/12)
Appeak to regulate petrol prices This is South Wales (3/3/12)
Plea to slash duty as fuel costs soar to record high Scotsman, Alastair Dalton (3/3/12)
Petrol prices hit record high The Telegraph, David Millward (2/3/12)
Diesel prices predicted to reach 150p as petrol hits new record Guardian, Terry Macalister and Hilary Osborne (2/3/12)
- Which are the factors on the demand side that have pushed up the price of oil and hence petrol and diesel?
- What are the supply-side factors that are causing the rising price of fuel?
- Use a demand and supply diagram to illustrate the effects you have explained in the first two questions.
- In the blog, I mention that my price elasticity of demand is relatively inelastic between 2 given prices. What does this suggest about the shape of my demand curve for petrol? How does this shape affect prices following any change in demand or supply?
- Why is petrol a relatively price inelastic product?
- There have been calls for the government to cut VAT or reduce fuel duty. What are the arguments for and against these policies?
- How effective do you think a petrol price regulator would be?
With pressure on household incomes, many have had to forego spending on luxuries and travel is seen by many as just that – a luxury they can no longer afford. Add on to this some unexpected external shocks and it’s unsurprising to see a company such as Thomas Cook, the second largest holiday business in the world, in talks with banks. It provides some 19 million holidays per year, but has seen a relatively rapid deterioration in its finances.
Its debts total in September 2011 was some £900 million and the value of the company has declined significantly in recent times. However, the most notable decline has been since it emerged that Thomas Cook was in talks with its banks in preparation for tougher times to come. It is hoping to receive £100 million from a range of banks including HSBC and Lloyds, but on this news Thomas Cook share prices fell by some 75%. However, Thomas Cook has said that the company is simply requesting money as a cushion and that it is not in a desperate financial situation. As the Acting Chief Executive, Sam Weihagen said, ‘I think investors should have confidence in Thomas Cook’.
Many factors have contributed towards Thomas Cook’s current situation – volcanic ash clouds, political unrest and unkind weather, but also some internal strategic decisions, such as their continued focus on package holidays, despite the fact that data suggests 2 in 3 people that go to Spain (a popular package destination) are actually not on a typical package holiday. The key thing with travel is that it is very much based on confidence (as we have also seen with the banking sector). If confidence in a company declines, people stop booking holidays with them and so further financial issues are created. This issue is even more significant when a well known brand name, such as Thomas Cook is the company in trouble. Nothing else makes such great headlines as a well known brand in trouble. So, should holiday makers be concerned? The following articles consider the situation that Thomas Cook faces.
Thomas Cook makes it hard to see the funny side Telegraph, Alistair Osborne (22/11/11)
Thomas Cook dives on bank talks BBC News (22/11/11)
How Thomas Cook shares dive 75% on new of bank talks BBC News (22/11/11)
Thomas Cook reassures holiday makers after shares plunge Guardian, Simon Bowers and Patrick Collinson (22/11/11)
Thomas Cook risks customer exodus during bank talks after stock plunges Bloomberg, Armorel Kenna and David Altaner (23/11/11)
Fears for Thomas Cook after shares sink 75% Independent, James Thompson (23/11/11)
Thomas Cook shares crash after default warning Reuters, Matt Scuffham (22/11/11)
- Explain the reason why share prices have fallen for Thomas Cook. Use a diagram showing the demand and supply of shares to support your explanation.
- Distinguish between the internal and external factors that have contributed to Thomas Cook’s current position.
- Under which aspect of PEST and STEEPLE analysis would you place the above influences?
- In the Telegraph article, an industry source says: ‘In a business like this you need a very conservative capital structure because you don’t know what’s going to come and bite you.’ What is meant by ‘a very conservative capital structure’?
- What action can Thomas Cook take to try to improve its current financial position? Think about both costs and revenues.
- What type of good would you class a holiday as? Based on this, what sort of figure would you place on the income elasticity of demand for holidays?
- How likely do you think it is that other travel companies are also experiencing similar financial issues to Thomas Cook?
The total EU budget in 2010 was €123 billion. Just under half of this (€58 billion) was spent on supporting agriculture. The programme of support – the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) – has changed over the years. For a start, despite its being a large proportion of the EU budget, this proportion has actually been falling. In 1980, the CAP accounted for 69% of the EU budget; in 1990 it was 60%; in 2000 it was 52%; in 2010 it was 47%.
The types of support have also changed. The main method in the past was effectively to set minimum prices for various foodstuffs and for Intervention Boards to buy up any surpluses that arose from such prices being above the market equilibrium. Massive food ‘mountains’ resulted. Sometimes these surpluses were dumped on the world market; sometimes they were thrown away; sometimes they were simply kept in storage. Export subsidies and import levies (taxes) were also used to reduce surpluses. This, of course, was highly damaging to farmers in many countries outside the EU, especially in various primary exporting developing countries.
Reforms have taken place in recent years. The most important has been to replace high intervention prices with direct payments to farmers unrelated to current output. Whilst such payments still provide a substantial outgoing from the EU budget, being unrelated to current output, they do not encourage farmers to produce more and thus do not generate surpluses. Prices in most cases are allowed to be determined by the market.
The EU has just announced further reforms. These include:
• Capping total CAP spending at current levels until 2020
• Capping the total payment to any one farm to €300,000
• Relating subsidies to acreage rather than previous output
• Making 30% of the direct payments dependent on farmers meeting environmental criteria.
The following videos and articles examine the proposals and assess their likely benefits, their likely drawbacks and their likelihood of being implemented.
EU plans to reform Common Agricultural Policy for farmers BBC News, Jeremy Cooke (12/10/11)
EU unveils controversial agricultural reforms Euronews (12/10/11)
Towards a new Common Agricultural Policy Euronews (14/10/11)
Queen to lose out in shake up of Europe’s farm payments Channel 4 News (12/10/11)
Cautious welcome for EU agriculture policy shake-up STV News (12/10/11)
CAP reform proposals YouTube, Dacian Cioloş, European Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development (in French with English subtitles) (12/10/11)
EU farm chief: CAP plans represent profound reform Reuters, Charlie Dunmore (12/10/11)
UK to dismiss Common Agricultural Policy reforms as inadequate Guardian, David Gow (11/10/11)
EU Farm Policy Debate Pits Top Receiver France Against U.K. Bloomberg Businessweek, Rudy Ruitenberg (12/10/11)
EU plans CAP reforms for ‘greener’ farm subsidies BBC News (12/10/11)
Common Agriculture Policy farm subsidy plan unveiled BBC News (12/10/11)
Q&A: Reform of EU farm policy BBC News (12/10/11)
CAP reform: Shepherd and steward of the land BBC News, Jeremy Cooke (12/10/11)
EU agriculture policy ‘still hurting farmers in developing countries’ Guardian: Poverty Matters blog, Mark Tran (11/10/11)
EU aid to farmers to continue over next decade Financial Times, Joshua Chaffin (12/10/11)
CAP Reform – an explanation of the main elements Europa Press Release (12/10/11)
The European Commission proposes a new partnership between Europe and the farmers European Commission Press Release (12/10/11)
EU farm policy after 2013: Commission proposals welcomed with reservations European Parliament Press Release (12/10/11)
Legal proposals for the CAP after 2013 European Commission: Agriculture and Rural Development (12/10/11)
- Explain why the old system of price support under the CAP led to food surpluses. Use a diagram to illustrate your analysis.
- What is the significance of price elasticity of demand and supply in determining the size of these surpluses?
- What reforms have been introduced to the CAP in recent years? What effects have these had?
- Explain the new proposals for the CAP after 2013.
- What are the likely benefits of these proposals?
- What are the likely drawbacks of the proposals?
The National Minimum Wage is a rate applied to most workers in the UK and is their minimum hourly entitlement. For adults over the age of 21, it has recently been increased to £6.08 – 15p rise. Rises have also been seen for 18-20 year olds, 16 and 17 year olds and apprentices. Undoubtedly this is good news for workers receiving the minimum wage, but what does it mean for firms and national unemployment data?
Market wages are determined by the interaction of the demand and supply of labour and when they are in equilibrium, the only unemployment in the economy will be equilibrium unemployment, namely frictional or structural. However, when the wage rate is forced above the equilibrium wage rate, disequilibrium unemployment may develop. At a wage above the equilibrium the supply of labour will exceed the demand for labour and the excess is unemployment. Furthermore, firms are already facing difficult times with the economic climate: sales remain relatively low, but costs are still high. By increasing the national minimum wage, firms will face higher labour costs and this may discourage them from taking on new workers, but may also force them into laying off existing workers.
It is hoped that the size of the increases will help low paid workers, as costs of living continue to rise, but won’t cause firms to reduce their labour force. This is one reason, in particular, why the increase in the minimum wage for young workers is smaller than that for adults. Youth unemployment is relatively high and so it is essential that firms keep these workers on, despite their increased costs.
Although the TUC has welcomed the increases in the National Minimum Wage, saying they will benefit some 900,000 workers, the General Secretary of Unison has said that it isn’t high enough.
“The rise to £6.08 is a welcome cushion, but with the price of everyday essentials such as food, gas and electricity going up massively, it won’t lift enough working people out of the poverty trap.”
The following articles consider this issue.
Minimum wage rises by 15p to £6.08 an hour Telegraph (3/10/11)
Minimum wage up by 15p to £6.08 BBC News (1/10/11)
150,000 social care workers paid below legal minimum wage, research reveals Guardian, Shiv Malik (3/10/11)
Unions want £8 an hour minimum wage Press Association (1/10/11)
Hunderds of thousands of women to benefit as minimum wage hits the £6-an-hour mark for the first time Mail Online, Emma Reynolds (29/9/11)
Unions demand minimum wage of £8 an hour Telegraph (30/9/11)
Changes will benefit workers Sky News (2/10/11)
- Is the minimum wage an example of a price ceiling or a price floor?
- If the National Minimum Wage was imposed below the market equilibrium, what would be the effect?
- If imposed above the market wage rate, the National Minimum Wage may create unemployment. On which factors does the extent of unemployment depend?
- Why is it expected that female workers are likely to be the main ones to benefit? What does this say about gender inequality?
- Why does the General Secretary of Unison not believe the higher National Minimum Wage will help people out of the poverty trap?
- How will the National Minimum Wage affect a firm’s costs of production. Illustrate the likely impact on a diagram.
Are we heading for ‘perfect storm’ in commodity production and prices? Certainly the prices of many commodities have soared in recent months. These include the prices of foodstuffs such as dairy products, cooking oils and cereals, crude oil, cotton, metals and many other raw materials. The overall world commodity price index has risen by 28% in the past 12 months. The following are some examples of specific commodities:
Price rises in the 12 months to February 2011
• Wheat 62%
• Maize 59%
• Coffee 70%
• Beef 39%
• Sugar 46%
• Palm kernal oil 142%
• Soybean oil 50%
• All food price index 32%
• Crude oil 20%
• Cotton 132%
• Fine wool 55%
• Softwood timber 25%
• Iron ore 78%
• Copper 29%
• Tin 55%
• All metals index 58%
• Rubber 79%.
The problems are both short term and long term, and on both the demand and supply sides; and the effects will be at micro, macro and global levels. Some hard choices lie ahead.
The following webcast, articles and reports explore both the current position and look into the future to ask whether rising commodity prices are likely to continue or even accelerate.
The first link is to a BBC World Debate which considers the following issues: “Is scarcity of natural resources a serious challenge for developing and advanced economies? How great is the risk that scarcity might lead to conflict, both within and between nations? Might a scramble for resources lead to a retreat from globalisation and to greater protectionism?”
World Debate: Resources BBC World Debate, Louise Arbour, President and CEO, International Crisis Group; James Cameron, Global Agenda Council on Climate Change; He Yafei, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of China to the UN; Malini Mehra, Founder and CEO, Centre for Social Markets; Kevin Rudd, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Australia (19/1/11)
Global Food Prices Continue to Rise Reuters, Steve Savage (7/3/11)
The 2011 oil shock The Economist (3/3/11)
Global Food Prices Will Probably Be Sustained at Record This Year, UN Says Bloomberg, Supunnabul Suwannaki (9/3/11)
Food prices to stay high as oil costs, weather weigh livemint.com, Apornrath Phoonphongphiphat (9/3/11)
‘Perfect storm’ threatens agriculture in developing nations Manila Bulletin, Lilybeth G. Ison (9/3/11)
IMF sees no immediate respite from high food prices Commodity Online (7/3/11)
Drought, supply, speculation drive world food prices to record high NZ Catholic (8/3/11)
The Factors Affecting Global Food Prices Seeking Alpha, David Hunkar (7/3/11)
World food prices climb to record as UN sounds alarm on further shortages FnBnews (India), Rudy Ruitenberg (9/3/11)
Food crisis: It’s a moral issue for all of us New Straits Times (Malaysia), Rueben Dudley (8/3/11)
Oil prices: Green light from the black stuff Guardian (5/3/11)
Cotton hits $2 a pound Guardian, Terry Macalister (17/2/11)
Supermarkets are raising prices faster than inflation, says UBS The Telegraph, Philip Aldrick (1/3/11)
What next for commodity prices? BBC News, Jamie Robertson (5/5/11)
FAO Cereal Supply and Demand BriefFood & Agriculture Organization, United Nations (March 2011)
Rising Prices on the Menu Finance & Development (IMF), Thomas Helbling and Shaun Roache (March 2011)
Commodity prices Index Mundi
Commodities Financial Times, market data
- Identify the various factors that are causing rises in commodity prices. In each case state whether they are supply-side or demand-side factors.
- How can the price elasticity of demand and supply, the income elasticity of demand and the cross-price elasticity of demand be used to analyse the magnitude of the price rises?
- To what extent are rising food prices the result of (a) short-term (i.e. reversible) factors; (b) long-term trends?
- Why are food prices in the shops rising faster in the UK than in many other countries?
- To what extent is the future of food security and prices and moral issues?
- Why may current oil price rises become an opportunity for the future?
- What might be the respective roles be of government, business and consumers in responding to natural resource constraints?