You’ll be familiar with these types of posts from me, which typically start with a comment like: ‘On my commute to work on …’. That’s one of the good things about a long drive – the interesting and informative discussions that you hear on the radio. This one is another interesting piece from BBC Radio 4, looking at a very topical issue, especially to those living in the South West and other rural areas in the UK.
We have recently seen pictures of farmers protesting about the price of milk and in places like Somerset, the protest took a rather odd method, where farmers from across the region entered supermarkets and simply bought all of the milk, before giving it away. The issue is that dairy farming is no longer profitable, as the price that dairy farmers receive for each pint of milk is now lower than the cost of providing it. Thus, for each pint they make a loss.
There are many reasons that have contributed to this situation, including pressures imposed by customers demanding cheaper prices; pressures from supermarkets using their monopsony power to force down the prices paid to farmers; and pressures from abroad. In the case of milk, we have a surplus and with a perishable product, i.e. one that cannot be stored, unlike wheat, this has contributed to falling prices. Data suggest that we are seeing approximately one farmer per day being forced to leave the indsutry.
This programme explores the current dairy farming crisis and draws some similarities with the wheat crisis that the UK experienced in the 1930s. The programme below is 30 minutes and provides some interesting insights on two important commodities and the economics behind the markets.
Today’s crisis in dairy farming and the wheat crisis of the 1930s BBC Radio 4; The Long View, Jonathan Freedland (29/9/15)
- Using demand and supply analysis, explain the situation in the milk market.
- Now consider the wheat industry and provide a similar analysis of how prices are set and what caused the problems seen in the 1930s.
- Although these two commodities have similarities they are also very different. Why can two different commodities experience such similar problems at such different times?
- What are the key demand and supply-side factors affecting the current low price of milk?
- Consider the market for (a) milk and (b) wheat. What are (if any) the market failures within each area?
- Agriculture is an area where we do see significant government intervention. Should the UK government be doing more to help the UK’s dairy farmers? If so, what should they do and would this intervention create further problems, e.g. unintended consequences?
The housing market is often a good indicator of the level of confidence in an economy. Prior to the credit crunch, there had been a house price bubble and as the financial crisis began and economies plunged into recession, house prices began to fall significantly. In the last few months, the housing market has begun its recovery and data from the ONS shows average property prices up by 5.4% across the UK in November, compared with a year earlier.
When we analyse the housing market, or any market, we have to give attention to both demand-side and supply-side factors. It is the combination of these factors that yields the equilibrium price. For most people, buying a house will represent their single biggest expenditure and so there are many factors that need to be considered.
The demand for housing is affected by incomes, by the availability of mortgages, the rate of interest and hence the cost of mortgages. Speculation also tends to be a key factor that influences the demand for houses, as people may buy houses if they believe that prices will soon rise. Of course, simply by responding to expectations about future price changes causes the price changes to happen – a classic case of self-fulfilling speculation.
The availability of mortgages has been one of the biggest factors increasing the demand for and hence price of houses in recent months. More individuals have been able to get onto the property ladder and, with confidence returning to the market, these factors have caused a rightward shift in the demand for owner-occupied houses.
Another key factor has been the growth in the demand for housing as an investment opportunity, in particular from the global super rich. This has been of particular concern in London, where there are fears of a housing bubble developing and of lower-income households being priced out of the market.
At the same time, there has been a growth in the supply or housing and thus a rightward shift of the supply curve. Ceteris paribus, this would push down average prices. However, the data suggest that house prices, especially in London, have increased, implying that the impact on price of the increase in demand has more than offset the downward force in prices from the increase in supply. Part of this can be explained by the demand-side factor of an increase in demand for top-end properties, which ‘has been distracting developers from the need for more affordable accommodation.’ When asked about the changes observed in the London housing market, Civitas said:
London is one of the most – if not the most – attractive property markets for international investors all over the world. It is also at the centre of an affordability crisis in the UK which is having serious consequences for younger people and the less well-off…For too many it [investment at the top end of the market] is providing financial shelter rather than human shelter.
With the upward pressure on house prices, many are now warning of another bubble developing in London. When comparing house prices in London with a Londoner’s income, Ernst and Young found that house prices were 11 times average annual income. Data like this were last seen prior to the financial crisis and it is this which has led to concerns of a post-crisis bubble.
There are suggestions that more action is needed to combat this bubble, such as imposing a limit in income multiples in relation to how much of a mortgage you are able to borrow. Another criticism levelled at the market is the government’s Help to Buy scheme, which critics argue is raising demand and pushing up prices, because there is no matched increase in supply.
So, with the rest of the market returning to some semblance of normality, it is currently just London showing signs of a bubble and we are all well aware of what the consequences might be if a bubble is allowed to grow and then eventually burst. The following articles consider the housing market.
Housing bubble forming in London, warns Ernst and Young BBC News (3/2/14)
London housing market shows new bubble sign – report Reuters, Andrew Winning (3/2/14)
Expert calls for stronger action to tame London housing bubble risks Independent (21/5/12)
London shows signs of house price ‘bubble’, experts warn The Telegraph, Scott Campbell (3/2/14)
Economic forecasters call for measures to cool down London’s property market The Guardian, Rupert Neate (3/2/14)
Think-tank calls for a ban on rich foreigners buying homes in London to puncture property bubble Mail Online, Lizzie Edmonds (2/2/14)
London property bubble to last until 2018 Sky News (3/2/14)
- What are the key factors that will affect (a) the demand for and (b) the supply of housing?
- Which factors explain why house prices in London have increased relative to prices across the country? Identify which factors are demand-side and which are supply-side.
- How has Help to Buy affected the housing market?
- What government policies could be implemented to ‘puncture’ the bubble?
- Why is a housing bubble a problem?
- Why has a house price bubble not emerged in the rest of the UK?
A simple model in economics is that of demand and supply. Through the price mechanism, signals are sent between consumers and producers and this interaction results in an equilibrium market price and quantity. However, what happens when the market for a good or service is in disequilibrium?
When a market is in equilibrium, demand equals supply. However, as we discussed in a previous blog concerning baby milk in China (see Milking the economy), markets are not always in equilibrium. If demand exceeds supply, a shortage will emerge and to eliminate this, the price must rise. If, on the other hand, supply exceeds demand, there will be an excess supply and thus the price must fall to restore equilibrium.
The market in question here is toilet paper in Venezuela! A severe shortage of this product has emerged in recent months, with shops running out of supplies. In a bid to relieve this shortage, the country’s Minister of Commerce has received approval for a $79 million credit, which can be used to import this basic product in short supply. Fifty million rolls will be imported to help fill the shortage that has emerged. The shortage is not just a problem for toilet paper, but also across a range of basic consumer goods. The article from Reuters comments that:
The government says the toilet paper shortages, like others, are the results of panicked buying and unscrupulous merchants hoarding the goods to artificially inflate prices.
Opposition critics say the problem is caused by the currency controls, created a decade ago by late socialist leader Hugo Chavez, and years of nationalizations that weakened private industry and left businesses unwilling to invest.
With shortages across a variety of products, the President has begun to work closely with business leaders to address this situation. The following articles consider this basic market, the intervention and consequences.
Venezuela hopes to wipe out toilet paper shortage by importing 50m rolls The Guardian (16/5/13)
Venezuela ends toilet paper shortage BBC News (22/5/13)
With even toilet paper scarce, Venezuelan president warms to business Reuters, Eyanir Chinea (22/5/13)
Toilet paper shortage in Venezuela to end after lawmakers back plans to import 39 million rolls Huffington Post, Sara Nelson (22/5/13)
Venezuela’s toilet paper shortage ended; 3 other basic goods that went scarce in the country International Business Times, Patricia Rey Mallen (22/5/13)
- Using a demand and supply diagram, explain how equilibrium is determined in a free market.
- Illustrate the shortage described in the aticles on your above demand and supply diagram. How should the price mechanism adjust?
- What types of government intervention have led to the shortages of such basic consumer goods?
- How have currency controls created a problem for Venezuela?
- With an increase in imported products, what impact might there be on Venezuela’s exchange rate and on its balance of payments?
Few people have £18bn worth of funds to spend. But someone that does is Warren Buffett and a Brazilian firm, who look set to purchase Heinz for this sum. Heinz, known for things like baked beans and ketchup already has an exceptionally strong brand and is cash rich – these are two ingredients which Warren Buffett likes and have undoubtedly played their part in securing what looks to be a tasty deal.
The company’s Board has already approved the deal, but shareholders still need to have their say and have been offered $72.50 per share. 650 million bottles of Heinz ketchup are sold every year and its baked beans, at the least in the UK, are second to none. Products like this have given Heinz its global brand name and have provided the opportunity to shareholders to make significant gains. Its Chairman said:
The Heinz brand is one of the most respected brands in the global food industry and this historic transaction provides tremendous value to Heinz shareolders.
This statement was certainly reciprocated by Warren Buffett when he spoke to CNBC, saying:
It is our kind of company … I’ve sampled it many times … Anytime we see a deal is attractive and it’s our kind of business and we’ve got the money, I’m ready to do.
The deal therefore looks to be profitable to both sides, but is there more to it? An investigation has already been launched by the Securities and Exchange Commission as to whether information about this purchase was leaked early and was used to make money. Insider trading occurs when someone is given information early about a merger such as the one described above. They then use this information, before it is made public, to buy up a company’s stock. It is incredibly difficult to prosecute and huge amounts of money can be made by hedge funds, amongst others. This is certainly one aspect of the deal to keep your eye on.
So, what does the future hold for Warren Buffett and Heinz? Buffett likes to extract extra value from companies he purchases and has in the past split up his businesses to create separate trading companies. However, given his taste for ketchup and his appreciation for strong global brands, it’s unlikely that we’ll see a change to the recipe of any of the well-known products. The following articles consider the takeover and the case of insider trading.
Will Buffet ‘squeeze value’ from Heinz BBC News (15/2/13)
Heinz-Buffett deal: will anyone spill the beans on insider trading? The Guardian, Heidi Moore (15/2/13)
Heinz bought by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway for $28bn BBC News (14/2/13)
Traders sued over Heinz share bets Independent, Nikhil Kumar (16/2/13)
Heinz deal brings it back to its roots Financial Times, Alan Rappeport, Dan McCrum and Anoushka Sakoui (14/2/13)
Beanz means Buffet: Heinz purchased in $28bn takeover The Guardian, Dominic Rush (14/2/13)
US SEC sues over Heinz option trading before buyout Reuters (15/2/13)
Warren Buffet and Brazil’s ‘Sage’ Jorge Leman strike £18bn Heinz deal The Telegraph, Richard Blackden (15/2/13)
- What type of take-over would you class this as?
- Consider the Boston matrix – in which category would you place Heinz when you think about its market share and market growth?
- Why is a company that has a global brand and that is cash rich so tempting?
- Given your answer to question 3, why have other investors not taken an interest in purchasing Heinz?
- If you were a shareholder in Heinz, what factors would you consider when deciding whether or not to vote for the takeover?
- What growth strategy has Heinz used to establish its current position in the global market place?
- What is insider trading? Explain how early information can be used to make money in the case of Heinz.
- Explain how the share price of $72.50 is set. How does the market have a role?
Increases in the cost of living over the past few years have put many families under financial pressure. One of the main factors that has been hurting households is the price of petrol and diesel. Road fuel duty was due to be increased last August, but the Chancellor delayed it in June. However, a planned 3p rise in duty by the Coalition, which has faced rebellion from numerous MPs may now be delayed further, following a hint from the Treasury.
The government has said that it will do everything it can to support struggling families with the cost of living and this has led many to conclude that in the Autumn Statement, the Chancellor will delay the planned 3p rise. Labour was defeated in its efforts to force a delay of the proposed 3p duty rise, as Tory bankbenchers were given this hint that the Treasury would decide to delay the increase anyway. The Economic Secretary to the Treasury said that fuel duty is part of the government’s strategy to help cut the cost of living. He commented that fuel duty was 20% lower in real terms compared to March 2000, when it was at its peak.
If we had continued with the policies of the previous government, quite simply prices would be higher, fuel would be 10p more expensive per litre. I know some will call for a further freeze in fuel duty today. I can assure them this government understands the financial pressures hard-working families are facing. Subject to the constraints of the public finances, this government is determined to help families with the cost of living.
A key economic question to consider is why is fuel one of the products that is frequently taxed? When a tax is imposed on a product, its price will rise and as the law of demand tells us, this will cause people to purchase less of it. But, what is so special about petrol? Why do people continue to purchase petrol even when its price rises? The following articles consider the concerns surrounding the 3p fuel duty rise.
Treasury to defer planned increase in fuel duty The Guardian, Nicholas Watt (13/11/12)
Asda chief Andy Clarke urges scrapping fuel duty rise BBC News (15/11/12)
Fuel Duty: Labour to force vote to delay 3p rise The Guardian, Helene Mulholland (12/11/12)
Fuel duty delay called for by Which? BBC News (11/11/12)
Fuel Duty: Government may still axe increase Sky News (13/11/12)
Chancellor heads off fuel duty rebellion Financial Times, George Parker (12/11/12)
Osborne pressed to shelve fuel duty rise Financial Times, George Parker (8/11/12)
Planned 3p petrol increase could be abandonedThe Telegraph, Christopher Hope (11/11/12)
- Why is petrol a good that is taxed so heavily?
- Illustrate the impact of a tax on petrol using a demand and supply diagram. Explain what happens to the equilibrium price and quantity.
- Which factors will make the change in price and quantity relatively larger or smaller? Think about how elasticity is relevant here.
- What other factors have contributed towards the increased cost of living over the past few years?
- Which factors in particular would make a January rise in fuel duty especially painful for many families?
- What are the arguments both for and against delaying the 3p rise in duty?
- According to the Economic Secretary to the Treasury, fuel duty is 20% lower in real terms. What does this actually mean?