Tag: market failures

In his Budget on March 19, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, announced fundamental changes to the way people access their pensions. Previously, many people with pension savings were forced to buy an annuity. These pay a set amount of income per month from retirement for the remainder of a person’s life.

But, with annuity rates (along with other interest rates) being at historically low levels, many pensioners have struggled to make ends meet. Even those whose pension pots did not require them to buy an annuity were limited in the amount they could withdraw each year unless they had other guaranteed income of over £20,000.

Now pensioners will no longer be required to buy an annuity and they will have much greater flexibility in accessing their pensions. As the Treasury website states:

This means that people can choose how they access their defined contribution pension savings; for example they could take all their pension savings as a lump sum, draw them down over time, or buy an annuity.

While many have greeted the news as a liberation of the pensions market, there is also the worry that this has created a moral hazard. When people retire, will they be tempted to blow their savings on foreign travel, a new car or other luxuries? And then, when their pension pot has dwindled and their health is failing, will they then be forced to rely on the state to fund their care?

But even if pensioners resist the urge to go on an immediate spending spree, there are still large risks in giving people the freedom to spend their pension savings as they choose. As the Scotsman article below states:

The risks are all too obvious. Behaviour will change. People who no longer have to buy an annuity will not do so but will then be left with a pile of cash. What to do with it? Spend it? Invest it? There are many new risky choices. But the biggest of all can be summed up in one fact: when we retire our life expectancy continues to grow. For every day we live after 65 it increases by six and a half hours. That’s right – an extra two-and-a-half years every decade.

The glory of an annuity is it pays you an income for every year you live – no matter how long. The problem with cash is that it runs out. Already the respected Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has said that the reform ‘depends on highly uncertain behavioural assumptions about when people take the money’. And that ‘there is a market failure here. There will be losers from this policy’.

We do not have perfect knowledge about how long we will live or even how long we can be expected to live given our circumstances. Many people are likely to suffer from a form of myopia that makes them blind to the future: “We’re likely to be dead before the money has run out”; or “Let’s enjoy ourselves now while we still can”; or “We’ll worry about the future when it comes”.

The point is that there are various market failings in the market for pensions and savings. Will the decisions of the Chancellor have made them better or worse?

Articles

Pension shakeup in budget leaves £14bn annuities industry reeling The Guardian, Patrick Collinson (20/3/14)
Chancellor vows to scrap compulsory annuities in pensions overhaul The Guardian, Patrick Collinson and Harriet Meyer (19/3/14)
Labour backs principle of George Osborne’s pension shakeup The Guardian, Rowena Mason (23/3/14)
Osborne’s pensions overhaul may mean there is little left for future rainy days The Guardian, Phillip Inman (24/3/14)
Let’s celebrate the Chancellor’s bravery on pensions – now perhaps the Government can tackle other mighty vested interests Independent on Sunday, Mary Dejevsky (23/3/14)
A vote-buying Budget The Scotsman, John McTernan (21/3/14)
L&G warns on mis-selling risks of pension changes The Telegraph, Alistair Osborne (26/3/14)
Budget 2014: Pension firms stabilise after £5 billion sell off Interactive Investor, Ceri Jones (20/3/14)

Budget publications

Budget 2014: pensions and saving policies Institute for Fiscal Studies, Carl Emmerson (20/3/14)
Budget 2014: documents HM Treasury (March 2014)
Freedom and choice in pensions HM Treasury (March 2014)

Questions

  1. What market failures are there in the market for pensions?
  2. To what extent will the new measures help to tackle the existing market failures in the pension industry?
  3. Explain the concept of moral hazard. To what extent will the new pension arrangements create a moral hazard?
  4. Who will be the losers from the new arrangements?
  5. Assume that you have a choice of how much to pay into a pension scheme. What is likely to determine how much you will choose to pay?

In an apparent U-turn, the Chancellor, George Osborne, has decided to cap the interest rates and other charges on payday loans and other short-term credit. As we have seen in previous news items, the sky-high interest rates which some of the poorest people in the UK are being forced to pay on these loans have caused outrage in many quarters: see A payday enquiry and Kostas Economides and the Archbishop of Canterbury. Indeed, the payday loan industry has been referred by the OFT to the Competition Commission (CC). The CC is required to report by 26 June 2015, although it will aim to complete the investigation in a shorter period.

It was becoming increasingly clear, however, that the government would not wait until the CC reports. It has been under intense pressure to take action. But the announcement on 25 November 2013 that the government would cap the costs of payday loans took many people by surprise. In fact, the new body, the Financial Conduct Authority, which is due to start regulating the industry in April 2014, only a month ago said that capping was very intrusive, arguing that it could make it harder for many people to borrow and push them into the hands of loan sharks. According to paragraph 6.71 of its consultation paper, Detailed proposals for the FCA regime for consumer credit:

The benefits of a total cost of credit cap has been looked at by the Personal Finance Research Centre at the University of Bristol. This report highlighted that 17 EU member states have some form of price restriction. Their research was ambiguous, on the one hand suggesting possible improved lending criteria and risk assessments. On the other, prices may drift towards a cap, which could lead to prices increasing or lead to a significant reduction in lenders exercising forbearance. Neither of these latter outcomes would be beneficial for consumers. Clearly this is a very intrusive proposition and to ensure we fully understand the implications we have committed to undertake further research once we begin regulating credit firms and therefore have access to regulatory data.

The government announcement has raised questions of how imperfections in markets should be dealt with. Many on the centre right argue that price controls should not be used as they can further distort the market. Indeed, the Chancellor has criticised the Labour Party’s proposal to freeze gas and electricity prices for 20 months if it wins the next election, arguing that the energy companies will simply get around the freeze by substantially raising their prices before and after the 20 months.

Instead, those on the centre right argue that intervention should aim to make markets more competitive. In other words, you should attempt not to replace markets, but to make them work better.

So what is the reasoning of the government in capping payday loan charges? Does it feel that, in this case, there is no other way? Or is the reasoning political? Does it feel that this is the most electorally advantageous way of answering the critics of the payday loan industry?

Webcasts and podcasts

Payday Loans To Be Capped By Government Sky News (25/11/13)
New law to cap cost of payday loans BBC News, Robert Hall (25/11/13)
Osborne: ‘Overall cost’ of payday loans to be capped BBC Today Programme (25/11/13)
George Osborne announces cap on payday loan charges amid concerns ITV News (25/11/13)

Articles

UK to cap payday lenders’ interest charges Reuters, Steve Slater, Paul Sandle, Kate Holton and William James (25/11/13)
Capping payday loans: from light touch to strong arm Channel 4 News, Faisal Islam (25/11/13)
Payday loans: New law to cap costs BBC News (25/11/13)
Payday loan ‘risk to mortgage applications’ BBC News (26/11/13)
Q&A: Payday loans BBC News (25/11/13)
George Osborne is playing social democratic catch-up on payday loans The Guardian, Larry Elliott (25/11/13_
Payday loans cap: George Osborne caves in following intervention led by Archbishop of Canterbury Independent, Oliver Wright (25/11/13)
The principle, the practice and the politics of fixing payday loan prices: why? And why now? Conservative Home, Mark Wallace (25/11/13)
George Osborne and the risky politics of chutzpah New Statesman, Rafael Behr (26/11/13)
Chancellor too quick off the mark on payday lending cap The Telegraph, James Quinn (25/11/13)
Crap and courage of convictions: the political problem with Osborne’s payday loan plan Spectator, Isabel Hardman (26/11/13)

Payday loan calculator
Payday loan calculator: how monthly interest can spiral BBC Consumer (7/11/13)

Questions

  1. What types of market failing exist in the payday loan industry?
  2. What types of controls of the industry are being proposed by George Osborne?
  3. What is the experience of Australia in introducing such controls?
  4. What alternative forms of intervention could be used to tackle the market imperfections in the industry?
  5. What were the proposals of the FCA? (See paragraph 6.6 in its document, Detailed proposals for the FCA regime for consumer credit.)
  6. According to a representative example on Wonga’s website, a loan of £150 for 18 days would result in charges of £33.49 (interest of £27.99 and a fee of £5.50). This would equate to an annual APR of 5853%. Explain how this APR is calculated.
  7. The proposal is to allow a relatively large upfront fee and to cap interest rates at a relatively low level, such as 4% per month, as is the case in Australia. Explain the following comment about this in the Faisal Islam article above: “The upfront fee, in theory, should change the behavioural finance of consumers around taking the loan in the first place (there are ways around this though). So this is an intervention based not on lack of competition, but asymmetries of information in consumer finance.”
  8. Comment on the following statement by Mark Wallace in the Conservative Home article above: “If overpriced payday loans should be capped, why not overpriced DVDs, sandwiches or, er, energy bills?”
  9. Compare the relative advantages and disadvantages of George Osborne’s proposal with that of Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury (see the news item, Kostas Economides and the Archbishop of Canterbury).

Original post
As a resident of Bristol it is with considerable interest that I’m following the development of the Bristol pound, due for launch in September 2012. One Bristol pound will be worth one pound sterling.

The new currency will be issued in denominations of £1, £5, £10 and £20 and there is a local competition to design the notes. Participating local traders will open accounts with Bristol Credit Union, which will administer the scheme. It has FSA backing and so all deposits will be guaranteed up to £85,000.

The idea of a local currency is not new. There are already local currencies in Stroud in Gloucestershire, Totnes in Devon, Lewes in East Sussex and Brixton in south London. The Bristol scheme, however, is the first to be introduced on a city-wide scale. The administrators are keen that use of the currency should be as easy as possible; people will be able to open accounts with Bristol Credit Union, pay bills online and pay shopkeepers by mobile phone text message (a system used in many countries, but not in the UK).

As the money has to be spent locally, the aim is to help local business, of which more han 100 have already signed up to the scheme. Bristol has a large number of independent traders – in fact, the road where I live is off the Gloucester Road, which has the largest number of independent traders on one street in the UK. The organisers of the Bristol pound are determined to preserve the diversity of shops and prevent Bristol from becoming a ‘clone town’, with high streets full of chain stores.

But how likely is the scheme to encourage people to shop in independent shops and deal with local traders? Will the scheme take off, or will it fizzle out? What are its downsides?

Update
The Bristol pound was duly launched on September 19 and there has been much local interest. The later videos and articles below look at reactions to the new currency and at its chances of success in driving local business.

Videos and webcasts
The town printing its own currency [Stroud] BBC News, Tim Muffett (22/3/10)
Brixton launches its own currency BBC News (17/9/09)
Local currency BBC Politics Show (30/3/09)
Local currency for Lewes BBC News, Rob Pittam (13/5/08)
The Totnes Pound transitionculture.org on YouTube, Clive Ardagh (21/1/09)
Local Currencies – Replacing Scarcity with Trust Peak Moment on YouTube, Francis Ayley (8/2/07)

Videos and webcasts: update
Bristol Pound Launches ITV News, West, Tanya Mercer (19/9/12)
Can Bristol Pound boost local trade? BBC News, West, Jon Kay (19/9/12)
The Bristol Pound BristolPound on YouTube, Chris Sunderland (11/6/12)
Bristol Pound feature on BBC1 Inside Out BBC One in the West on YouTube, Dave Harvey (30/6/12)
Bristol Pound launched to keep trade in the city BBC News, Dave Harvey (19/9/12)
Bristol pound launched to boost local businesses BBC Radio 5 Live, Ciaran Mundy (19/9/12)

Articles
The Bristol Pound set to become a flagship for local enterprise The Random Fact, Thomas Foss (7/2/12)
What is the point of local currency? The Telegraph, Rosie Murray-West (7/2/12)
The Bristol pound: will it save the (local) economy? Management Today, Emma Haslett (6/2/12)
‘Bristol Pound’ currency to boost independent traders BBC News Bristol, Dave Harvey (6/2/12)
We don’t want to be part of ‘clone town Britain’: City launches its own currency to keep money local Mail Online, Tom Kelly (6/2/12)
British Town Prepares To Launch Its Own Currency — Here’s How That’s Going To End Business Insider, Macro Man (7/2/12)
They don’t just shop local in Totnes – they have their very own currency Independent, Rob Sharp (1/5/08)

Articles: update
Bristol banks on alternative pound to safeguard independent retailers Guardian, Steven Morris (21/9/12)
Bristol launches city’s local currency The Telegraph, Rachel Cooper (19/9/12)
The Bristol Pound is launched to help independent retailers Independent, Rob Hastings (20/9/12)
Banknotes, local currencies and central bank objectives Bank of England Quarterly Bulletin (Q4/2013)

Bristol Pound official site
Bristol Pound: Our City, Our Money Bristol Pound

Questions

  1. What are the advantages of having a local currency?
  2. What are the dangers in operating a local currency?
  3. What steps can be taken to avoid the dangers?
  4. Can Bristol pounds be ‘created’ by Bristol Credit Union? Could the process be inflationary?
  5. What market failures are there in the pattern of shops in towns and cities? To what extent is the growth of supermarkets in towns and the growth of out-of-town shopping malls a result of market failures or simply of consumer preferences?
  6. Are local currencies only for idealists?
  7. What benefits are there for shoppers in Bristol of using Bristol pounds?

EDF, one of the big six energy retailers in the UK, has agreed to pay out a record £4.5m. £1m of this will go to funding an energy advice centre; the rest will go to providing £50 each to 70,000 ‘vulnerable customers’ who struggle to pay their bills and who receive the government’s warm home discount.

The agreement was made with Ofgem after an investigation into mis-selling, both on the doorstep and over the phone. Customers were persuaded to switch energy suppliers with the promise of savings on their bills. As the FT articles states:

Ofgem found that EDF’s sales force did not always provide complete information to customers on some contract terms, or on the way in which their monthly direct debits had been calculated. In some cases, telesales agents claimed savings without knowing whether they were accurate for the specific customer on the call, the regulator said.

Ofgem did not accuse the company of directly sanctioning such practices, but rather of weak monitoring and control of its sales force’s actions.

The £4.5m payment is in lieu of a fine. Consumer groups have welcomed this, preferring the company to pay compensation to a fine, which would have simply increased Treasury funding.

It is the first settlement in a broader investigation into mis-selling, involving four of the six major suppliers.

Articles
EDF to pay out £4.5m in mis-selling case Financial Times, Guy Chazan and Hannah Kuchler (9/3/12)
EDF agrees to pay £4.5m misleading sales ‘fine’ Guardian, Lisa Bachelor (9/3/12)
Is it a fine? Is it a penalty? No, it’s EDF’s mystery Ofgem payment Management Today, Rebecca Burn-Callander (9/3/12)
‘Misleading claims’ cost EDF a £4.5m payout from watchdog , Independent, Tom Bawden (10/3/12)
EDF Energy agrees to pay a £4.5m ‘fine’ BBC News (9/3/12)
EDF Energy agrees to pay a £4.5m ‘fine’ BBC News, John Moylan (9/3/12)
More energy payouts could follow EDF’s £4.5m The Telegraph, Kara Gammell (9/3/12)

Ofgem ruling
EDF energy agrees to invest £4.5 million to help vulnerable customers following Ofgem investigation Ofgem

Questions

  1. What types of market failure are present in the energy supply industry?
  2. What are the arguments for and against fines being paid directly to victims of crime rather than to the government?
  3. In what ways could the energy industry be made more competitive?
  4. Why do the utilities, such as gas, electricity and water, require their own regulator rather than simply being subject to competition law?

As a resident of Bristol it is with considerable interest that I’m following the development of the Bristol pound, due for launch in September 2012. One Bristol pound will be worth one pound sterling.

The new currency will be issued in demoninations of £1, £5, £10 and £20 and there is a local competition to design the notes. Participating local traders will open accounts with Bristol Credit Union, which will administer the scheme. It has FSA backing and so all deposits will be guaranteed up to £85,000.

The idea of a local currency is not new. There are already local currencies in Stroud in Gloucestershire, Totnes in Devon, Lewes in East Sussex and Brixton in south London. The Bristol scheme, however, is the first to be introduced on a city-wide scale. The administrators are keen that use of the currency should be as easy as possible; people will be able to open accounts with Bristol Credit Union, pay bills online or by mobile phone.

As the money has to be spent locally, the aim is to help local business, of which more han 100 have already signed up to the scheme. Bristol has a large number of independent traders – in fact, the road where I live is off the Gloucester Road, which has the largest number of independent traders on one street in the UK. The organisers of the Bristol pound are determined to preserve the diversity of shops and prevent Bristol from becoming a ‘clone town’, with high streets full of chain stores.

But how likely is the scheme to encourage people to shop in independent shops and deal with local traders? Will the scheme take off, or will it fizzle out? What are its downsides? The following articles consider these issues.

Articles
The Bristol Pound set to become a flagship for local enterprise The Random Fact, Thomas Foss (7/2/12)
What is the point of local currency? The Telegraph, Rosie Murray-West (7/2/12)
The Bristol pound: will it save the (local) economy? Management Today, Emma Haslett (6/2/12)
‘Bristol Pound’ currency to boost independent traders BBC News Bristol, Dave Harvey (6/2/12)
We don’t want to be part of ‘clone town Britain’: City launches its own currency to keep money local Mail Online, Tom Kelly (6/2/12)
British Town Prepares To Launch Its Own Currency — Here’s How That’s Going To End Business Insider, Macro Man (7/2/12)
They don’t just shop local in Totnes – they have their very own currency Independent, Rob Sharp (1/5/08)

Videos and webcasts
The town printing its own currency [Stroud] BBC News, Tim Muffett (22/3/10)
Brixton launches its own currency BBC News (17/9/09)
Local currency BBC Politics Show (30/3/09)
Local currency for Lewes BBC News, Rob Pittam (13/5/08)
The Totnes Pound transitionculture.org on YouTube, Clive Ardagh (21/1/09)
Local Currencies – Replacing Scarcity with Trust Peak Moment on YouTube, Francis Ayley (8/2/07)

Questions

  1. What are the advantages of having a local currency?
  2. What are the dangers in operating a local currency?
  3. What steps can be taken to avoid the dangers?
  4. Can Bristol pounds be ‘created’ by Bristol Credit Union? Could the process be inflationary?
  5. What market failures are there in the pattern of shops in towns and cities? To what extent is the growth of supermarkets in towns and the growth of out-of-town shopping malls a result of market failures or simply of consumer preferences?
  6. Are local currencies only for idealists?