Why dearer oil impacts developing economies more.

It wasn’t long ago that $100 for a barrel of oil was the norm but with the advent of the shale market the production increased which depressed prices. It was felt that the flexibility of large scale shale production from the USA could act as a stabiliser to global oil prices.

Oil shocks – supply or demand?

Oil shocks are not all the same. They tend to be associated with supply issues caused by conflict or OPEC reducing daily production targets. In the case of an increase in global growth there is the demand side for oil which increases the price. However this doesn’t have a great effect as in such cases the rising cost of imported oil is offset by the increasing export revenue. However today’s increase has a bit of both:

Demand – global consumption has increased as the advanced economies recover after the GFC especially China
Supply – supply constraints in Venezuela from the economic crisis. Also tighter American sanctions on Iran and OPEC producers are not increasing supply with the higher price.

Higher oil prices do squeeze household budgets and therefore reduce demand. Lower prices are expected to act as a stimulus to consumer spending but it can also have negative effects on the petroleum industries.

Emerging economies the impact of higher oil prices

Oil importing emerging economies are badly impacted by higher oil prices:

  • Terms of trade deteriorate as the price of their imports rise relative to their exports
  • Exports pay for fewer imports = importers’ current-account deficits widen.
  • Normally this leads to a depreciation a a country’s currency which makes exports cheaper and imports more expensive.

However this is not the case today. World trade is slowing and with it manufacturing orders therefore higher oil prices make the current account worse which in turn depreciates the exchange rate. For emerging economies who have borrowed from other countries or organisations a weaker exchange rate intensifies the burden of dollar-denominated debt. Companies in emerging economies have borrowed large amounts of money being spurred on by very low interest rates but they earn income in the domestic currency but owe in dollars – a weaker exchange rate means they have to spend more of their local currency to pay off their debt. Therefore indebted borrowers feel the financial squeeze and may reduce investment and layoff workers.

Another problem for emerging economies, as well as higher oil prices, is that central banks are looking to tighten monetary policy (interest rates) with the chance of higher inflation.

Source: The Economist – Crude Awaking – September 29th 2018

Ireland’s first home win against the All Blacks – Behavioural Economics

You maybe aware that the rugby game this morning (NZ time) between Ireland and the New Zealand All Blacks in Dublin created history. It was the first time that Ireland have beaten the All Blacks on Irish soil. Remember they did beat the ABs in Chicago two years ago.

Image result for ireland v all blacks

Irish supporters, including myself, will take great pleasure in talking about such a result – lets face it we lost it in the last few minutes 5 years ago on Irish soil at Croke Park in Dublin. What all this alludes to is the fact that as part of this entertainment comes without the public paying for it, the public benefits from an externality.

Those who travelled to Dublin (and those local supporters) for the game and will have no doubt spent a significant amount of Euros tonight in the bars and restaurants around town. Nevertheless the satisfaction (utility) derived in Euros from the game would have been much greater than the price they paid for the ticket. This suggest that there is a lot of consumer surplus present – the difference between the price that a consumer WOULD BE WILLING TO PAY, and the price that he or she actually HAS TO PAY. The success of the Irish team will boost merchandise sales and interest for the World Cup next year in Japan but more importantly it has been good for rugby in general with throwing the World Cup wide open. When the All Blacks play overseas there are significant externalities whether it be the revenue generated in hosting the match or the social benefits to society. Furthermore the lead up to the game brings about a sense of delayed gratification (Behavioural Economics). Looking ahead the fact that people have paid for tickets to the World Cup means that they can reap the pleasures of anticipation of being there. Research (Smarter Spending – see previous post) shows that owning material things from expensive homes to luxurious cars turn out to provide less pleasure than holidays, concerts or even witnessing Ireland beating the All Blacks – where were you when Ireland beat the All Blacks in Dublin? With Ireland’s win national pride increases, along with patriotism and people feeling better about themselves. This is turn brings people together and boosts well-being of the nation. As for the All Blacks they will learn from this defeat as they did against the Springboks earlier in the season. All in all it makes for a great World Cup with supporters experiencing the pleasures of anticipation.

Action bias and penalty kicks – is it best if the goalkeeper does nothing?

Action bias is a situation where we would rather be seen doing something than doing nothing. This has been the case in numerous government elections as the voting population like to see some action from politicians when in some cases the best option is to let the economy run its course. President Nixon (US President 1969-74) was a great one for doing something even though it would have been better to do nothing – I refer to the wage and price controls introduced in 1971 – the controls produced food shortages, as meat disappeared from supermarket shelves and farmers drowned chickens rather than sell them at a loss. So when the economy is doing badly the government maybe tempted to intervene, even if the risks associated with the changes not necessarily outweigh the possible benefits. Furthermore if an economy is doing well policy makers may feel that they shouldn’t do anything even though the changes could improve the economy further.

According to classical assumptions in economics, when a people face decision problems involving uncertainty, they should choose what to do according to their utility from the possible outcomes and the probability distribution of outcomes that follows each possible action. Bar-Eli, Azar, Ritov, Keidar-Levin, & Schein, 2007

In a 2007 study, Michael Bari-Eli at the Ben Gurion University of the Negev, Israel, analyzed 286 professional soccer penalty kicks. They discovered that goalkeepers almost always jump right or left because the norm is to jump — a preference for action (”action bias”). The goalkeepers jumped to the left 49.3% of the time, to the right 44.4% of the time, but stayed in the centre only 6.3% of the time. Analysis revealed that the kicks went to the left 32.2%, to the right 39.2% and to the centre 28.7% of the time. This means that the goalkeepers were much more likely to stop a kick if they had just stayed put – see table below.

The table above suggests that the decisions taken by the kicker and goalkeeper are made roughly simultaneously. The fact that the directions of the kick and the jump match in 43% of kicks rather than in 0% or 100% of the kicks suggests that neither kicker nor goalkeeper can clearly observe what the other chose when choosing their action.

A goalkeepers’ decision making.

In order to suggest a best option for goalkeepers it is necessary to examine the probability of stopping the ball following each combination of kick and jump directions. The table below presents the average saving chances using the formula

Number of penalty kicks saved ÷ Number of penalty kicks x 100

Jumping left = 20 ÷ 141 x 100 = 14.2%
Staying Centre = 6 ÷ 18 x 100 = 33.3%
Jumping right = 16 ÷ 127 x 100 = 12.6%

The research conclusions state that goalkeepers jump to the right or the left during penalty kicks more than they should. In analysing the 286 kicks Bar-Eli et al show that while the utility-maximising behaviour for goalkeepers is to stay in the goal’s centre during the kick, in 93.7% of the kicks the goalkeepers chose to jump to their right or left. This non-optimal behaviour suggests that a bias in goalkeeper’ decision making might be present. The reason that they suggest is ‘action bias’. However you also need to look at the psychological aspects of a goalkeeper. Arsenal and former Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech said that he never liked to stay in the centre as it might look to the fans that he wasn’t trying. Although he would be in a good position to save a penalty that was kicked down the centre, he would feel a lot worse if he stayed in the centre and the ball went into the goal either side of him.

Sources:

Bar-Eli, M., Azar, O. H., Ritov, I., Keidar-Levin, Y., & Schein, G. (2007). Action Bias Among Elite Soccer Goalkeepers: The Case of Penalty Kicks. Journal of Economic Psychology, 28(5), 606-621.

An “Action Bias” Can Be Counterproductive

RNBZ can’t seriously be thinking about reducing the OCR

Today’s labour market data showed a drop in unemployment from 4.4% to 3.9% and an employment rate of 68.3% the highest since the HLFS survey was first reported in 1986. The
unemployment rate of 3.9% is the lowest since June 2008 and towards the lowest bound of the RBNZs estimated 4% to 5.5% range for the Non-Accelerating Inflation Rate of Unemployment (NAIRU). See graph below:

Tomorrow the RBNZ present their November Monetary Policy Statement (MPS) and these figures give them limited time to change any policy direction. Remember that the RBNZ is now tasked “supporting maximum sustainable employment within the economy” alongside its price stability mandate of 1-3% CPI with a target of 2%. However these figures seem to suggest that further easing is not required to meet employment objectives.

What is the Natural Rate of Unemployment?

The natural rate of unemployment is the difference between those who would like a job at the current wage rate – and those who are willing and able to take a job. In the above diagram, it is the level (Q2-Q1).

Source: economicshelp.org

The natural rate of unemployment will therefore include:
Frictional unemployment – those people in-between jobs
Structural unemployment – those people that don’t have the skills that fit the jobs that are available.

It is also referred to as the Non-Accelerating Inflation Rate of Unemployment (NAIRU) – the job market neither pushes up inflation nor holds it back.

Source: BNZ – Economy Watch – 7th November 2018

Free access to elearnEconomics – ends Sunday 11th November

Just a note to say that free access ends on Sunday 11th November.

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A2 Revision: Multiple-Choice question on shape of Total Cost curve

WebBeen doing some A2 revision courses this holidays and this question came up. In the last two November A2 exams there have been multiple choice questions concerning the point on the Total Cost curve when MC, AVC, and ATC are at their lowest point. In the graph note the corresponding points on the Total Cost. They usually ask you where on the Total Cost line is the lowest point on the MC curve/AVC curve etc.

Remember:
MC cuts ATC and AVC at their lowest points. The firm will supply where the price is greater than or equal to MC. Thus the individual firm’s supply curve consists of the firm’s MC curve, but only the portion above AVC . The reason for this is that where P=AVC the firm will shut down operations because they are barely covering avoidable costs.

A2 Revision: The Perfectly Competitive Firm and the Market

Supernormal, normal, and subnormal profit only identified what happens to the firm. However it is important to be aware of what is happening in the market as a whole. Take for instance a firm making supernormal profits. The price that the firm charges is determined by what is happening in the market (supply and demand). If a firm makes supernormal profits this attracts other firms into the industry to take advantage of these profits. Therefore the supply of firms in the market increases which in turn reduces the price that firms can charge and they now make normal profits and are in the long-run see fig below.

Questions about the next recession.

Ryan Avent of ‘The Economist’ considers how the next recession might happen — he asks the following questions:

  1. When will the next recession be?
  2. Where will it begin?
  3. Is the world prepared for a recession?
  4. What are the obstacles?
  5. What should governments do?

Very good viewing for macro policies – Unit 4 and 5 of the CIE A2 Economics course.

With the downturn in an economy, cutting interest rates has been the favoured policy of central banks. But the use of quantitative easing (QE) might mean the end of conventional monetary policy with rates already at record low levels – by pushing rates into negative territory they are actually encouraging a deflationary environment, stronger currencies and slower growth. The graph below shows a liquidity trap. Increases or decreases in the supply of money at an interest rate of X do not affect interest rates, as all wealth-holders believe interest rates have reached the floor. All increases in money supply are simply taken up in idle balances. Since interest rates do not alter, the level of expenditure in the economy is not affected. Hence, monetary policy in this situation is ineffective.

Liquidity Trap

Economic Consequences of Trump

Very good video from Project Syndicate looking at the recovery of the US economy and if it is sustainable. Also was Trump responsible for the growth or Obama? Maybe Janet Yellen and central bankers with such low interest rates for a long period of time. However if there is another downturn do governments have the tools to grow the economy again? It seems that central banks have run out of ammunition i.e. no room to cut interest rates further. There is agreement that the levels of employment are not sustainable in the future and the focus should be on assisting low wage work and help people prepare for and keep work- ‘reward work’.

  • Features Nobel laureates Angus Deaton and Edmund Phelps, along with Barry Eichengreen,
  • Rana Foroohar author of ‘Makers and Takers’
  • Glenn Hubbard Dean of Columbia Business School

Behavioural Economics – Good Better Best Pricing

I was interested in an article about approaches to pricing – ‘Good, Better, Best’ by Rafi Mohammed from the September – October 2018 Harvard Business Review. Know as G-B-B pricing it involves adding or subtracting product features to create variably priced bundles targeted to customers of varying economic means or those who value features differently. This model is very evident with many products and services – for instance the airline industry:

  • Good – the standard economy fare
  • Better – premium economy with extra leg-room
  • Best – business class with extravagant meals and a bed

However with all three tickets the basic service is the same – e.g. flying a passenger from Auckland to Doha. Below is another example with an oil change. Some G-B-B strategies are more general responses to consumer psychology.

Image result for good better best pricing

In giving consumers too much choice a lot will feel overwhelmed and confused – the paradox of choice which Barry Schwartz studied in his book of the same name. However a G-B-B plan helps consumers focus on particular aspects of each option and direct them to consider the incremental value and spending. With three choices consumers tend to decide whether to buy the product or not and they typically see the ‘Good’ as the default option which makes them amenable to an upgrade.

One of the key insights to behavioural pricing is that items that don’t sell can change what does. The William-Sonoma chain once offered a fancy bread maker for $279. They later added a somewhat bigger model, pricing it a $429. The $429 model was a flop as unless you require it for major catering purposes. However the $279 model nearly doubled. Clearly, they were people charmed by the idea of a quality breadmaker from William-Sonoma. The only thing that stopped them from buying was the price. It seemed high at $279. Once the store added the $429 model, the $279 machine was no longer seen as such an extravagance. It could be rationalised as a useful product that did nearly everything the the $429 model did, at a bargain price. Adding another price point, even though hardly anyone chose it, increased the price consumers were willing to pay for a breadmaker. William-Sonoma didn’t plan things this way but since then retailers have gotten wise to contrast effects of prices. Tversky and Simonson (1992) identified two rules of manipulative retail pricing.

1. Extremeness aversion – this means that when consumers are uncertain, they shy away form the most expensive item offered or the least expensive: the highest quality or the lowest quality; the biggest or the smallest. Most favour something in the middle therefore the way to sell $800 shoes is to display some $1,200 shoes next to them. The same product may appear attractive on a background of less attractive alternatives and unattractive on a background of more attractive alternatives.

2. Trade-off contrast – go into a leather a leather goods store and there will be dozens of handbags, none of them indisputably the best by anyone’s standards. One bag can be:

  • more practical,
  • more stylish,
  • more colourful
  • less expensive

The customer being loss averse is uncomfortable with the abundance of choice and fear that she will pick the wrong bag. The trade-off contrast rule says when item X is clearly better than an inferior choice Y, consumers tend to buy X – even when there are many other choices and it’s impossible to say whether X is the best choice of all. Just the fact that X is better than Y is a selling point, and it carries more weight than it reasonably should. Apparently the shopper tries to reduce anxiety by choosing an item that can be justified – she is able to talk herself into X because it’s so much better than Y.

G-B-B pricing structure

The G-B-B pricing structure for most companies will be to identify a product which is Better and subtract features to create Good and add features to create Best.

Better – features = Good
Better + features = Best

As mentioned earlier too much choice is risky. Research by Sheena Iyengar and Mark Lepper which offered samples of jam to shoppers in an upscale grocery store – results:

  • When offered 6 flavours, 30% of tasters made a purchase.
  • When offered 24 flavours 3% of tasters made a purchase.

Before a company can begin to identify the potential benefits of G-B-B it must address 3 questions:

1. Does the feature have mass appeal or low appeal?
2. How would adding or subtracting it affect the cost of producing the good or offering the service?
3. And is it a “fence” attribute—one that constitutes a barrier preventing existing customers from crossing over to something cheaper?

Many retailers focus on the Best option as they see this as the greatest opportunity to generate revenue but fence attributes is an area that is the most challenging task to G-B-B because of the risks of existing customers moving to lower priced options and thereby reducing sales. Fence attributes prevent this, by making the downgrade a difficult, unpleasant, or painful choice. For instance, when the New York Times launched its digital subscriptions, in 2011, it moved to a G-B-B model in which the physical paper (which many subscribers were loath to discontinue, and which is costly to print and deliver) served as a fence attribute. That fence is effective enough to support a hefty price differential: An all-access digital subscription currently costs $324 a year, whereas adding print delivery brings the price to $481 and up, depending on location.

G-B-B and The Economist subscription

I recently received a letter from The Economist (see image below) concerning the renewal of my subscription. Could the same pricing system of the New York Times be applied here? Does the print package acts as the fence attribute and is it effective enough to support the price differential? The combination of high appeal and high cost means that if the feature is part of the Better but not the Good offering, relatively few people accustomed to Better (that is, existing customers) will consider Good—but those willing to do without the feature can enjoy a significant discount. 1 year Subscription is:

Good – Digital Package – NZ$460
Better – Print Package – NZ$530
Best – Print + Digital Package – NZ$640

Conclusion
Most companies could implement some form of G-B-B. Every company already offers the equivalent of a Better offering, and even if some firms can’t implement both Good and Best, many could gain new customers, additional revenue, or both by adding either a Good or a Best to their lineup.

Sources:

‘Good, Better, Best’ by Rafi Mohammed. September – October 2018 Harvard Business Review.

Priceless (2010) – William Poundstone