Author Archives: Mark

A2 Revision – Economies of Scale Mind Map

With the A2 exam not far away here is something on Economies of Scale – also a mind map which I have edited from Susan Grant’s book.

When the average cost curve slopes downwards it means that average costs are decreasing as output increases. Whenever this happens the firm is experiencing economies of scale . If on the other hand the average costs are increasing as output increases the firm is experiencing diseconomies of scale . Why do firms experience economies of scale?

Technical Economies: large firms can take advantage of increased capacity machinery. For example, a double-decker bus can carry twice as many passengers as a single decker bus. But without the purchase costs and the running costs are not doubled.

Managerial Economies: In a small firm the manager may perform the role of cost accountant, foreman, salesman, personnel officer, stock controller etc. However, as a firm increases in size it can take advantage of specialisation of labour.

Commercial Economies: The large firm can buy it raw materials in bulk at favourable rates.

Financial Economies: the larger firm can negotiate loans from banks and related institutions     easily and at favourable rates.

Risk-Bearing Economies: All firms are subject to risk at sometime or other. However, the larger firm has distinct advantages in this area as small changes in supply and demand can often ruin a small company and larger firms can cover itself by producing a variety of products for a variety of markets.

New Zealand keep triple A rating but what does it mean?

Moody’s credit rating agency continued with a Aaa rating of New Zealand’s economy. They expect the coalition government will remain committed to fiscal discipline, with the Budget staying in surplus. The high strength of New Zealand’s institutions was a key factor in underpinning the credit rating. There are three main rating agencies in the global economy – Standard & Poor’s, Moody’s and Fitch – below are the ratings that each company uses.

Conflict of Interest and the sub-prime crisis of 2008
Rating agencies are paid by the people whose products they grade and they are competing against other rating agencies for the business. Subsequently the rating agencies were being played-off against each other by the bankers in this market and this led to a systemic decline in standards and willingness not to check the underlying information as thoroughly as possible for fear of losing the deal. Even the rating agencies themselves admit mistakes were made is assessing sub-prime debt and that there were issues to do with data quality from their sources of research. However one has to consider whether the world have been better off if credit rating agencies had not existed as pension funds, bond funds, insurance companies etc would have had to do a lot more of their own research on what they were buying.

Remember before the credit crisis AAA investments mushroomed between 2000-2006 see graph below.

But consider the following:
Bear Stearns
– rated A2 a month before it went bankrupt
Lehman Brothers – rated A2 just days before it collapsed
AIG – rated AA within days of being bailed out
Fannie Mae & Freddie Mac – AAA rating before being bailed out by the government
Citigroup – A2 before receiving a bail out package from the Government
Merrill Lynch – A2 before being sold to Bank of America

A2 is considered a good investment grade

 

A2 Economics – Liquidity Preference Curve

With mock exams this week here is something on Liquidity Preference – included is a mind map that has been modified from Susan Grant’s CIE revision book.

Demand for money

TRANSACTIONS DEMAND – T – this is money used for the purchase of goods and services. The transactions demand for money is positively related to real incomes and inflation. As an individual’s income rises or as prices in the shops increase, he will have to hold more cash to carry out his everyday transactions. The quantity of nominal money demand is therefore proportional to the price level in the economy. (note:  the real demand for money is independent of the price level)

PRECAUTIONARY BALANCES – P – this is money held to cover unexpected items of expenditure. As with the transactions demand for money, it is positively correlated with real incomes and inflation.

SPECULATIVE BALANCES – S – this is money not held for transaction purposes but in place of other financial assets, usually because they are expected to fall in price.

Bond prices and interest rates are inversely related – Interest Rates ↑ = Bond Prices ↓ and Interest Rates ↓ = Bond Prices ↑.

If a bond has a fixed return, e.g. $10 a year. If the price of a bond is $100 this represents a 10% return. If the price of the bond is $50 this represents a 20% return, i.e. the lower the price of the bond, the greater the return.

At high rates of interest, individuals expect interest rates to fall and bond prices to rise. To benefit from the rise in bond prices individuals use their speculative balances to buy bonds. Thus when interest rates are high speculative money balances are low.

At low rates of interest, individuals expect interest rates to rise and bond prices to fall. To avoid the capital loses associated with a fall in the price of bonds individuals will sell their bonds and add to their speculative cash balances. Thus, when interest rates are low speculative money balances will be high.

There is an inverse relationship between the rate of interest and the speculative demand for money.

The total demand for money is obtained by the summation of the transactions, precautionary and speculative demands. Represented graphically, it is sometimes called the liquidity preference curve and is inversely related to the rate of interest.

 

 

Has banking culture changed since GFC?

Below is an excellent video by Gillian Tett of the FT looking at banking culture. She discusses the ‘flaw’ in Alan Greenspan’s thinking and how culture has been overlooked at the cost to the global economy 10 years on from the financial crisis. By understanding the role of culture in banking, are we more resilient to another crisis now? She also talks of trust in the modern economy and in order to build it you must understand it and how human culture works. And once trust or credit is lost it is very hard to regain.

Global Monetary Policy – why are US rates on the rise?

With the A2 mock exam next week here is a post on the theory and applied aspects of monetary policy. Monetary policy is the process by which the monetary authority of a country controls the supply of money, often targeting an inflation rate or interest rate to ensure price stability and general trust in the currency.

Further goals of a monetary policy are usually to contribute to economic growth and stability, to lower unemployment, and to maintain predictable exchange rates with other currencies.

Monetary policy is referred to as either being expansionary or contractionary, where an expansionary policy increases the total supply of money in the economy more rapidly than usual, and contractionary policy expands the money supply more slowly than usual or even shrinks it. Expansionary policy is traditionally used to try to combat unemployment in a recession by lowering interest rates in the hope that easy credit will entice businesses into expanding. Contractionary policy is intended to slow inflation in order to avoid the resulting distortions and deterioration of asset values. See  mind map of Monetary Policy below.

What have caused US interest rates to increase?

The US economy has been at the forefront of the global upswing in the last couple of years and compared to other countries they are imposing a contractionary monetary policy – see graph.

The central bank in the USA, the Federal Reserve, are confident that the economy is nearly at full capacity and that inflationary pressures are starting to become evident. The main factors behind this are as follows and they all point towards an increase in aggregate demand.

  • Higher GDP growth
  • Rising investment in oil and gas industry
  • Strong consumer spending
  • Tax cuts
  • Strong employment growth
  • Tight labour market
  • Higher wages

The US is the only major economy to impose a significant contractionary monetary policy and the Fed has increased its interest rate six times in the last two years, and four more rate hikes are expected over the next 12 months. The UK and Canada have raised their policy rates tentatively, while Europe and Japan are still in the midst of unconventional easing programmes and interest rate hikes are a distant prospect. Whilst the Reserve Bank in New Zealand don’t expect rates to rise until early 2020.

Veblen Goods and inconspicuous consumption?

Conspicuous consumption was introduced by economist and sociologist Thorstein Veblen in his 1899 book The Theory of the Leisure Class. It is a term used to describe the lavish spending on goods and services acquired mainly for the purpose of displaying income or wealth. In the mind of a conspicuous consumer, such display serves as a means of attaining or maintaining social status.

Economists and sociologists often cite the 1980’s as a time of extreme conspicuous consumption. The yuppie materialised as the key agent of conspicuous consumption in the US. Yuppies didn’t need to purchase BMWs or Mercedes’ cars for example; they did so in order to show off their wealth. This period had its origins in the 1930’s with Austrian economists Ludwig von Mises and Fredrick von Hayek – the latter being the author of “The Road to Serfdom”, in which he said that social spending rather than private consumption would lead inevitably to tyranny. Margaret Thatcher (UK Prime Minister 1979-1990) and Ronald Reagan (US President 1981-1989) believed in this ideology and cut taxes and privatised the commanding heights in a move to a free market environment.

VeblenSo-called Veblen goods (also as know as snob value goods) reverse the normal logic of economics in that the higher the price the more demand for the product – see graph below

Over the last three decades conspicuous consumption has accelerated at a phenomenal level in the industrial world. Self-gratification could no longer be delayed and an ever-increasing variety of branded products became firmly ingrained within our individuality. The myth that the more we have the happier we become is self-perpetuating: the more we consume, the less able we are to tackle the myth.

However a recently published book The Sum of Small Things: A Theory of the Aspirational Class by Elizabeth Currid-Halkett looks at how the power of material goods as symbols of social position has diminished due to their accessibility. Although the lower income groups must dedicate a greater proportion of their income to basic necessities, they spend a higher share of their income to conspicuous consumption than the rich do. Between 1996 and 2014 the richest 1% fell further behind the national average in the percentage of their spending dedicated to bling. The middle income quintile went the other way: by 2014 they spent 35% more than the average as a percentage of their annual expenditure.

According to Elizabeth Currid-Halkett the higher income groups have moved away from buying stuff – materialism – to more subtle expenditures that reveal status and knowledge. The most common of them being education for their children.

Those in the top 10% of income earners now allocate four time as much of their spending to school and university compared to 1996, whereas for other income groups spending has remained fairly constant. However one could say that fees for both school and university have increased over that period of time. The upper class also invest heavily in domestic services such as housekeepers, freeing up time that the less fortunate must spend on chores.

Rather than frittering away that precious leisure time on frivolities, as Veblen’s leisure class did, they devote it to enriching experiences, like attending the opera, holidaying in far-off lands and working out at fancy gyms. Their children, by tagging along and thus absorbing this “cultural capital”, develop the sophistication needed to win admission to selective universities, vastly increasing the odds that they will form the next generation’s elite. The modern equivalent of Victorian worsted-stocking wearers are hipsters, who imitate the wealthy’s penchant for farmers’ markets and fair-trade lattes, even if they cannot afford a cruise to Antarctica.  Source: The Economist – August 5th 2017

Money as a store of value: Post-War Germany to present day Venezuela

If you have studied any economics course you will no doubt have come across the functions of money. One of the four functions of money is the store of value.

Store of value
Once a commodity becomes universally acceptable in exchange for goods and services, it is possible to store wealth by holding a stock of this commodity. It is a great convenience to hold wealth in the form of money. Consider the problems holding wealth in the form of wheat. It may deteriorate, it is costly to store, must be insured, and there will be significant handling costs in accumulating and distributing it.

However in a country which is being ravaged by hyperinflation money as a store value is rather inadvisable due to the fact that the return for putting in the bank will not be greater than the inflation which reduces its value. So what do people do to preserve their savings from hyperinflation? The importance of the function of money is dramatically illustrated by the experience of Germany just after World War II, when paper money was rendered largely useless because, despite inflationary conditions, price controls were effectively enforced by the American, French, and British armies of occupation. People had to resort to barter or to inefficient money substitutes – cigarettes and cognac – as these became stores of real wealth.

Venezuela is a current example of a country which has this problem. Some of the examples of wealth preservation can be seen on the Caracas skyline with the building boom that is taking place. This would usually be indicative of a growing economy but businesses are so worried about preserving their earnings that they are prepared to build white elephants as they see it as a better alternative that all their income being whipped out by inflation. On a smaller scale, eggs seem to be holding their value and are also a useful medium of exchange – it is easier to pay people in eggs as it has value and is much more portable (a characteristic of money) remember post-war Germany with wheel barrows of bank notes. In fact people are more likely to be accepting of eggs than banknotes.

Causes of hyperinflation

As with hyperinflation in Bolivia in the 1980’s, the weaknesses in public finances is the main cause of Venezuela’s hyperinflation. The reliance on a single source of income – oil export revenue – as well as increased social welfare spending left the government short of cash. Their solution was to go to the printers and print more money to pay its bills. This feeds inflation which in turn means that the government has to print more money as tax receipts are eroded by hyperinflation. Therefore more money is created to fill the gap in revenue = inflation increasing.

Hedges

In the 1980’s and 90’s a lot of the middle class in Venezuela kept their money offshore in US dollar accounts. But with capital controls making it hard to transfer large amounts of cash, property seemed to be a viable hedging option. However property was too valuable as an inflation hedge. Car ownership became a store of value in that as well as getting you from A to B it was possible to sell the car for more than it was bought for. Some bought shares so as to deposit money and then sell them for larger amounts of cash. For the low incomes the options are limited but they also lack financial acumen as they tend not to act quickly enough to invest in a broader range of assets and refinance debt when interest rates are low. With hyperinflation the long term becomes the next week.

Source: The Economist – A trunkful of bolivares – July 21st 2018

Global Dairy Prices down but why does NZ have such high milk prices?

On the 21st August the GDT Price Index continued its decline and dipped 3.6pc, with an average selling price of $3,044 per tonne. Whole milk powder was down 2.1% at $2,883 – see graph below:

How does the GDT work?

GlobalDairyTrade trading events are conducted as ascending-price clock auctions run over several bidding rounds.  In each auction a specified maximum quantity of each product is offered for sale at a pre-announced starting price. Bidders bid the quantity of each product that they wish to purchase at the announced price. If the price of a product increases between rounds, to ensure their desired quantity a bidder must bid their desired quantity at the new, higher price. Generally, as the price of a product increases, the quantity of bids received for that product decreases. The trading event runs over several rounds with the prices increasing round to round until the quantity of bids received for each product on offer matches the quantity on offer for the product (as shown in the diagram below). Each trading event typically lasts approximately 2 hours.

Why are prices so high in NZ?

Fonterra is responsible for 30% of the world’s dairy exports with revenue exceeding NZ$20 billion and is New Zealand’s largest company. With New Zealand being one of the biggest producers you would expect prices for New Zealand consumers to be lower than what they are – a litre of fresh milk in Germany was selling for the equivalent of $1.51, compared to $2.37 in New Zealand.

Milk being inelastic in demand and is an essential part of the typical family shopping basket. Up until 1976 the price of milk was set by the government and producers were subsidised the loss that they incurred by a set price. The subsidy was completely removed in 1985 and by 1993, milk could be sold at any price. In January 1994, two litres was selling for the modern equivalent of $3.95. Consumer NZ estimates that for every $3.56 bottle of milk (an average retail price at present), about $1.19 would go to the farmer, $1.91 to the processor and retailer and 46c to GST.

Who gets what?

Because Fonterra take over 80% of what farmers produce it is difficult for the market to decide what an appropriate price to pay farmers. Therefore they work out what they believe is the highest sustainable price it can pay its farmers. It looks at the global dairy trade auction price and operating costs and capital costs to determine the farm gate price.

GDT price – Operating Costs – Capital Costs = Farm Gate Price

So farmers in New Zealand are at the mercy of the global market not how much is demanded in NZ supermarkets.

NZ Supermarket Prices

Supermarkets buy their milk from local distributors, either direct from Fonterra or other processors such as Synlait, or from suppliers who had value along the way. They then add their own costs to give a final price to the consumer but New Zealand food retailing effectively is a duopoly. Milk in Germany is much lower in price because of the high levels of competition with multiple chains operating there. In New Zealand however the price consumers pay reflects the concentrated nature of the market. Domestic milk market is dominated by one big supplier, Fonterra (see graph below), and two big supermarket chains – Foodstuffs and Progressive Enterprises – which means there’s little competition for your dairy dollar.

Venezuela – can’t print money quickly enough

The extent of the inflation crisis in Venezuela has led to people to make origami objects out of 2, 5 and 100 bolivares bank notes as they are worth more sold as souvenir items than their face value. The free market exchange rate is 3.5 million bolivares = 1US$.

Venezuela’s problems started when oil prices collapsed – 95% of Venezuela’s export revenue is from oil. With falling oil revenue and therefore foreign currency the government has less money to buy imports. The inflation figure is due to hit 1,000,000% by the end of the year and this has been mainly caused by the printing of money to finance the deficit which amounts to 30% of GDP. But there is another problem in that they don’t have enough bank notes to go around. Like a lot of things in Venezuela bank notes are imported and the central bank printer produces less than 5% of cash in circulation. Since 2016 there have been major problems with note denominations.

December 2016 – President Maduro decrees that 100 Bolivar note will be withdrawn from circulation but the larger denominations never turned up. 500-bolivar notes turn up on emergency flights but too few came and inflation had eroded the value to 20 cents.

November 2017 – 100,000 bolivar notes arrive but not enough too meet demand. Traders sell bundles of assorted banknotes for up to three times their face value – needed for small budget items such as bus fares, coffee etc.

Much of the economy runs on debit cards and bank transfers but the checkout computers cannot cope with such large denominations. Maduro’s solution here was to create a ‘sovereign bolivar’ worth a thousand times more and it will fit more easily on screens. However this will do nothing for the stemming inflation. But again they place the order with the printers too late and they will be nearly worthless when they arrive. However the overseas printers are doing well out of it.

Below is a very informative video from CNN about the on-going crisis.

Football stadiums and economics

With the start of the EPL this weekend I thought it appropriate to look at something related to football. Teams in the EPL and other domestic leagues often look for funding from the government to build stadiums with the rationale that the investment will attract consumers and businesses to the local area. This suggests that a multiplier effect would be at work and the benefits to the area go beyond that of the football field.

The size of the multiplier is influenced by how much of extra income is spent on domestically produced products. The more that is passed on in the circular flow, the larger will be the multiplier. This means that the size of the multiplier varies inversely with the tendency for extra income to be withdrawn from the circular flow – the marginal propensity to withdraw. It is calculated by 1/marginal propensity to withdraw. In the case of a two sector economy, this is I divided by the marginal propensity to save (mps). For example, if people save $20 out of an increase in income of $100, the mps will be 0.2 and the multiplier will be 1/0.2 = 5.

Cities with new stadiums initially create jobs and growth but in the long-term there is little economic benefit. Why?

  1. For all their cultural significance, sports tams are not very big businesses and so their overall impact is small in most cities of any size.
  2. If local residents spend more at the stadium they are likely to reduce spending elsewhere which will impact on local businesses.
  3. A stadium may attract more visitors from outside the area who inject money into the local economy, but the multiplier effect is likely to be small because many of the services they consume will actually come from outside the area – e.g. food and beverages may be shipped in from elsewhere.

If you look at previous World Cups or European Championships there tends to be the same issues as mentioned above

The 2010 World Cup in South Africa saw Soccer City, the largest sports venue in Africa, undergo a £300 million renovation which costs £250,000 a month to maintain. It is the stadium for the Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates but is rarely full and has struggles to make revenue from other sources. See below:

Brazil spent about $3 billion building 12 new or heavily refurbished stadiums for the 2014 World Cup. Officials justified the expense by saying that the stadiums would generate revenue for years to come with Brazilian football premier league games and rock concerts but most stadiums are failing to generate any revenue. The most expensive stadium in Brasilia – 72,000 seater and a $900 million venue – is used a bus parking lot. A big issue here was that there was no major professional football team in the city so therefore limited crowds would be present. Although the organisers rationale was to improve facilities around the country there are white elephants evident – in some locations teams cannot afford the rental so will play at much smaller venues. A $600m stadium in Manaus was used for 4 World Cup games but is now empty which is not surprising as the city itself has a lower division football team who don’t have the finances. What people forget is that, although the stadiums might look good and are used to host the biggest sporting event in the world, a large number of people are displaced and neighbourhoods disestablished. But organisers say that it will add to the well-being of the population especially if the host side wins – however this has not been the case for Brazil – in fact as we know it turned out to be a bit of a trashing in the semi-final against Germany. It will be interesting to see the use of stadiums in Russia after the World Cup just gone but one cannot doubt that the morale of the Russian people was significantly boosted by their teams performance.