Author Archives: Mark

Boeing v Bombardier with Airbus in-between

Below is a very good video on the aircraft market – a duopoly involving Airbus and Boeing. But there is another manufacturer which produces a smaller aircraft that neither Airbus or Boeing produce – the Canadian manufacturer Bombardier. In 2004, the maker of private jets and small regional airliner, decided it was time to make the jump into the big leagues. It was time to build an advanced carbon composite jetliner to compete against the Airbus-Boeing duopoly. More specifically, the Canadian plane, dubbed the Bombardier C Series, would compete against the smaller variants of the cash cow Airbus A320-family and Boeing 737.

In April 2017, Boeing filed a complaint with US Commerce Department and the US International Trade Commission alleging that the Delta Airlines C Series order was only made possible abnormally low prices supported by Canadian government subsidies. The US International Trade Commission agreed and in September of that year recommended a 219.63% tariff. A week later, the Commerce Department added another 79.82% tariff. In total, Bombardier and Delta faced a 299.45% tariff on any Canadian-built C Series plane exported to the US.

Less than one month after the tariff was announced,Bombardier handed 50.01% of its prized airliner program to Airbus  with zero upfront cash investment coming from the European aviation giant. As part of the deal, Airbus announced that the C Series will also be produced at its assembly plant in Mobile, Alabama. Fortunately for Bombardier, the US International Trade Commission struck the down the proposed tariff in January 2018, ending the dispute.

Source: Business Insider Australia

Ethics and Profits – what about the coffee growers?

No business, however great or strong or wealthy it may be at present, can exist on unethical means, or in total disregards to its social concern, for very long. Resorting to unethical behaviour or disregarding social welfare is like calling for its own doom. Thus business needs, in its own interest, to remain ethical and socially responsible. As V.B. Dys in “The Social Relevance of Business ” had stated-

“As a Statement of purpose, maximising of profit is not only unsatisfying, it is not even accurate. A more realistic statement has to be more complicated. The corporation is a creation of society whose purpose is the production and distribution of needed if the whole is to be accurate: you cannot drop one element without doing violence to facts.”

Business needs to remain ethical for its own good. Unethical actions and decisions may yield results only in the very short run. For the long existence and sustained profitability of the firm, business is required to conduct itself ethically and to run activities on ethical lines. Doing so would lay a strong foundation for the business for continued and sustained existence. All over the world, again and again, it has been demonstrated that it is only ethical organisations that have continued to survive and grow, whereas unethical ones have shown results only as flash in the pan, quickly growing and even more quickly dying and forgotten.

Business needs to function as responsible corporate citizens of the country. It is that organ of the society that creates wealth for the country. Hence, business can play a very significant role in the modernisation and development of the country, if it chooses to do so. But this will first require it to come out from its narrow mentality and even narrower goals and motives. However behavioural economists have found that many business people don’t behave in this type of profit-maximising manner in times of crisis – e.g a water shortage means businesses could charge more. If they do, consumers remember and retaliate down the road.

Ethical Consumers

As consumers start to develop a preference for ethical brands, e.g.. Fair Trade Coffee, create a market for such coffee. Firms are therefore pressured to shift toward supplying what consumers want. This is even the case if the firm’s management don’t care how or where the coffee is sourced. Changing consumer preferences force firms to change their ways. Even at higher prices consumers are often willing to pay a premium for ‘ethical’ products or the products of socially responsible firms. Being more expensive doesn’t necessarily mean the company will go out of business if consumers have a preference for ethical products. Higher-priced ethical firms remain highly successful under these circumstances. Instead of being protected by tariffs or subsidies, they’re protected by the preference of consumers.

Coffee supply chain.
However a recent article in the FT outlined the desperate state for coffee growers. The price of high quality arabica beans is trading just above $1 in the New York Commodity Exchange – this is half the value it was 5 years ago. This was due to Brazilian producers flooding the market. Although coffee prices in the cafes have increased the farmers are not the ones to benefit. The image below shows that the grower only gets 1p from the $2.50 and the coffee itself only accounts 10p.

There is a supply chain that takes ‘clips the ticket’ on the way through (see image) but the majority of the cost is associated with rent, wages and tax. The video Black Gold (a bit old now but has some good economics) looks at the growing industry in Ethiopia where they have some of the finest coffee beans in the world. Farmers there have been ripping up coffee plants and replacing it with ‘chat’ – a drug which is banned in the West – which fetches a much higher price.

How George Soros almost broke the Bank of England and pocketed $1bn

Today I was teaching  exchange rates with my AS Level class and couldn’t get away from the events in Britain on the 16th September 1992 – known as Black Wednesday. On this day the British government were forced to pull the pound from the European Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM). The video below explains the drama that unfolded very well.

Background

The Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM) was the central part of the European Monetary System (EMS) and its purpose was to provide a zone of monetary stability – the ERM was like an imaginary rope (see below), preventing the value of currencies from soaring too high or falling too low in realtion to one another.

It consisted of a currency band with a ‘Ceiling’ and a ‘Floor’ through which currencies cannot (or should not) pass and a central line to which they should aspire. The idea is to achieve the mutual benefits of stabel currencies by mutual assistance in difficult times. Participating countries were permitted a variation of +/- 2.25% although the Italian Lira and the Spanish Peseta had a 6% band because of their volatility. When this margin is reached the two central banks concerned must intervene to keep within the permitted variation. The UK persistently refused to join the ERM, but under political pressure from other members agreed to join “when the time is right”. The Chancellor decided that this time had come in the middle of October 1990. The UK pound was given a 6% variation

Black Wednesday

Although it stood apart from European currencies, the British pound had shadowed the German mark (DM) in the period leading up to the 1990s. Unfortunately, Britain at the time had low interest rates and high inflation and they entered the ERM with the express desire to keep its currency above 2.7 DM to the pound. This was fundamentally unsound because Britain’s inflation rate was many times that of Germany’s.

Compounding the underlying problems inherent in the pound’s inclusion into the ERM was the economic strain of reunification that Germany found itself under, which put pressure on the mark as the core currency for the ERM. Speculators began to eye the ERM and wondered how long fixed exchange rates could fight natural market forces. Britain upped its interest rates to 15% (5% in one day) to attract people to the pound, but speculators, George Soros among them, began heavy shorting* of the currency. Spotting the writing on the wall, by leveraging the value of his fund, George Soros was able to take a $10 billion short position on the pound, which earned him US$1 billion. This trade is considered one of the greatest trades of all time.

* In finance, short selling is the practice of selling assets, usually securities, that have been borrowed from a third party (usually a broker) with the intention of buying identical assets back at a later date to return to that third party. The short seller hopes to profit from a decline in the price of the assets between the sale and the repurchase, as the seller will pay less to buy the assets than it received on selling them. Wikipedia.

Countries tax rates on the wrong side of the Laffer Curve

The laffer curve (named after American economist Arthur Laffer) indicates the relationship between the tax rate and the revenue gained by the government. If you charge a high tax rate it is unlikely that you will encourage people into work and therefore the tax revenue for the government is a lot lower if taxes had been lower. The curve suggests that, as taxes increase from low levels, tax revenue collected by the government also increases. It also shows that tax rates increasing after a certain point would cause people not to work as hard or not at all, thereby reducing tax revenue. Eventually, if tax rates reached 100% (the far right of the curve), then all people would choose not to work because everything they earned would go to the government.

Economists have long used the Laffer curve to justify tax cuts, including:
Ronald Reagan in 1981 – resulted in lower revenues
George W. Bush in 2001 – resulted in lower revenues.
Donal Trump in 2017 – resulted in lower revenues

The Congressional Budget Office, a government watchdog, now reckons that US national debt will hit 95% of GDP by 2027, up from 89% two years ago before the tax cuts.

America (see graphic above) is not the only country that appears to be on the wrong side of Mr Laffer’s curve. A paper published in 2017 by Jacob Lundberg, estimates Laffer curves for 27 OECD countries. He found that only Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland and Sweden have top income-tax rates that exceed their revenue-maximising levels. However only Sweden could meaningfully boost revenue by cutting tax rates on high-income earners. Most countries, in other words, appear to have set their highest tax rates at or below the optimal rate suggested by the Laffer curve.

Source: The Economist – 19th June 2019 – Graphic detail

Indifference Curves – Mindmap and Video

Been covering this topic with my A2 class and it is one of the more complex parts of the micro course. The video is particularly useful.


Income and Substitution Effects with Indifference Curves
Any price change can be conveniently analysed into 2 separate effects – the INCOME EFFECT and the SUBSTITUTION EFFECT.

Income effect of a price change: – when there is a fall in the price of a product, the consumer receives a real income effect and is able to buy more of this and other products in spite of the fact that nominal income is unchanged. If the consumer buys more of the good when the price falls it is a Normal good. If the consumer buys less of the good when the price falls it is seen as an Inferior good.

Substitution effect of a price change: – when there is a rise or fall in the price of a product, the consumer receives a decrease or an increase in the utility derived from each unit of money spent on the product and therefore rearranges demand to maximise utility. This is distinct from the income effect of a price change. For all products, the substitution effect is always positive such that a fall in price leads to an increase in demand as consumers realise an increase in the satisfaction they derive from each unit of money spent on the product.

Remember for normal goods, both the income and substitution effects are positive. But the income effect can be negative: if a negative income effect outweighs the positive substitution effect, this means that less is bought at a lower price and vice-versa. This good is therefore known as a Giffen good.

Giffen goods are generally regarded as goods of low quality which are important elements in the expenditure of those on low incomes. A good example is a basic food such as rice, which forms a significant part of the diet of the poor in many countries. The argument, not accepted by all economists, is that when the price of rice falls sufficiently individuals’ real income will rise to an extent that they will be able to afford more attractive substitutes such as fresh fruit or vegetables to makeup their diet and as a result they will actually purchase less rice even though its price has fallen.

Globalisation for Africa

By end of the century 40% of the world’s population is projected to be living in Africa and still globalisation seems to have a limited impact on its people. In order to make Africa more inclusive policies will have to focus on accelerating regional integration, bridging gaps in labor skills and digital infrastructure, and creating a mechanism to own and regulate Africa’s digital data. Although the first industrial revolution resulted in a significant increase in international trade Africa has been a poor benefactor and this has led to the “great divergence” in income levels between the Global North and South. In the 1980s, the Brandt Line was developed as a way of showing the how the world was geographically split into relatively richer and poorer nations. According to this model:

  • Richer countries are almost all located in the Northern Hemisphere, with the exception of Australia and New Zealand.
  • Poorer countries are mostly located in tropical regions and in the Southern Hemisphere.

With the advances in technology over the last two decades Asian countries like China, Taiwan and South Korea have been able to narrow the gap with developed nations mainly because of the emergence of complex global value chains. However although Africa might have benefitted from the commodities market developed economies can now produce goods more cheaply and African countries have found it difficult to develop local industries that create jobs.

Unsurprisingly the economic disparity between Africa and richer countries has widened in recent decades, with the ratio of African incomes to those in advanced economies falling from 12% in the early 1980s to 8% today. In order to reverse this trend and enable Africa to benefit more from globalisation, the region’s policymakers should accelerate their efforts in three areas.

Policies to promote growth in Africa:

  1. Governments should promote further regional integration to make Africa economically stronger and more effective at advancing its agenda internationally. Progress so far is very encouraging.
  2. Africa must improve its digital infrastructure and technology-related skills to avoid being further marginalised. Moreover, the low-cost, low-skill labour on which Africa has traditionally relied is becoming less of a competitive advantage, given the advent of the Fourth Industrial Revolution
  3. Africa must create a system for owning and regulating its digital data. In the modern era, capital has displaced land as the most important asset and determinant of wealth.

By 2030, the continent will be home to almost 90% of the world’s poorest people. Unless globalisation works better for Africa than it has in the past, its promise of shared prosperity will remain unfulfilled.

Source: Project Syndicate – Making Globalization Work for Africa May 30, 2019 Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala , Brahima Coulibaly

Trump: Tariffs first, negotiate later

The direct impact of the US-China trade war has yet to materialise. The global economic slowdown started long before the opening shots were fired in this bitter battle. Central banks are getting ready to cut interest rates, if they haven’t already started, to support growth.

All this to mitigate the fallout from US President Donald Trump’s doctrine of tariffs first, negotiate later. Trade talks with China have broken down; Huawei can’t buy US goods; Trump has threatened tariffs on imported cars from Europe and Japan. Sanctions against Cuba, Iran and Venezuela have yet to yield any benefits. And in his latest move, he has decided Mexico needs to do more to stop immigration. If it doesn’t, there will be tariffs for Mexico as well – a move that’s rattled global markets.

Mexico is the US’s biggest trading partner, exporting $347bn to the US in 2018. A 25 percent tariff would cost about $86bn a year. With many US and international car makers located south of the US border, the auto industry would be the hardest hit. Deutsche Bank estimates vehicle prices could rise on average $1,300 – if tariffs hit 25 percent.

While Trump wants automakers to move back to the US – which is highly unlikely – this could have a devastating impact in Mexico where 839,571 people are employed in the car industry. According to economic consultancy Perryman Group, more than 400,000 US jobs could be lost if the US imposed the 5 percent levy; the net loss to the economy could be $41bn; and the state that’s most dependent on Mexico, Texas, stands to lose more than 100,000 jobs and $7bn in income. If Trump’s trade war with China is anything to go by – the damage to the economy has already been done. The president has signed a $16bn bailout for farmers. Source: Al Jazeera – 9th June 2019

Why is Vanilla so expensive?

The video below from The Economist looks at the supply and demand that impacts the price of vanilla. 80% of the world’s vanilla is grown in the perfectly suited climate of the north-east region of Madagascar. It’s the country’s primary export crop.

In 2014 vanilla was $80 a kilo.

In 2017 was $600.

Today it’s around $500.

The price rise is due in part to global demand. The trend of eating naturally means that food companies have shunned synthetic flavouring in favour of the real deal. Companies have started to look elsewhere for their natural vanilla. Indonesia, Uganda and even the Netherlands are growing the crop. For a century Madagascar has enjoyed a near-monopoly on vanilla. But this industry may be in line for a radical overhaul.

English Premier League – where competition means more revenue and better football

As the season drew to a close with the Europa League and Champions League Finals last week one couldn’t help noticing the dominance of the EPL sides. To have 4 clubs from the EPL in the finals is unprecedented and testament to the strength on the EPL. A lot of the other European leagues have a dominance of one or maybe two teams – EG

  • Spain – La Liga – Barcelona won the championship easily this year. Real Madrid its closest rivals in previous years finished 3rd.
  • Germany – Bundesliga – Bayern Munich won the league for the last 7 years although Borussia Dortmund have been close on a few occasions.
  • France – Ligue 1 – Paris St German won the league by 16 points and have won Ligue 1 6 out of the last 7 seasons
  • Italy – Serie A – Juventus won the league by 11 points and it was their 8th consecutive title.
  • Netherlands – Eredivisie – Ajax won the league by 3 points from PSV Eindhoven. Third place was a further 18 points behind

US Economist Walter Neale said that a pure monopoly in sport is not good. If some team is totally dominant in a league the interest in the competition wanes and fewer fans turn up to games and also television rights become less attractive. Therefore if a club is dominant in a league it will have to look to other alternatives to generate more revenue – creating a super league amongst other teams at the expense of national leagues like the Premier League, La Liga in Spain and Germany’s Bundesliga. This would be like major sports in the USA where the same teams compete without the threat of relegation. It would also be to the detriment of local leagues in which clubs traditionally have huge followings and also generate a lot of income.

However the EPL has done well to have a very competitive competition with 6 clubs being serious contenders for the title – Manchester City, Liverpool, Tottenham, Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester Utd. With such competition there is interest from the fan base and TV rights which makes for a profitable league. So revenue in the sports arena is generated by competition not monopoly power. The EPL title went down to the last game whilst PSG won the Ligue 1 with 5 games left.

Source: Financial Times – 15th May 2019 – ‘Premier League wins by creating room at the top for football clubs’  by John Gapper.

Using whiteboards to teach externalities graphs

I held my annual whiteboard competition with my A2 Economics class to see who could draw the best 4 graphs showing Positive and Negative Externalities of Consumption and Production. The winner this year was Fiona Leng with two highly recommended by Jemima Hodgson and Yanz Chen.

Fiona Leng

Jemima Hodgson

Yanz Chen

The externalities topic at A2 Level Economics involves being able to draw and understand four graphs. A different way of teaching this area of the course was to get students to use A3 size whiteboards so that they could practice drawing these graphs. This proved to be very successful with students for the following reasons:

  • the novelty of using whiteboards
  • if they made a mistake this could be easily rubbed out and they could start again
  • it allowed me to go around the class to correct graphs where necessary
  • students took pride in their graphs
  • the best set of graphs was posted on the econfix blog
  • students who were struggling could learn off others