Author Archives: Mark

Yes, Minister – Milton Friedman, Milton Keynes, Milton Schuman and Maynard Keynes

I am working may way through the Yes, Minister series and found an amusing clip where Humphery is advising Sir Desmond about the possibilities of getting the Minister to make the decision that they want him to make. However the start has Sir Desmond getting a little confused with his economists and giving his reason for buying the Financial Times.

Cobweb Theory and Price Elasticity

I have blogged on this topic before and although not in the NCEA or CIE syllabus’ I find it useful theory to mention when doing supply, demand and elasticity. Agricultural markets are particularly vulnerable to price fluctuations. many agricultural products have inelastic demand and inelastic supply. This means that any change in demand or supply has more of an impact on price than on quantity. Price fluctuations can also arise due to the time lag between planning agricultural production and selling the produce. The cobweb theory (so-called because of the appearance of the diagram) suggests that price can fluctuate around the equilibrium for some time, or even move away from the equilibrium. Dairy farmers base their production decisions on the price prevailing in the previous time period.


The supply of dairy products in New Zealand fits this assumption – farmers make their production decisions today, but the dairy cooperatives (Fonterra, Westland, etc.) don’t make a final decision on the price farmers will receive until close to the end of the season.

Cobweb scenarios:
Convergent
At the equilibrium point, if the demand curve is more elastic than the supply curve, we get the price volatility falling, and the price will converge on the equilibrium. For example:

  • Adverse weather conditions means their is a poor crop – Qt
  • The excess demand causes the price to rise – Pt
  • Because of the higher price famers plant more crops and therefore greater supply – Qt+1
  • With supply so high prices drop to meet demand – Pt+1
  • Lower prices mean that famers supply less to the following year – Qt+2
  • This results in higher prices again – Pt+2
  • Because of the higher price famers plant more crops and therefore greater supply – Qt+3 etc.
  • This process continues until you get to an equilibrium as the PED is greater than the PES – supply curve is steeper than the demand curve.
Source: Policonomics

Continuous
This is occurs where there is a continuous fluctuation between two equilibriums – Pt and Pt+1. The PED and the PES are equal to each other.
Divergent
Prices will diverge from the equilibrium when the PES greater than the PED at the equilibrium point – i.e.the demand curve is steeper than the supply – price changes could increase and the market becomes more changeable.

Even though these three diagrams show very different results they are dependent on the PES and the PED of the market.

Source:
https://policonomics.com/lp-closed-economy-cobweb-model/

Elearneconomics

Do consider eLearneconomics for your students and a resource for you and your students to use. The site has over 130 topics with comprehensive key notes with coloured diagrams, extensive flash/cue card questions based the notes, written answers that students can do that they can compare with model answers. Printable PDFs with answers are available to fully subscribed members. It also has 10 000 plus MCQs. The site assists learning allowing students to improve results. To find out more about eLearneconomics and how it can assist students with Economics please click on the link below:

Elearneconomics

New Zealand’s export risk exposure to China.

On 7th April 2008 New Zealand became the first OECD country to sign a free trade deal with China, an economy which in the 1970’s was one of the poorest countries in the global economy. Today China is the world’s second largest economy and the fastest growing at a rate around 7% per year. China is now comfortably New Zealand’s largest export market, accounting for the largest share of our exports in all but a few sectors.

Source: Westpac Bank

In 2017, China surpassed Australia and became our largest export market. But as exporters’ focus has switched to China, New Zealand’s exports have become less diversified, exposing exporters to concentration risk.

Westpac Bank reported in their November 2020 Quarterly Overview that while the New Zealand-China trade relationship is strong, China could in the future choose to disrupt New Zealand exports. Recently Australian exports into China had the following restrictions imposed on them:

  • 80% tariff on Australian barley exports
  • ban on Australia’s biggest grain exporter
  • suspension of beef imports from five major meat-processing plants
  • China has also launched an anti-dumping investigation into Australian wine exports
  • Chinese cotton mills were told not to process Australian imports

At a high level, NZ-China trade flows reflect each economy’s comparative advantage and because of this trade relationship New Zealand faces less risk exposure. The risk exposure really depends on how important New Zealand’s export supply is to China and the other markets where the product/service can be sourced which includes other countries as well as domestically.

More Options = More Risk

China exposure risk by export sector

Westpac Bank

High risk
It seems that tourism, seafood, and gold kiwifruit have the highest exposure. For these exports, essentially China has options (including domestically) for alternate supply. Education (universities and English language schools) also faces similarly high risk.

Also kiwifruit as New Zealand only account for 4.5% of China’s total fruit imports. China does have a competitive domestic horticulture industry which has started to grow Zespri’s Sungold kiwifruit variety.

Medium risk
Wood and wider fruit sectors – have medium exposure risk. New Zealand accounts for a relatively significant share of global meat and wood exports, so China is reliant on New Zealand.
Meat – China also recognises New Zealand as a reliable and safe exporter. Looking at the wider fruit sector, exporters remain relatively diversified and thus less reliant on China.

Low risk
Dairy – in a strong position as China imports around 50% of its dairy produce from New Zealand.
Wine – China is a small market for New Zealand, so the sector’s reliance on China is also small.

Overall the complementary nature of the NZ China trade relationship means New Zealand’s risk exposure is less than the outright level of exports would suggest.
China needs New Zealand’s food (and wood) as it cannot produce enough (efficiently) on its own – while New Zealand remains the most competitive supplier. New Zealand needs China’s manufactured goods – while China remains the most competitive supplier.

Source: New Zealand’s exports to China: where is New Zealand most exposed? Westpac Economic Bulletin – 8 October 2020

Dollar vs Renminbi for reserve currency status

In doing most introductory courses in economics you will have come across the four functions of money which are:

  • Medium of exchange
  • Unit of Account
  • Store of Value
  • Means of deferred payment

Since the Bretton Woods Agreement in 1944 the US dollar was nominated as the world’s reserve currency and ranks highly compared to other currencies in the above functions. As a medium of exchange the US dollar is very prevalent:

  • 60% of the world’s currency reserves are in US dollars
  • 50% of cross-border interbank claims
  • After the GFC, purchases of the US dollar increased significantly – store of value.
  • Around 90% of forex trading involves the US dollar
  • Approximately 40% of the world’s debt is issued in dollars
  • In 2018 banks of Germany, France, and the UK held more liabilities in US dollars than in their own domestic currencies.

Is the Yuan challenging the US dollar for reserve currency status?
In 2015 Chinese authorities were keen on the currency going global and the following points would indicate this.

  • Deposits in renminbi = 1trn renminbi = US$144bn
  • Yuan transactions have grown in Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong and London.
  • Investment by Chinese firms into Belt and Road project = US$3.75bn which was in the renminbi
  • China settles 15% of its foreign trade in renminbi
  • France settles 20% of its trade with China in renminbi
  • 2018 – Shanghai sock market launched yuan-denominated oil futures.
  • The IMF suggest that the ‘yuan bloc’ accounts for 30% of Global GDP – the US$ = 40%

However as reported by the FT – see video below – the goal of reserve currency status was made more complex by the decision to maintain a loose peg to the US dollar. This means that the value of the renminbi would follow the non-specific value of the US dollar. So when the US dollar appreciated so did the renminbi and with a higher exchange rate Chinese exports became more expensive. This led the People’s Bank of China to intervene and devalue the currency by approximately 2% in 2015 – a weaker currency makes exports cheaper.

How do the Peoples Bank of China set the Yuan’s value?
Basically at 9.15am the Peoples Bank of China (Central Bank) and the SAFE (State Administration for Foreign Exchange) issues a circular to all the trading banks stating that this is the exchange of the renminbi to the US$ for today.

However this panicked investors who off-loaded their renminbi assets and sent its value downward. The reaction of China was to impose strict capital controls to stabilise the currency. But since the end of 2015 there has been a Chinese foreign exchange policy with the market forces of supply and demand being more prevalent. Nevertheless, there is still a long way to go before the renminbi is a freely floating exchange rate and the benefits that come with it.

Brexit – no longer ‘Mind the CAP’

After 47 years the UK has now left the EU and with it the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). At the outset of the EU, one of the main objectives was the system of intervention in agricultural markets and protection of the farming sector.

The economics behind CAP intervention price
An intervention price is the price at which the CAP would be ready to come into the market and to buy the surpluses, thus preventing the price from falling below the intervention price. This is illustrated below in Figure 1. Here the European supply of lamb drives the price down to the equilibrium 0Pfm – the free market price, where supply and demand curves intersect and quantity demanded and quantity supplied equal 0Qm. However, the intervention price (0Pint) is located above the equilibrium and it has the following effects:

  • It encourages an increase in European production. Consequently, output is raised to 0Qs1.
  • At intervention price, there is a production surplus equal to the horizontal distance AB which is the excess of supply above demand at the intervention price.
  • In buying the surplus, the intervention agency incurs costs equal to the area ABCD. It will then incur the cost of storing the surplus or of destroying it.
  • There is a contraction in domestic consumption to 0Qd1Consumers pay a higher price to the extent that the intervention price exceeds the notional free market price.

Figure 1: The effect of an intervention price on the income of EU farmers.

The increase in farmers’ incomes following intervention is shown also: as has been noted, one of the objectives of price support policy is to raise farmers’ incomes. The shaded area EBCFG indicates the increase in the incomes of the suppliers of lamb.

CAP and the UK

At considerable cost to the taxpayer the CAP has subsidised intensive farming methods that have impacted the British countryside and also increased the price of land making it harder to get into farming – since 2003 the price of land has risen from £4,500per hectare to £16,500 today. Subsidies also encourage farmers to develop land which is not suitable for farming and thus supports unproductive farms. The average English farm made a profit of just £6,200 in the tax year 2018-19 and being propped up by the subsidies has led to inertia and little or no innovation. Sheep farmers have especially struggled, in particular the 30% that are located in areas that are not conducive to farming – the Lake District, the Peak District, Exmoor and Dartmoor – but are seen by the public as picturesque walking areas. The issue being that farm income for grazing livestock in 2018-19 was approximately -£5,000 (lowland) and -£19,000 (upland) – see graph below.

Source: FT

New Zealand experience

New Zealand went through the process of removing the subsidies for farmers and in 1984 the Labour government ended all farm subsidies under the Lange Government and by 1990 the agricultural industry became the most deregulated sector in New Zealand. In the short-term there was considerable pain amongst the farming community and land values collapsed, inefficient farms went bust and the service sector that supports the industry. However to stay competitive in the heavily subsidised European and US markets New Zealand farmers had to increase efficiency, became more innovative and export-orientated – 95% of Fonterra’s produce (dairy) is exported. Compared to the UK, New Zealand does have a lower population density, weaker environmental standards and a different climate.

Post-CAP and the UK

In the Post-Brexit environment the UK government have pledged to keep overall subsidy levels although they will be replaced by the Environmentally Land Management Scheme (Elms) which is expected to be rolled out nationally by 2024 – the old subsidies will end in 2027. The Elms focuses on environmental benefits, such as flood mitigation and fostering wildflowers. Payments under Elms will initially be calculated on the basis of so-called “income foregone”, or what farmers could have otherwise made from farming on the same land, plus the estimated costs of the environmental work. The issue here is that a lot of this subsidy with go to the farmers who are already well off.

Agricultural support from the UK government is now focused on ‘public goods’ such as better air and water quality, thriving wildlife, soil health, or measures to reduce flooding and tackle climate change.

Inflation – an historical overview and how will covid-19 impact prices?

This is a very good video on inflation from The Economist – it discusses why over the past two decades inflation has remained low in good times and bad. There is a brief look at historical rates of inflation and policy with reference to Bill Phillips (Phillips Curve) and Paul Volker (US Fed Chairman) who increased the prime interest rate to 21.5% in 1981 to tackle inflation. Also low interest rates and government fiscal stimulus could start to see an upward movement in the inflation figure. Very useful for Unit 4 of the CIE AS and A2 Economics course.

Holiday reading for the beach

We are very fortunate in New Zealand to have a semblance of normality when compared to the rest of world. Whilst at the beach for a couple of weeks here are some books (reviews from Amazon) that I will endeavour to get through. I should be back on the blog around 11th January – have a good Christmas and New Year wherever you are and stay safe.

The Narrow Corridor – By the authors of the international bestseller Why Nations Fail, based on decades of research, this powerful new big-picture framework explains how some countries develop towards and provide liberty while others fall to despotism, anarchy or asphyxiating norms – and explains how liberty can thrive despite new threats.

The Economics of Belonging – argues that we should step back and take a fresh look at the root causes of our current challenges. In this original, engaging book, Martin Sandbu argues that economics remains at the heart of our widening inequality and it is only by focusing on the right policies that we can address it. He proposes a detailed, radical plan for creating a just economy where everyone can belong.

The Ostrich Paradox – Our ability to foresee and protect against natural catastrophes has never been greater; yet, we consistently fail to heed the warnings and protect ourselves and our communities, with devastating consequences. What explains this contradiction?

Crowd Psychology and the Stock Market

Anatole Kaletsky wrote an article in Gavekal Research – ‘Five Features Of Market Madness’ – (Ideas June 16 2020) in which he talked about ‘Nominative determinism’. Two examples:

  1. Chinese property company called Fangdd Network where its value jumped from US$800mn to US$10bn in four hours of trading. Fangdd Network made it sound like a cheap ETF (ETFs give you a way to buy and sell a basket of assets without having to buy all the components individually) for the FAANG technology giants.
  2. Nikola, an aspiring electric vehicle manufacturer with no revenues that launched three months ago on Nasdaq saw its value spike to almost US$30bn, up from US$300mn at its March IPO, mainly because, like Elon Musk’s electric car company, it was also named after 19th century Serbian-American inventor Nikola Tesla.

Anatole Kaletsky 5 features of market madness

  • While monetary easing usually starts a bubble, a reversal in monetary policy is unlikely to deflate the bubble once the speculative momentum builds.
  • Valuations do not matter while a bubble is inflating, but they become very important after it bursts.
  • Bubbles typically end with the some huge corporate collapses (Charles’s analogy of dynamite fishing), often tainted with fraud.
  • Bubble dynamics need not bear any relation to the strength, or weakness, of the economic cycle.
  • Speculation increases dramatically when prices break through major highs.

These examples show that it is not analysis of valuations, monetary policy or economic data that is driving prices up. Famous economist J.K. Galbraith once remarked that ‘economic forecasting was invented to make astrology look respectable’. He also said that we are mush reassured by the ‘conventional wisdom – i.e. strongly held beliefs that have, at best, a tenuous grounding in reality. John Maynard Keynes stated that ‘the market can stay irrational longer than you can stay solvent’. Mervyn King, former Governor of the Bank of England, argues that economic decisions always occur under conditions of, what he calls, ‘radical uncertainty’ – unaware of what might happen in the future. King says that people use ‘narratives’ to make sense of the world. He also suggest that economists in the 2008 GFC didn’t learn from history – the Great Depression before they were born.Each time they suggest that this time it is different – an expression by experts suggesting that the new situation (GFC) bears little resemblance to previous crises. Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff in their book entitled ‘This Time is Different’ show that we haven’t learnt from what happened in the past – short memories make it all too easy for crises to recur.