Category Archives: Market Structures

Teaching MC=MR with M&M’s. Winner of the best M&M’s graph – 2020

Today we had our annual Yr 13 M&M’s graph competition. Having just completed Perfect and Imperfect Competition with my Year 13 class I used a couple of packets of M&M’s to drum home the concept of marginal analysis MC=MR. It has always been something that students have struggled with but I am hoping this experience of creating graphs with M&M’s might help their understanding and when to use the concept. There is a three way process for learning about this theory:

  • Students complete worksheets / multiple-choice questions that test their knowledge of the curves that make up the graphs.
  • Students draw the graphs on A3 size whiteboards
  • Students construct graphs using M&M’s

Profit is maximised at the rate of output where the positive difference between total revenues and total costs is the greatest. Using marginal analysis, the firm will produce at a rate of output where marginal revenue equals marginal cost. Below are a few of the graphs done today using M&M’s. The winner this year is Year 13 student Luke Davis – his graphs are the first and second below.

Student worksheet

Student graph on A3 whiteboard

Student graphs using M&M’s

A2 Eco – Monopoly and Deadweight Loss

A topic that I am covering with my A2 class is Market Failure with special emphasis on Monopoly and Deadweight Loss.

In Perfect Competition we stated that the force of supply and demand establish an equilibrium situation in which resources are used most efficiently – MC (Supply) = AR(Demand) . Furthermore, in perfect competition the firm produces at MC = MR (profit max) which is also the same as producing at MC = AR (allocative efficiency). This is because AR and MR are the same in perfect competition. Therefore the same output represents allocative efficiency and profit max. Remember that long-run Perfect Competition is a significant output as it is where:
MC = MR – Maximum Profit or Minimum Loss
MC = AR – Allocative Efficiency (Supply = Demand)
AC = MC – Technical Optimum – Productive Efficiency

However for a monopolist because the AR and the MR curves are different we get separate outputs for Allocative Efficiency and Profit Max. The graph below shows that at profit maximising equilibrium, output Q2 is less than that in a competitive market (Q1), and the demand and supply (MC) curves do not intersect. Q1 represents the Allocative Efficiency level of output and P1 the price. The shaded area therefore represents the loss of allocative efficiency or the deadweight loss.

Monopoly power – Luxottica and sunglasses

With summer approaching in the northern hemisphere and the days getting brighter you will be looking to don sunglasses on a more regular basis. Sunglasses come in various styles and brands, eg. Rayban, Oakley, Gucci, Prada, Versace to name but a few,  but can be quite expensive when you consider the so-called competition that is in the market which in theory should driving down the price. Sunglasses these days are reasonably homogeneous in that the frames and materials are very similar and it surprised me that 80% of the major sunglass brands are controlled by Luxottica, in a market that is worth US$28 billion.

Luxottica produced the following brands of sunglasses under their name:

Prada, Chanel, Dolce & Gabbana, Versace, Burberry, Ralph Lauren, Tiffany, Bulgari, Vogue, Persol, Coach, DKNY, Rayban, Oakley, Sunglasses Hut, LensCrafters, Oliver Peoples, Pearle Vision, Target Optical and Sears Optical.

This list of brands is fairly comprehensive and by controlling 80% of the market you have a monopoly and dictate the price consumers have to pay for each specific brand since the industry isn’t competitive. Therefore they are Price Makers. But Luxottica also dictate what goes in the shops as they own Sunglass hut, Oliver peoples and Pearle Vision where consumers shop for sunglasses. This makes it very difficult for a brand outside one that is produced by Luxottica to compete as you can’t get your product into those shops. So not only do they have a monopoly in the production but they also control the distribution of sunglasses. See monopoly graph below.

Although a few years old now, in the clip below from ’60 Minutes’ they mention Oakley’s dilemma when their sunglasses became more popular than those produced by Luxottica. When this happen Luxottica proceeded to hold fewer Oakely sunglasses in their Sunglass Hut shops causing Oakley’s stock to plunge. Then in 2007 Oakley was left with no choice but to merge with Luxottica.

Covid-19 and impact on the airline industry

The global airline industry has been one of those that has been hardest by Covid-19. In the US passenger volume is down 96 %, whilst globally losses have topped US$314bn worldwide. Based on booking patterns Air New Zealand will lose over NZ$5bn in revenue per year and a loss of 3.500 jobs. What makes it even worse is that the latest Oxford Economics forecast shows that the loss in global output could be double that of the GFC. This has implications on the speed of the recovery in air travel in the second half of 2020. The table shows that Asia-Pacific takes a big hit financially and is second behind Middle East/Africa (51%) with a 50% loss in RPK.

Source: IATA Economics

RPK = Revenue Passenger Kilometres is an airline industry metric that shows the number of kilometres traveled by paying passengers

IATA estimate that RPKs will decline by 48% in year-on year terms and passenger revenues will be US$314 billion lower this year compared to 2019- see table below. IATA note that a typical airline has cash to cover around two months of revenue loss.

Below is a short video from PBS Newshour with Paul Solman looking at the airline industry.

Mozambique’s monopsony market goes nuts

The primary sector is seen as integral to assisting developing countries grow and raise their standard of living. For the Mozambican economy the cashew industry is an example of this – more than 40% of Mozambican farmers grow and sell cashew, and the processing sector provides formal employment to more than 8,000 individuals. Mozambique is currently the second largest producer in East and Southern Africa and has links with premium export markets, including the United States and Europe.

In the 1960’s the cashew nut industry in Mozambique was in good shape supplying over 50% of global supply and processed most of these domestically and thereby adding employment. However, with a civil war and the instruction from the World Bank in the 1990’s to remove controls and cut taxes on the exports of raw nuts, trading firms shipped out cashews and processed them overseas with significant job losses. But an about turn by the government in 2001 has seen:

  • an export tax of 18-22% for raw nuts
  • a 0% tax for processed kernels.
  • a ban on exports during the first few months of the harvest

16 factories employing 17,000 people, which process about half the cashews sold.

However by having less competition amongst processors – a little like a monopsony market – farmers selling raw cashew nuts are finding that the price of their crop is being reduced by the smaller number of processors. Most cashew nut farmers are smallholders and the government seems to be oblivious to the 1.3m families for the sake of protecting processing jobs.

Monopsony – one buyer many sellers – other examples include:
– large supermarkets, who can dictate terms to smaller suppliers.
– buyers of labour in the labour market.

There is a dilemma for developing countries as when a primary industry starts to expand into the secondary stage of processing, government protection can hurt nut-growers. Just like the coffee industry farmers are at the mercy of a small number of middlemen in this case the processors monopsony power.

Source: Mozambique’s nut factories have made a cracking comeback –
The Economist 12th September 2019

A2 Revision – Oligopoly and the kinked demand curve – download

With the A2 Essay paper tomorrow I thought something on the kinked demand curve might be useful. I alluded to in a previous post that one model of oligopoly revolves around how a firm perceives its demand curve. The model relates to an oligopoly in which firms try to anticipate the reactions of rivals to their actions. As the firm cannot readily observe its demand curve with any degree of certainty, it has got to estimate how consumers will react to price changes.

In the graph below the price is set at P1 and it is selling Q1. The firm has to decide whether to alter the price. It knows that the degree of its price change will depend upon whether or not the other firms in the market will follow its lead. The graph shows the the two extremes for the demand curve which the firm perceives that it faces. Suppose that an oligopolist, for whatever reason, produces at output Q1 and price P1, determined by point X on the graph. The firm perceives that demand will be relatively elastic in response to an increase in price, because they expects its rivals to react to the price rise by keeping their prices stable, thereby gaining customers at the firm’s expense. Conversely, the oligopolist expects rivals to react to a decrease in price by cutting their prices by an equivalent amount; the firm therefore expects demand to be relatively inelastic in response to a price fall, since it cannot hope to lure many customers away from their rivals. In other words, the oligopolist’s initial position is at the junction of the two demand curves of different relative elasticity, each reflecting a different assumption about how the rivals are expected to react to a change in price. If the firm’s expectations are correct, sales revenue will be lost whether the price is raised or cut. The best policy may be to leave the price unchanged.

With this price rigidity a discontinuity exists along a vertical line above output Q1 between the two marginal revenue curves associated with the relatively elastic and inelastic demand curves. Costs can rise or fall within a certain range without causing a profit-maximising oligopolist to change either the price or output. At output Q1 and price P1 MC=MR as long as the MC curve is between an upper limit of MC2 and a lower limit of MC1.

Criticisms of the kinked demand curve theory.
Although it is a plausible explanation of price rigidity it doesn’t explain how and why an oligopolist chooses to be a point X in the first place. Research casts doubt on whether oligopolists respond to price changes in the manner assumed. Oligopolistic markets often display evidence of price leadership, which provides an alternative explanation of orderly price behaviour. Firms come to the conclusion that price-cutting is self-defeating and decide that it may be advantageous to follow the firm which takes the first steps in raising the price. If all firms follow, the price rise will be sustained to the benefit of all firms.

If you want to gradually build the kinked demand curve model download the powerpoint by clicking below.
Oligopoly

A2 Economics – Contestable Markets

I covered this topic today at the Cambridge A2 Economics revision course. The degree of contestability of a market is measured by the extent to which the gains from market entry for a firm exceed the cost of entering (i.e. the cost of overcoming barriers to entry), with the risks associated with failure taken into account (the cost associated with any barriers to exit). Accordingly, the levels of barriers to entry and exit are crucial in determining the level of a market’s contestability. Barriers to exit consist of sunk costs, that is to say costs that cannot be recovered when leaving the market. The contestable markets approach suggests that potential entrants consider post‑entry profit levels, rather than the pre-entry levels suggested by neo‑classical theory.

Obviously no market is perfectly contestable, i.e. with zero sunk costs. In modern economies it is the degree of contestability which is relevant, some markets are more contestable than others. Also just because there have been no new entrants to a market over a given period of time does not mean that this market is not contestable. The threat of entry will be enough to make the existing (incumbent) firms behave in such a way as to recognise this, i.e. by setting a price which doesn’t attract entry and which only makes normal profits.

Markets which are highly contestable are likely to be vulnerable to ‘hit and run competition’. Consider a situation where existing firms are pricing at above the entry‑limit level. Even in the event that existing firms react in a predatory style, new entry will be profitable as long as there is a time lag between entry and the implementation of such action. Having made a profit in the intervening period, the new entrant can then leave the market at very little cost.

In a contestable market there are no structural barriers to the entry of firms in the long-run. If existing businesses are enjoying high economic profits, there is an incentive for new firms to enter the industry. This increases market competition and dilutes monopoly profits for the incumbent firms. Market contestability requires there are few sunk costs. A sunk cost is committed by a producer when entering an industry but cannot be recovered if a firm decides to leave a market.

Entry limit pricing

The fear on the part of existing firms of rendering the market contestable (stimulating new entry) by making high levels of profit is likely to lead to the adoption of entry limit pricing, a concept introduced in the previous unit. This is essentially a defensive strategy, with existing firms setting prices as high as possible but not so high as to enable new corners to enter the industry. If the existing firms set price at P2 and output at Q2 (see diagram below), it would be possible for a new firm to enter the industry and supply Q1. Total market supply would then be Q3 (Q1 + Q2), the price would be P3 and the new firm would be covering its costs. If, instead, the existing firms chose to produce at Q3 (with price level P3), the new firm producing Q1 (total market supply would now be Q4 at price P4) would not be covering its costs and would have to exit the industry in the long run.

The video below on the Airline Industry in the US from Commanding Heights series is a good example of breaking down monopoly power.

Source:

Anforme – A2 Level Economics Revision Booklet.

Using M&M’s to teach MC=MR

Today I held the annual M&M’s competition with my A2 class. I use them to teach MC=MR also Minimum (loss) and Maximum (profit).

Profit is maximised at the rate of output where the positive difference between total revenues and total costs is the greatest – see graph above. Using marginal analysis, the perfectly competitive firm will produce at a rate of output where marginal revenue equals marginal cost. Marginal revenue, however, is equal to price. Therefore, the perfectly competitive firm produces at an output rate where marginal cost equals the price of output. Remember that the firm will make profits as long as the extra revenue brought in from selling the last unit of output(MR) is greater than the extra cost which is incurred in producing it (MC). Below are some Perfect Competition and Monopolistic Competition graphs created by my A2 class using M&M’s

Market structures and Netflix

Covering this topic with my A2 class and fortuitously came across a very relevant blog post from Michael Cameron’s blog Sex Drugs and Economics. He talks about Netflix increasing its subscription price by 19% (now $21.99) for the premium plan and how Kiwi subscribers are going to social media to announce their departure from the streaming service.

However although people are voting with their feet it is highly likely that Netflix are not too perturbed by this. With the law of demand a higher price will reduce the demand for the service – simple Law of Demand.

The diagram below from the Cameron Blog shows a horizontal MC=AC curve which means that the cost of producing one more unit of output is the same. Some would suggest that it could be close to zero as the additional cost of providing one more subscriber with the service doesn’t involve significant costs.

Let’s assume that Netflix originally charged a price of P0 and sold a quantity of Q0 before the increase. Note here that they still make a supernormal profit rectangle – P0 C H F.

However they are not producing at the profit maximisation which is where MC=MR. Therefore although Netflix is increasing their price it is unlikely that they are charging a price at profit maximisation output as Netflix has too many subscribers to maximise profits. If they did produce at profit maximisation output Q1 and charge price P1 they would make profits of P1 B E F. So at a price of P1 – they gain profit of P1 B G P0 but lose the area G C H E. However the former area is bigger than the latter.

So with the market power that Netflix has it is not surprising that they are increasing their subscription price. With the video stores like Blockbuster, Video Ezy, United now struggling to survive and in some cases out of the market, they are less alternatives out there for the consumer.

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