Category Archives: Micro

A2 Eco – Indifference curves and GIN

Teaching my A2 class the most complex theory in the A2 CIE Economics course – indifference curves. This year one student has come up with a novel way of remembering the position of the indifference curve when the price of one good falls. The three types of goods that eventuate from a price fall are: Giffen, Inferior and Normal – GIN.

G – Giffen – price falls negative income effect outweighs the positive substitution effect – point L would then be to the left of point J on the graph below.
I – Inferior – price falls positive substitution effect outweighs negative income effect – point L would then be between points J and K
N – Normal good – price falls both income and substitution effect are positive – point L will be to the right of point K – as shown below.

Below is a mindmap on indifference curves explaining all the effects of increasing and decreasing prices on different types of goods.

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.

A2 Eco: Micro – Long-Run Average Cost – Envelope Curve

Having covered the macro part of the course with my A2. I’ve made a start on productive and allocative efficiency. One concept that the course covers is the Long-Run Average Cost (LAC).

In the short run at least one factor of production is fixed but In the long run the firm can alter all of its inputs, using greater quantities of any of the factors of production. It is now operating on a larger scale. So all of the factors of production are variable in the long run. In the very long run, technological change can alter the way the entire production process is organised, including the nature of the products themselves. In a society with rapid technological progress this will shrink the time period between the short run and the long run.

The long-run average cost (LAC) curve shows the least costly combination of producing any particular quantity. The graph below shows short-run average costs (SATC) and the LAC. The LAC forms a tangent with the SATC and it is therefore the lowest possible average cost for each level of output where the factors of production are all variable – it is formed from a series of SATC curves. The diagram shows:

From the diagram A is the least-cost way to make output Q1 in the short run. B is the least-cost way to make an output Q2. It must be more costly to make Q2 using the wrong combination of factors of production, for example the quantity corresponding to point E. For the combination of factors of production at A, SATC1 shows the cost of producing each output, including Q2. Hence SATC1 must lie above LAC at every point except A, the output level for which the combination of factors of production is best

The LAC is a flatter U-shape than the SATC curves and can be explained by economies of scale and diseconomies of scale. However it is really important to note that the firm does not necessarily produce at the minimum point on each of its SATC curves. Thus the LAC curve shows the minimum average cost way to produce a given output when all factors can be varied, not the minimum average cost at which a given plant can produce.

The Long-Run Average Cost is sometimes abbreviated to LRAC
The Short-Run Average Cost is sometimes abbreviated to SRAC

This LAC is also know as the envelope curve (looks similar to the back of an old style envelope) – see image.

Source: Economics by Begg 7th Edition

Moral hazard and Covid-19

Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman defined moral hazard as:

Any situation in which one person makes the decision about how much risk to take, while someone else bears the cost if things go badly.

Companies exploiting moral hazard privatise the reward (they keep the profit) but socialise the risk (government bails them out if everything goes wrong)

Moral Hazard and the GFC
During the Great Depression more than 6000 American banks went bankrupt between 1930-33 and caused significant levels of unemployment. Learning from this event authorities believe that in future banks should be bailed out and this eventuated after the GFC in 2008. The main cause of the GFC was the sub-prime mortgage market where lenders faced a situation of moral hazard. Because the banks were taking on the risk the mortgage brokers, who sold the mortgages to the banks, didn’t really check whether the person taking on the mortgage could actually pay it back. Brokers were encourages to lie on the mortgage contracts about the income etc of their clients.

Moral Hazard and Covid-19
With corporate stimulus packages rolling out in most countries one wonders if there have been thorough enough checks on corporate behaviour. Issues like firing employees and bonuses to the top executives of companies have been prevalent in the past especially during the GFC. Then large businesses were favoured over small businesses. Today some of the wealthiest people made their money by borrowing from the banks to buy their own company shares in order to inflate its price. Following this they then sold their shares for a profit on the market. Now some of them are asking for bailouts as their company starts to struggle to survive. As well as government bailouts the central banks around the world have also engaged in the purchase of bonds and risky high-yielding debt. This is to ensure liquidity in the market but this intervention could shape how people perceive risk in the future and reward those institutions that behaved recklessly before the pandemic. Also more generous unemployment by the government might encourage people to be laid off and not seek work. However the time taken to minimise the moral hazard could have meant greater economic harm to the economy as a whole.

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.

Game Theory and why we go to a coronavirus lockdown

Michael Cameron posted a nice piece on his blog about this – Sex, Drugs and Economics.

Game theory refers to the decision that a firm/individual makes depends on its assumptions about other firms/individuals. Ultimately this means that individuals will try and calculate the best course of action depending on how others behave. When we were in a Level 2 situation the advise was no mass gatherings, physical distance on public transport, limit non-essential travel etc. Although the announcements of the four levels were made clear on the Saturday it was inevitable that we would be moving to Level 4 very quickly – Wednesday. Being able to police Level 2 would have been near impossible and the risk of community transmission meant that complete lockdown was needed.

In a Level 2 situation, which was somewhat voluntary, people had two choices – Stay home (cooperate) or Act Normally (defect). The table below looks at the payoffs if you don’t lockdown early and already have community transmission.

As Cameron points out: For most people, acting normally is a dominant strategy, at least in the early stages of the coronavirus spreading. They are better off acting normally if everyone else stays home (because they mostly get to go on with their lives as normal, and have low risk of catching the coronavirus; whereas staying home they would be giving up on things they like to do), and they are better off acting normally if everyone else is acting normally (because life goes on as normal, rather than giving up on things they like to do). So, individually people are better off acting normally.

Any voluntary measure is subject to the prisoners’ dilemma which is why we went to an early full lockdown. As we are in lockdown repeated games requires trust and the correct behaviour outlined by the government – this is essential to eliminate the virus. Therefore the dominant strategy of ‘Act Normally’ is no longer an option. Cameron quoted Robert Frank whom I have blogged on here

‘smart for one, dumb for all’.

Stay safe everyone

Internet Penetration vs Use of Cash

The Economist produced some interesting statistics about how the most digitised countries use less cash and the impact of government in moving towards as cashless society. Most transactions are still carried out with cash but the use of it has fallen:

Use of cash – 2013 = 89% and 2019 = 77%

The graph shows the correlation between Internet users and the % of transactions conducted in cash. Nordic countries lead the way and by 2016 it was estimated that 4 out of 5 transactions were done online. In Denmark the extent of the cashless environment has led the payment app called MobilePay to be the top spot as the most “indispensable” app on smartphones – overtaking Facebook, Messenger etc. MobilePay was launched by Danske Bank in 2013 as a peer-to-peer transfer service.

Italy still had 85% of transactions done by cash with 61% internet penetration. Greece with its significant informal economy still has a very high percentage of cash use as it is very hard to trace.

How do countries promote less use of cash?

  • Banks can improve systems that make transfers faster and cheaper
  • Firms promoting the use of credit cards with loyalty schemes
  • Banning the use of cash on public transport – London and Amsterdam
  • Filing tax returns – payments or refunds by Internet banking
  • Making goods cheaper if paying by card

Source: The Economist – August 3rd 2019

A2 Economics – Labour Market – MRPL

Marginal Revenue Product refers to the amount of revenue generated by an additional worker. This is a theory of wages where workers are paid the value of their marginal revenue product to the firm and is based on the assumption of a perfectly competitive labour market. Therefore an employer will hire workers up to the point where the value of the marginal product of labour equals the wage that is being paid. The demand curve for labour can therefore be represented by the value of the marginal product curve – see graph below and a revision mindmap.

Adapted from: AS and A Level Economics Revision by Susan Grant

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

AS Revision – Indirect Tax

The AS multiple-choice paper is coming up and here is this graphic to explain indirect taxes – a popular question. An indirect tax will have the following effects on the market:

Indirect Tax

• The supply curve shifts vertically upwards(effectively a shift to the left) by the amount of the tax(gf) per unit. The price increases but not by the full amount of the tax. This is because of the slopes of the demand and supply curves.
• The consumer surplus is reduced from acp to agb. The portion gbhp of the old consumer surplus is transferred to government in the form of tax.
• The producer surplus is reduced from pce to fde. The portion phdf of the old producer surplus is transferred to the government in the form of tax.
• The market is no longer able to reach equilibrium, and there is a loss of allocative efficiency resulting in the deadweight lost shown by the area bcd. This represents a loss of both consumer surplus bhc and the producer surplus hcd that is removed from the market. The deadweight loss also represents a loss of welfare to an individual or group where that loss is not offset by a welfare gain to some other individual or group.