Gender pricing

A number of UK supermarkets have been accused of gender bias in their pricing, with women being charged more than men. Following accusations of “sexist pricing” Tesco announced in December 2016 that it was cutting the price of women’s disposable razors to match the price of a similar men’s product. In its defence, Tesco argued that men’s razors are produced in higher quantities and that this brings down the unit costs, and therefore the price it can charge.

In February 2016 Boots also reduced the prices of its female disposable razors to be closer to those of male disposable razors. Boots also cut the price of its female face cream, which was higher than male face cream. Boots claimed it was not discriminating, arguing for example that its face cream prices are based on a range of factors including the formulation of the product, the ingredients, and market comparison.

A study by the Times newspaper in 2016 found that supermarkets were typically charging  women nearly 40% more than men for clothes, beauty products, and toys.

The Fawcett Society, which promotes gender equality and women’s rights, argues that  this is evidence of sexist pricing and that the bias against women is ingrained in society. It argues that women are “hit twice”; they get paid less and charged more.

However,  Nancy Puccinelli, a professor of consumer psychology at Oxford University argues that women tend to be more careful shoppers and therefore the higher prices may be because women see more value in the products. For example, she argues that men see razors as functional whereas women may see the purchase as more to do with self care and is worth paying more for. However, Professor Puccinelli also points to environmental factors, such as the placement of the product in the store, making price comparisons difficult and allowing significant price differences to exist.

The pricing policies of the supermarkets towards women may be an example of price discrimination. You can find more information on price discrimination in Chapter 12 of the book.

Questions

  1. Using price discrimination theory explain why the prices of products aimed at women are often higher than those aimed at men.
  2. What other reasons might there be for price differences?

You can read more about this story at:

http://www.fawcettsociety.org.uk/policy-research/sexist-pricing/

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-35486308

http://www.bbc.co.uk/newsbeat/article/35472284/boots-corrects-gender-price-differences-in-razors-and-eye-cream

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-35486308

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-38488241

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You can walk this way but you must pay for the right to do so

Sometimes monopoly power may be regarded as unfair and anti-competitive and that’s why competition laws exist to control monopoly firm’s behaviour.

However, individuals and businesses do have the right to gain the rewards from their creativity and innovations; this is why governments provide protection for intellectual property. Intellectual property rights can be worth considerable sums of money and so, not surprisingly, disputes over them often end up in court. At the end of December 2016 Run-DMC filed a $50m (£40.7m) lawsuit against retailers such as Amazon, accusing them of trading on the group’s name without permission. It is alleged that the retailers have been selling products such as T-shirts and hats using the Run DMC logo illegally. The law suit was started by Darryl “DMC” McDaniels who was a founder of the rap group. Run-DMC’s hits include “Walk this way”. The other members of the band were Joseph “Run” Simmons now a Reverend and DJ Jam Master Jay who was shot dead in 2002.

Intellectual property acts as a barrier to entry by restricting the ability of others to produce a good or service. You can find out more about barriers to entry in Chapter 12 of the book which focuses on monopoly power.

Questions

  1. Why do you think governments tend to be wary of monopoly power?
  2. Why do you think governments allow individuals and firms to protect their intellectual property?
  3. Can you think of other forms of barrier to entry apart from intellectual property rights?

Read more about the Run-DMC case here…

https://www.theguardian.com/music/2016/dec/30/run-dmc-50m-lawsuit-amazon-walmart

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/30/arts/music/run-dmc-walmart-amazon-lawsuit.html?_r=0

Because you’re worth it… Or are you?

A recent study by Lancaster University Management School has shown that the median pay for Chief Executives at the UK’s largest 350 companies was around £.19m in 2014. This was an increase of 82% over 11 years. According to market forces, the earnings of employees should reflect the forces of demand and supply. If Chief Executives are earning this amount they should be worth it. But are they?

The same study showed that the returns these Chief Executives actually generated in terms of shareholder value did not seem linked in any way to their earnings. The report says, “The level of value creation over the same period has been low in absolute terms and erratic from year to year. The median FTSE-350 company generated little in the way of a meaningful economic profit over the period 2003-2009 (i.e., after adjusting for the full cost of funds), and although performance improved from 2010 onwards the median firm generated less than 1% economic return on invested capital.” Wow- less than 1% return is not exactly a return you would expect investors to be happy with.

This comes at a time when the government is eager to shine a light on executive earnings and has suggested measures such as insisting companies publish pay ratios to show the gap between the highest and lowest paid in the organisation.

https://www.cfauk.org/media-centre/cfa-uk-executive-remuneration-report-2016

You can read more about the labour market in the book in Chapter 15.

Questions

  1. Show, using a supply and demand diagram, why Chief Executives might be paid high salaries.
  2. In theory the high salaries of Chief Executives should attract more into this role, bringing salaries down. Why doesn’t this happen?
  3. Why do you think the rewards of many Chief Executives include shares in the business?

Demand

In Chapter 3 of the book we consider some of the most common influences on demand but it never ceases to amaze me what actually drives demand for different products.

For example, in December 2016, it was announced that sales of shampoo had been falling in the UK. Two of the causes of the fall in demand were:

  • The ban on smoking in public places in the UK. This has meant means that peoples’ hair does not smell of smoke as much and so they do not need to wash their hair as often.
  • With more people working from home they go out less and don’t see the need to wash their hair as often!

Conditioner sales are also down and this is supposed to be due to the recession.

So, look out for more products designed to keep your hair looking better for longer without the need to wash, condition or dye it as often.

Questions

  1. How would you show the effect of fewer people buying shampoo using a demand curve?
  2. What actions do you think shampoo manufacturers might take to keep demand levels high?
  3. The shampoo market has some strong brands such as Garnier, Head and Shoulders and Pantene. If a manufacturer can build a strong brand loyalty, how does this affect the demand curve?

Read more…

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/retailandconsumer/5842544/Sales-of-shampoo-and-conditioner-fall-in-recession.html

http://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/bad-hair-sends-shampoo-sales-down-plug-hole-hvfvl22d8

The falling pound

In October 2016 British tourists going abroad found they were getting less than 1 euro in return for £1. Concerns over the UK leaving the European Union have led to a fall in sterling. This depreciation of the currency is  likely to increase costs for UK firms, and squeeze profits, or lead to cost push inflation. However UK firms may benefit from the lower price of their products in foreign currencies.

You can find the value of the exchange rate against various currencies at the Bank of  England: http://www.bankofengland.co.uk/boeapps/iadb/Rates.asp

If you would like to see how inflations has affect the purchasing power of a pound within the economy you can an inflation calculator at the Bank of England: http://www.bankofengland.co.uk/education/Pages/resources/inflationtools/calculator/flash/default.aspx

You can find more information on the factors affecting the value of a currency in Chapter 27 of Foundations of Economics (4th Edition).

You can find more information on cost push inflation in Chapter 26 of Foundations of Economics (4th Edition).

You can read about the possible effects of a weak pound on the UK economy at:

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/feb/22/why-is-the-pound-falling-britain-sterling-dollar-uk-credit-vote-eu

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/business/2016/07/06/what-does-a-falling-pound-mean-for-the-british-economy/

https://www.dur.ac.uk/research/news/thoughtleadership/?itemno=28492

Questions

 1. Analyse the possible reasons for the fall in the value of the pound against the euro.

 2. Analyse the possible effects of this  fall in the value of the pound on UK business.

US interest rates held low

At a recent meeting of the central bank of the US- the Federal Reserve, the majority of policy makers seemed to believe that US interest rates would increase by the end of the year. There is pressure to move these rates up from their present level  (0.25 to 0.5%) but before this is done there needs to be more evidence of a buoyant economy. Inflation remains below the 2% target set by the Federal Reserve but this may not be the case later in the medium term. Considerations taken into account by the Federal Reserve include the effect of slower growth in China and the possible effect of Brexit.

You can find out more about the Federal Reserve at: https://www.federalreserve.gov/

You can read about the aims of US monetary policy at: https://www.federalreserve.gov/monetarypolicy/files/FOMC_LongerRunGoals_20160126.pdf

You can read the minutes from the Open Market Committee which sets the interest rate here: https://www.federalreserve.gov/monetarypolicy/fomcminutes20160727.htm

 Questions

  1. What do you think the impact of higher interest rates might be on the US economy?
  2. What factors do you think would determine whether the Federal Reserve increases US interest rates ?

You can find out more about monetary policy in Chapter 26 of Foundations of Economics (fourth edition)

A change in Macro-economic policy

The Japanese government has faced the problems of stagnation and deflation for many years.

The policies adopted by the government, under the Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s economic policy, have become known as “Abenomics”. This policy has three parts to it:

  • monetary expansion to try an stimulate spending and avoid deflation
  • fiscal expansion via increased government spending to boost aggregate demand
  • structural changes to make markets more competitive and increase the long run aggregate supply

The Bank of Japan has recently announced it wants inflation to be over the 2% target rate which was set over 3 years ago. It introduced negative interest rates at the start of the year to try and encourage the commercial banks to use their reserves to lend to businesses and households. However, the negative interest rates led to funds leaving Japan, making the yen more expensive against other currencies such as the US dollar. This threatened to damage Japanese exports and demand.

Japan is also suffering from a declining population. In the last five years the Japanese population has shrunk by nearly 1 million. It is now around 127 million people. This fall is due to a decreasing birth rate and lack of immigration.

You can find out more about the Japanese economy at:

Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development: http://www.oecd.org/japan/

The CIA Factbook: https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/ja.html

The World Bank: http://data.worldbank.org/country/japan

For news of Japan you can look at:

http://www.japantimes.co.jp/

https://www.japantoday.com/

Questions

  1. Why is the Japanese government worried about deflation?
  2. Why would the Bank of Japan set a target of inflation of over 2%?
  3. Illustrate the impact of an increase in government spending on aggregate demand.
  4. Explain what structural change might increase aggregate supply.
  5. Explain the possible effect of a negative interest rate on the commercial banks lending.
  6. Explain how an increase in the value of the yen might dampen demand in Japan.
  7. How might the falling population contribute to the stagnation of the economy?

You can find out more about inflation and deflation in Chapter 26 of Foundations of Economics (fourth edition)

You can read about the impact of exchange rates on the economy in Chapter 27