Milk prices on the up – supply and demand

With the start of the academic year in New Zealand the first week of teaching usually looks at the price mechanism and scarcity. A good example in the NZ economy is the reasoning behind the payout that Fonterra pays its farmers that supply them with milk. Fonterra is a monopsony (they have approximately 81% share of the NZ dairy market) in that it is one buyer and many sellers (the farmers) – the farmers look to Fonterra to get them the best price in the Global Dairy market. Fonterra has indicated that the price for the current 2021/2022 season is going to be between $8.90 to $9.50/kgMS.

The mid-point is $9.20/kg and at that level it will be paying out New Zealand suppliers $13.8 bln – see graph below. Ultimately the price of the Fonterra payout is determined by supply and demand on the Global Dairy Trade auction – see below.

Why have prices increased?

Supply – there has been weak production in New Zealand and overseas with poor weather with challenging growing conditions and higher feed costs. Fonterra lowered its forecast on the amount of milk collected by 1.6% – 1,525 million kgMS in 2020/21 to 1,500 million kgMS in 2021/22. A lower production outlook for Europe and North America has increased the forecast milk price.

Demand – demand globally remains strong with North Asian buyers securing over 50% of the total volume sold in the recent Global Dairy Auction. According to the OECD the world per capita consumption of fresh dairy products is projected to increase by 1.0% p.a. over the coming decade, slightly faster than over the past ten years, driven by higher per-capita income growth. Today total dairy consumption in Africa, South East Asian countries, and the Middle East and North Africa is expected to grow faster than production, leading to an increase in dairy imports. As liquid milk is more expensive to trade, this additional demand growth is expected to be met with milk powders, where water is added for final consumption or further processing.

How does the GDT work?

GlobalDairyTrade trading events are conducted as ascending-price clock auctions run over several bidding rounds.  In each auction a specified maximum quantity of each product is offered for sale at a pre-announced starting price. Bidders bid the quantity of each product that they wish to purchase at the announced price. If the price of a product increases between rounds, to ensure their desired quantity a bidder must bid their desired quantity at the new, higher price. Generally, as the price of a product increases, the quantity of bids received for that product decreases. The trading event runs over several rounds with the prices increasing round to round until the quantity of bids received for each product on offer matches the quantity on offer for the product (as shown in the diagram below). Each trading event typically lasts approximately 2 hours.

China and the economic centre of gravity

Very good FT video with Martin Sandbu and James Kynge discussing the fact that although the Chinese economy has grown at an alarming rate over the last 40 years, will it become the global superpower? Some of the main points:

  • Global economy is now becoming more regionalised
  • From 1979 to 2018 China’s GDP growth rate averaged 9.5%
  • 2,000 years ago everyone was poor – centre of gravity of global economy followed population size
  • Key change in the mid ’90s, when China began to allow the sons and daughters of farmers to migrate from the village to these big factory towns.
  • Liberalised global trade in 1980’s helped China access markets
  • China still very much a developing nations – ranks 61st in terms average per-capita income but got an excellent infrastructure.
  • China’s middle class approx 400m but that means approx 1bn of the population are poor
  • Middle income trap – getting from poor to middle income is a very different process from getting to middle income to high income.
  • Economy needs to change from a growth model based on accumulating labour and capital to a growth model led by technological development and technological progress.
  • China is either a global leader or at least close to the cutting edge, wind and solar power, online payment systems, digital currencies, aspects of artificial intelligence, 5G telecoms, drones, ultra-high-voltage power transmission.
  • Three major trading hubs – EU, US and China – with trade being more regionalised. China reluctant to lose export markets in EU and US as they are big drivers of exports
  • Three trading blocs will lead to protectionism and decoupling of supply chains. unless the EU, the US, and China can sort out their differences.

Truckometer – another indicator of the NZ Economy

The ANZ Truckometer is a set of two economic indicators derived using traffic volume data from around the country. Traffic flows are a real-time and real-world proxy for economic activity –particularly for the New Zealand economy, where a large proportion of freight is moved by road. It represents an extremely timely barometer of economic momentum.

Heavy traffic is the more useful indicator in these strange times. Over Q4 as a whole the index was up 5.3%. As figure 3 (over) shows, this is consistent with our early Q4 GDP pick for a 2.5% increase (heavy traffic moves roughly twice as much as GDP). This represents a partial bounce-back from the lockdown-induced 3.7% fall in GDP in Q3.

Source: ANZ NZ Truckometer – 20th January 2022

Most Premier League clubs make as much money as a branch of IKEA

Really enjoyed the David McWilliams podcast entitled ‘The Economics of Football’ in which he interviews Simon Kuper of Soccernomics fame. What he basically says is that the vast majority of clubs are not businesses and are not trying to make profits. They are pursuing trophies and with this intention spend what money they do make on buying the best players. If you look at the teams in the four English Divisions in 1921 there has been little change even when some clubs go bankrupt. As they are fan based institutions they seem to be unaffected by things like debt in a normal business. For example if a club (limited company) goes bankrupt you discard the old company and form a new limited company changing the name of the club (ABC City to ABC United) but playing at the same ground with the same strip etc. To put it in perspective a typical Premier League club is the size of a branch of IKEA.

Football clubs are huge emotional brands but not very big businesses. For example in 2019 Barcelona was the first club to made over $1bn in revenue but that equates to 0.02% of what Walmart made that year. The problem that football clubs have is how to monetise that passion for the club without affecting their fan base.

Bundesliga should be the richest league in Europe?
When you look at the economic indicators of the German economy – population size, income levels, GDP growth etc – it should be the league with the most money. Why is this not the case? The German FA doesn’t want foreign money coming into their clubs like Chelsea, Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain etc. Also the German Bundesliga has a rule that over 50% of a club must be controlled by its supporters.

New breed of foreign owners and European Super League
The owners of Manchester United, Tottenham and Arsenal are more focused on making money out of the football club compared to others – Man City, Chelsea, PSG – whose owners want success at the expense of profit. This new breed of owner has come under a lot of pressure from the club’s supporters in that some are borrowing money to buy the club and then taking money out. Take for instance Man United – in the 5 years up to 2020, no owners in the Premier League have taken out more money than Man Utd £133m (dividends £112m, share buy back £21m). In stark contrast, some owners have put in significant funds: Everton £348m, Aston Villa £337m and Chelsea £255m – see graphic.

Source: SwissRamble

You can therefore see why some owners were keen on the European Super League. The proposed ESL was all but free-market capitalism with an American style franchise system with 12 teams guaranteed a place in the competition – significant barriers to entry and not conducive to competition. So much for Joseph Schumpeter’s creative destruction with a group of elite clubs protecting their market and the owners being rentier capitalists. The ESL’s proposed move is similar to what has been happening in the market place – a structure of businesses taking huge debt and taking little interest in competition as long as they are making money. Manchester United, probably the most famous club in the world, got knocked out of the Champions League in the group stage in 2021 but are still making a lot of money for the owners. It seems that the desire to win trophies has been superseded by profit – the proposed ESL avoids competition as member clubs are protected against the risk of failure. Not to say this is not already happening as the EPL and many other leagues in Europe are dominated by a small number of clubs which have significant funds available.

Maritime supply chain problems – mindmap

The maritime supply chain has been stretched to the limit over the last year and there have been a number of reasons for that. From a lack of containers to surges in global economy activity, as consumers shifting from buying services to buying goods, the freight time and cost have increased significantly. Below is a mindmap that looks at the major problems faced by the maritime supply chain last year.

‘The Trinity College VIII’ – amusing book on rowing

Getting away from economics and with my interest in rowing, I can recommend a very entertaining book written by my brother-in-law David Hickey. David was a member of the Trinity College (part of Dublin University) VIII that won the Ladies Plate at the Henley Royal Regatta in 1977 – the Ladies Plate is seen as the World Championships for University VIII’s.

One of the 1977 Ladies Plate crew members has written a lighthearted account of the crew’s three year campaign to try to win the event. While it deals amusingly with some of their outrageous non rowing adventures, the sections on the changes within Trinity College during those years, and especially the descriptions of rowing in general, and racing in particular, are dealt with in a far more serious vein.

Below is an interview with David about the book on the Rowing Chat podcast.

You can purchase the book from the Dublin University Boat Club website which means that they get to keep 50% of the proceeds which they can then put towards their boat funding needs.

https://duboatclub.com/book/

If you are in New Zealand just email me – m.johnston@kingscollege.school.nz – and I can arrange for delivery. You will therefore save on significant postage costs.

Africa’s resource curse lingers on.

Africa may have enormous natural reserves of oil, but so far most Africans haven’t felt the benefit. In Nigeria, for instance, what’s seen as a failure to spread the country’s oil wealth to the country’s poorest people has led to violent unrest. However, this economic paradox known as the resource curse has been paramount in Africa’s inability to benefit from oil. This refers to the fact that once countries start to export oil their exchange rate – sometimes know as a petrocurrency – appreciates making other exports uncompetitive and imports cheaper. At the same time there is a gravitation towards the petroleum industry which drains other sectors of the economy, including agriculture and traditional industries, as well as increasing its reliance on imports. It is estimated that for every extra dollar in foreign currency earned from exporting resources reduces non-resource exports by $0.74 – Torfinn Harding of the NHH Norwegian School of Economics and Anthony Venables of Oxford University.

Economists also refer to this as the Dutch Disease which makes reference to Holland and the discovery of vast quantities of natural gas during the 1960s in that country’s portion of the North Sea. The subsequent years saw the Dutch manufacturing sector decline as the gas industry developed. The major problem with the reliance on oil is that if the natural resource begins to run out or if there is a downturn in prices, once competitive manufacturing industries find it extremely difficult to return to an environment of profitability.

According to the UN a country is dependent on commodities if they are more than 60% of its physical exports – in Africa that makes up 83% of countries. One of the major concerns for resource rich countries is the wild fluctuations in commodity prices which can lead to over investment – Sierra Leone created two new iron-ore mines in 2012 only for them to close in 2015 as prices collapsed. However the amount of jobs created in the mineral extraction industry is limited – across Sierra-Leone of 8m people, about 8,000 work in commercial mines. A major problem in these countries is that when there is money made from resources it tends to go on government salaries rather than investing in education. infrastructure and healthcare etc.

Norway – has a different approach.
In Norway hydrocarbons account for half of its exports and 19% of GDP and with further oil fields coming on tap Norway could earn an estimated $100bn over the next 50 years. Nevertheless there is a need to wean the economy off oil and avoid not only the resource curse that has plagued some countries – Venezuela is a good example as approximately 90% of government spending was dependent on oil revenue – but also the impact on climate change. Norwegians have been smart in that the revenue made from oil has been put into a sovereign wealth fund which is now worth $1.1trn – equates to $200,000 for every citizen. This ensures that they have the means to prepare for life after oil.

Source: The Economist – ‘When you are in a hole…’ January 8th 2022

Quota and Allocative Efficiency

Below are notes on Quota and Allocative Efficiency from elearneconomics.

When the government imposes a quota (a restriction on the quantity that can be produced, exported or imported) it forces the market price up and decreases the quantity sold or produced. Because the market is not allowed to clear (restore or reach the equilibrium) there is a loss of allocative efficiency (termed a deadweight loss). Part of the original consumer surplus and producer surplus is not picked up as part of the quota. Consumer surplus and producer surplus are no longer maximised.

Source: elearneconomics.com

At the original equilibrium (P1, Q1) the value of consumer surplus for butter is $80m (0.5 x 40m x $40, area P3CP1) and the value of producer surplus for butter is $160m (0.5 x 40m x $8, area P1CP0), the market is allocatively efficient because consumer surplus and producer surplus are maximised. When the government imposes a quota and restricts the quantity to 30m (Qs) there is a change in consumer surplus, producer surplus and allocative efficiency.

The total value of consumer surplus decreases by $35m because consumer surplus before the quota was $80m and is now $45m (0.5 x 30m x $3, area P3BP2). The higher price means that the difference between what consumers are willing to pay and what they actually pay will decrease. The lower quantity demanded (30m units rather than 40m units) means there are fewer units from which wool buyers can gain a surplus. Therefore, consumer surplus will decrease.

The total value of producer surplus increases by $20m because producer surplus before the quota was $160m and is now $180m ($9 plus $3 divided by 2 multiplied by 30m area P2BFP0). Producer surplus will increase despite some loss of producer surplus due to the lower quantity sold, 30m (Qs) rather than 40m (Q1). The increase in producer surplus is a result of the higher price from the quota that is more than sufficient to offset the loss of producer surplus due to lower sales. Overall producer surplus increases.

There will be a loss of allocative efficiency because the loss in consumer surplus (CS) of $35m outweighs the gain in producer surplus (PS) of $20m, which results in a net welfare loss (deadweight loss) of $15m (0.5 x 10m x $3, area BCF). This is because producer surplus and consumer surplus are no longer maximised following the imposition of the quota on butter.

More at: elearneconomics.com

Housing affordability in New Zealand

Below is an informative graphic about housing affordability in New Zealand.

Over the last 20 years mortgages have become much more affordable even with the increase in house prices mainly due to lower interest rates. Remember even though house prices were lower 20 years ago the interest payments were much higher. Today we have seen much lower interest rates and higher house prices but it also should be noted that the banks have got much more flexible mortgage plans that allow buyers to spread payments over many years which means lower weekly payments.
*Mortgage affordability is measured by the weekly cost of servicing a two year fixed rate mortgage at a normal house price compared to the change in median income.

Deposit affordability is key
Note that it is the deposit which is much less affordable but the mortgage payments are much more affordable. It is twice as hard to get a deposit on a house on a median income than it was 20 years ago. Therefore those that can muster a deposit find the repayments very affordable. The increase in house prices has become a major problem to those trying to muster a deposit – higher house price = higher deposit. Therefore unless incomes rise with house prices deposit affordability becomes out of reach for many.

Source: WSBG Commerce Teachers’ Professional Development Day 2021

“New Zealand housing market: the importance of interest rates and urban land supply”, Dominick Stephens, Deputy Secretary, Chief Economic Advisor at The Treasury

COVID-19 and the Universal Basic Income debate.

Here Martin Sandbu of the FT  discusses the UBI as part of his Free Lunch on Film – taking unorthodox economic ideas that he likes and putting them to the test. He looks at both sides of the UBI argument with examples from Alaska and Finland where results showed that there was little reduction in working hours when people received the UBI. Good discussion and well presented.

Why has the UBI become such a popular talking point?

  • The coronavirus pandemic has seen wage subsidies – a no-strings attached regular cash transfers to just about everyone in the economy.
  • The automation of a lot of jobs has left people very concerned about redundancy.
  • The modern economy can’t be expected to provide jobs for everyone
  • The UBI is easy to administer and it avoids paternalism of social-welfare programmes that tell people what they can and can’t do with the money they receive from the government.

Concerns

  • Potentially drives up wages and employees will compare their wages with the UBI.
  • Easier for people to take risks with their job knowing there is the UBI to fall back on.
  • It takes away the incentive to work and lowers GDP
  • UBI – not cheap to administer and would likely cost 13% of GDP in the US

Positives

  • In the Canadian province of Manitoba where the UBI was trialled, working hours for men dropped by just 1%.
  • The UBI would make it easier for people to think twice about taking unrewarding jobs which is a good consequence.
  • In the developing world direct-cash grant programs are used very effectively – Columbian economist Chris Blattman.
  • In New Jersey young people with UBI were more likely to stay in education

If the U.B.I. comes to be seen as a kind of insurance against a radically changing job market, rather than simply as a handout, the politics around it will change. When this happens, it’s easy to imagine a basic income going overnight from completely improbable to totally necessary. 

James Surowiecki – New Yorker – 20th June 2016

Holiday reading 2021

That time of year when we hopefully head to the beach in NZ and out of internet range. Here are some books that have had very good reviews. We do live in uncertain times and one doesn’t know what might be around the corner – stay safe.

The Box (Second Edition) – Marc Levinson. The Box tells the dramatic story of the container’s creation, the decade of struggle before it was widely adopted, and the sweeping economic consequences of the sharp fall in transportation costs that containerization brought about.

Anthro-Vision – How Anthropology Can Explain Business and Life – Gillian Test (FT). how anthropology can make sense of people’s behaviour, in business and beyond. She outlines how anthropology helps explain consumer habits – revealing the ‘webs of meaning’ that underpin how we shop, and unpicking the subtle cultural shifts driving the rise of green investment.

Economics in One Virus – An Introduction to Economic Reasoning through COVID-19 – Ryan Borne. answers all these pandemic‐ related questions and many more, drawing on the dramatic events of 2020 to bring to life some of the most important principles of economic thought.

The Vietnam War – Geoffrey Ward and Kenneth Burns. This book is based on the acclaimed documentary by PBS in the US. It is a fresh and insightful account of the long and brutal conflict that reunited Vietnam while dividing the United States as nothing else had since the Civil War.

Value(s) – Building a Better World for All – Mark Carney. Former Bank of England Governor draws on a truly international perspective to our greatest problems, this book sets out a framework for the change needed for an economic and social renaissance in a post-Covid world.

BRICS – 20 years on

‘Counting the Cost’ from Al Jazeera looks at the BRICS countries – Brazil, Russia, India and China (and South Africa, which was added later). According to Jim O’Neill of Goldman Sachs ,who came up came up with the acronym, these countries would, over time, come to dominate the rankings of the world’s richest economies. Apart from China the other countries have been a disappointment and the programme looks into the reasons why they have failed to live up to expectations. Useful for the developing economies topic as it shows how different each economy is and what they are dependent on for economic growth.

Impact of COVID-19 on New Zealand Tourism.

Recently published by Stats NZ was the Tourism satellite account which presents information on tourism’s contribution to the New Zealand economy in terms of expenditure and employment.
The March 2021 data is significant as it captures the impact of COVID-19 on the sector. As expected the international spending was down by 91.5% from the previous year with the total spend falling by 37.3%.

The table and graph below show the drop off of international tourism in 2021. Domestic tourism did increase by 2.6% but was never going to absorb the drop in international spending of $16,195m.

Source: NZ Parliamentary Library – MER December 2021

Over the same period direct employment in tourism fell by 33.1% from 218,580 full-time employees to 146,295.

Tourism – direct contribution to GDP
2020 – $16.2bn – 5.5% of GDP
2021 – $8.5bn – 2.9% of GDP

Chinese property, the output approach and triple counting

Over the last couple of decades property has been a significant driver of Chinese growth. The dependence on real estate is shown below and it is interesting to note that China was more dependent on housing construction than Ireland and Spain prior to the Global Financial Crisis.

Real estate related activities’ share of GDP by country, 1997-2017

Source: Rogoff and Yang

Real estate has impacted consumer spending, employment of workers, investment and demand for raw materials. Investment in property has increased by 5% of GDP in 1995 to 13% in 2019 – 70% of which was residential. As for household consumption 23% is spent on real estate. How do you work out the value of output for residential investment and is there a problem with double counting?

GDP and the Output Approach

Gross domestic product (GDP) is defined as the value of output produced within the domestic boundaries of a country over a given period of time, usually a year. It includes the output of foreign owned firms that are located in that country, such as the majority of trading banks in the market. It does not include output of firms that are located abroad. There are three ways of calculating the value of GDP all of which should sum to the same amount since by identity:

NATIONAL OUTPUT = NATIONAL INCOME = NATIONAL EXPENDITURE

The output approach is the value of output produced by each of the productive sectors in the economy (primary, secondary and tertiary) using the concept of value added.

Value added is the increase in the value of a product at each successive stage of the production process. For example, if the raw materials and components used to make a car cost $16,000 and the final selling price of the car is $20,000, then the value added from the production process is $4,000. We use this approach to avoid the problems of double-counting the value of intermediate inputs. GDP will, therefore, be equal to the sum of each individual producer’s value added.

The Economist look at a simple example of calculating the output approach using a house. House is built and makes up the whole economy. It is made of steel which is made from iron ore.

House is sold – $1m
Steel is sold – $600,000
Iron ore is sold – $500,00

How significant is the construction industry? As the builders add $400,000 to the value – 40% of GDP. But if the whole economy is the house is it 100% as the iron ore is an ingredient of the steel that is bought by the builder.

The Economist mention a paper by Kenneth Rogoff and Yuanchen Yang “Has China’s Housing Production Peaked?” in which they take a different view on calculating the value of property. They use the input-output total requirement matrix with the economy divided into 17 industries – manufacture of machinery, construction, transport etc. The coefficients indicate the production required directly and indirectly in each sector when the final demand for domestic production increases by one unit. By adding up the coefficients corresponding to the construction industry they found that 1 unit of increase in the construction sector requires 2.12 units of inputs from forward (other contractors) and backward (raw materials) industries. In breaking down the construction and installation as part of Chinese real estate, investment is RMB 7,630 bn. Thus 2.12 x 7,630 = RMB 16,176 which is the total value.

Therefore in the original option the Rogoff and Yang model would include the iron ore and not the value of the house or the $400,000 value added by the construction industry. Therefore:

Steel $600,000 + Iron ore $500,00 – $1.1m

There way of removing double counting is unusual as if you add the construction output $1m, steel output $600,000 and iron ore output $500,000 there is a double and triple counting:

x2 = Steel – counted twice – purchase of steel and when house is sold
x3 = Iron ore – counted three times – purchased in raw material form, when used to produce steel and when house is sold.

The way that is normally talked about in textbooks is to only count the added value at each stage of production. Iron ore $500,000 + steel $100,000 + $400,000 construction costs – $1m = 100% of GDP in a one-house economy.

Sources:
China & World Economy / 1–31, Vol. 29, No. 1, 2021. Has China’s Housing Production Peaked? Kenne
th Rogoff, Yuanchen Yang

The Economist: Free Exchange – A universe of worry. November 27th 2021

Kaya Identity and climate change

Sustainable development is part of the CIE A2 Economic Syllabus and greenhouse emissions are significant barrier in trying to achieve specific goals. Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) requires a collective agreement and to advance towards a society which is more respectful of the environment, whilst at the same time working towards economic growth and sustainable development.
Kaya identity tries to explain the relationship between four factors:

  • Global carbon dioxide emissions, in carbon dioxide (CO2);
  • Global primary energy consumption, in Ton of Oil Equivalent (TOE);
  • GDP, in dollars ($);
  • Global population, in billions.

In other words global CO2 emissions from a human source = global population x quality of life x energy intensity x intensity of carbon in the energy mix. See the formula below:

GDP/Per Capita: represents the total value of output in an economy divided by the population
Energy/GDP: represents the energy intensity, i.e. the amount of energy used (in kWh) necessary to create a monetary unit, meaning to manufacture a product or provide a service. This intends to encourage us to rationalise our use of energy.
CO2/energy: represents the intensity of carbon in the global energy mix. This relationship demands a reduction in CO2 emissions in the production of energy, in particular through the promotion of energies low in carbon, such as renewable energy.

The focus from government and the private sector in reducing climate change has been on two of the four factors: Global carbon dioxide emissions, in carbon dioxide (CO2) and Global primary energy consumption, in Ton of Oil Equivalent (TOE). However should there be more emphasis on the other two: GDP and Global population? GDP can be influenced by government policy but there are political dangers if going down this avenue. Firstly by reducing growth you may limit the creation of jobs and the advancement of economies. Secondly developing economies depend on the demand from developed world to drive them out of poverty. Limiting population growth is not a policy that government’s can respectably push towards. Ultimately the global economy needs more than a power source without emissions but investment and innovation which can reverse the damage that emissions have already done. Below is an informative video on carbon markets from The Economist.

Instant Economics – the takeaway option.

The Economist recently had their Briefing article (October 23rd edition) on how economics is changing with ‘high frequency data’ and that there is a ‘Third-wave’ evident. They mention three changes to economic research.

  • It accesses data that is abundant and relevant to real-world problems.
  • Economists using the data are eager in influence government policy
  • There is little theory involved as the data/evidence says it all

1970s – more than half of economics papers focused on theory alone,
2011 – purely theoretical papers accounted for only 19% of publications.

There were hints of an economics third wave before the pandemic. Some economists were finding new, extremely detailed streams of data, such as Visa and Square (free business expense card) record spending patterns, Apple and Google track movements, anonymous tax records, location information from mobile phones etc. Of the 20 economists with the most cited new work during the pandemic, three run industrial labs.

The Economist divided economists into three groups:

  • lone wolves – who publish with less than one unique co-author per paper on average;
  • collaborators – those who tend to work with more than one unique co-author per paper, usually two to four people; and
  • lab leaders” – researchers who run a large team of dedicated assistants.

During the pandemic new economic papers increased markedly from 2019 – 2020 from the collaborators whilst the lone wolves were least evident. Large data sets benefit from the division of labour and the research was focused on the usefulness to business. Three of the top four authors during the pandemic compared with the year before—are all “collaborators” and use daily newspaper data to study markets. The concern about macro-economic research over the past few decades is that it has been too theoretical.

The downside is that consumers of fast-food academic research often treat it as if it is as rigorous as the slow-cooked sort—papers which comply with the old-fashioned publication process involving endless seminars and peer review.

Source: The Economist – ‘The real-time revolution’ – October 23rd 2021

Sky TV and the Paradox of Choice

Flicking through the TV channels one evening one found that what was supposed to be a time of relaxation was actually quite tiring. Surely with more choice and freedom to chose what to watch I would be a lot more content. In the age of the Internet, smartphones etc  there is a paradoxical effect in that we have access to an endless amount of movies, TV programmess, documentaries, sport etc.

My mind went back to Barry Schwartz’s TED talk “The Paradox of Choice” and what he calls the “official dogma of all western industrial societies” – see below. This is the common belief that by maximising one’s choice, we are maximising their freedom, and therefore their welfare. A clear intuitive example is a medical doctor offering a patient certain treatment options. The patient has choice, but he/she would most likely lack the knowledge and physical state of mind to make the best decision. Obviously, it should be better if the doctor, with all their experience and knowledge, makes the decision, even though it restricts the patient’s choice.

However freedom can do more harm than good in that it paradoxically causes paralysis in decision-making. When people have a lot of freedom, they have to spend time and effort considering the many options and making a decision. Should I watch rugby, cricket, league or ESPNFC on Sky? What about PBS News, CNN or Discovery? Some will say just record the programmes you didn’t watch but what you end up doing is filling your disk so that you can’t record anything else. These rather futile, yet difficult decisions make us indecisive, slow, and permanently pre-occupied in our lives, all thanks to the “problem” of having a bit too much freedom. Growing up in Ireland we had access to BBC1 Match of the Day (two games of highlights from English Football Division 1 – Premier League now) and it was something that you really looked forward to – 10pm on a Saturday night. Here there is limited choice and because of this maybe more satisfaction in that I didn’t have to worry about who or what to watch. In fact the pleasures of anticipation of Match of the Day on Saturday built throughout the week and provided more happiness – research shows that waiting for something – a chocolate – makes it taste better when we get it.

However, there are some more subtle cognitive effects that come with more freedom. First, it is very easy to imagine that there was a better choice than the one that you had chosen – i.e. the opportunity cost can take away your happiness from your current decision. This causes us to regret our own decisions (even if the option we took was the best choice), and this can seriously damage how satisfied we are with something. And with more freedom, comes more capacity to imagine that the grass is greener on the other side.

Finally, in this “choice-full” world of today, people are bound to choose an option that is almost perfect. Schwartz talks about how there only used to be one kind of jeans that you could buy, compared to the many different colours, fabric, fit, and size that you can buy today. He claims that by being able to buy such near-perfect jeans, you have such high expectations for the next pair that you can’t be completely satisfied. He jokes: “the secret to happiness is low expectations.”

Maximizers and Satisficers

With so much choice today we tend to fall into two categories of consumers.

Maximizers are those people that spend all their time exhaustively search for every piece of information about a product in order to make what they believe to be the perfect choice. However it can lead to nagging doubts about their choice and they can become unhappy.

Satisficers are those people that settle with the decision that is good enough and seem to be happier with their decision.

NZ House prices forecast to drop after 30% increase

If you look at the housing data over the last 15 years it has been a bit of a rollercoaster. The boom period of the early 2000’s saw significant increases in the house prices which was sharply curtailed by the Global Financial Crisis in 2008. Following the GFC the RBNZ embarked on an expansionary monetary policy with near zero level interest rates which saw rebound in house prices up to 2016. However up to 2018 price increases start to plateau as the economy entered a phase of slower growth with average household debts reaching 162% of their disposable income and this debt-fuelled growth proved unsustainable.

Westpac Economic Overview (Nov 2021)

Since the first lockdown in 2020 prices have escalated and this could be partly due to the fact that as well as demand outstripping supply, people have spent more income on refurbishing their house for a future sale. This came about by their inability to spend money on holidays or overseas trips. So why is there a forecast of decreasing and even negative house price increase? Below are some reasons:

  • Increase in official cash rate (OCR) from the RBNZ will be passed onto consumers – higher mortgage rates – see graph below showing the correlation between interest rates and house prices.
  • The tightening of lending regulations by the RBNZ – debt-to-income limits on mortgage lending.
  • With the borders being closed population growth has decreased significantly and therefore less demand.
  • There is less of a financial incentive for developers as material and labour costs have risen rapidly. Also a cooling housing market could lead to fewer projects.
Dominic Stephens: University of Victoria – Commerce Teachers’ Professional Development Day. 3-12-21

Source: Westpac Economic Overview (Nov 2021)

Turkey cuts interest rates to control inflation?

Most economists are in agreement that when there is an increase in inflation the central bank increases the base interest rates in order to reduce spending and encouraging saving. This takes money out of the circular flow and should lead to less borrowing and therefore less pressure on prices.

The Turkish lira dropped by 15% last week with three cuts in interest rates since September. This comes as inflation has climbed to 20%. So why would you drop interest rates when you have rapidly increasing inflation? President Erdogan sacked the governor of the head of central bank Naci Agbal who had been hiking interest rates to dampen down inflation – he was the third governor to lose his job in the last two years. Erdogan believes that raising interest rates would raise inflation rather than reduce it and he proceeded to cut rates further which saw an even steeper decline in the lira. An argument for this policy could be that the cheaper exports can drive economic growth.

The collapse of the lira make exports competitive and imports more expensive and in September Turkey posted a current account surplus thanks in large to a recovery in tourist numbers. Turkey relies heavily on imports of raw materials and energy and with the exchange rate falling these have become a lot more expensive. Although Turkish exports should be cheaper, the heavy import component of finished exports makes those goods more expensive so this outweighs the benefits of having a cheaper lira – e.g. in assembling kitchen appliances the price of imports of the component parts make the overall price of the appliance more expensive. This just fuels more inflation. Supermarkets are limiting customers to one item as they know people will stockpile produce with the ever increasing inflation rate.

So with inflation around 20% and real interest rates -5% further cuts will lead to the lira falling further and inflation will get even worse. This will then get the local population to turn to other currencies – US$ Euro – in order to protect the value of their money. Below is a very video clip from Deutsche Welle (German World Service) outlining the problems that Turkey face.

New Zealand’s ‘Output Gap’

A good example of the output gap from the RBNZ Monetary Policy Statement last week – see graph above. There are strong capacity pressures which are the result of the unleashing of domestic demand and supply chain disruptions. Although the latter has increased it is presently unable to keep up with the the overall aggregate demand of the economy and subsequently this has driven inflation up to 4.9% above the 1 to 3% remit target band.

With unemployment at 3.4% and *underutilisation of 9.2%, annual employment growth of 4.3% (September 2021) cannot be maintained with this pressure on the labour market. There has been strong demand for more workers in some sectors, but it has been difficult for businesses to recruit extra staff. This has seen wages rise as firms compete for workers. However it is important to remember that on 29th October there were still 1,282,152 jobs being supported by a wage subsidy. A total of NZ$3,719.7 million had been paid via the COVID-19 Wage Subsidy August 2021. With the continued demand for labour, wage pressure and salary costs are expected to increase. Consequently a rising unemployment rate could be evident.

*underutilisation  – measures spare capacity in New Zealand’s labour market. People do not have a job, but are available to work and are actively seeking employment

Notes on the output gap

If there is no long-term trade-off, low inflation does not permanently choke growth. Moreover, by keeping inflation low and stable, a central bank, in effect, stabilises output and jobs. In the graph below the straight line represents the growth in output that the economy can sustain over the long run; the wavy line represents actual output. When the economy is producing below potential (ie, unemployment is above the NAIRU), at point A, inflation will fall until the “output gap” is eliminated. When output is above potential, at point B, inflation will rise for as long as demand is above capacity. If inflation is falling (point A), then a central bank will cut interest rates, helping to boost growth in output and jobs; when inflation is rising (point B), it will raise interest rates, dampening down growth. Thus if monetary policy focuses on keeping inflation low and stable, it will automatically help to stabilise employment and growth.

Gapology