NZ Supermarket Duopoly – will there be more regulation?

With this duopoly in the news again I thought it timely to look at an older post explaining duopolies- also added a ONENEWS report on the matter.

The supermarket duopoly in New Zealand (Foodstuffs and Woolworths NZ) has been in the news lately and I thought about explaining the strategy of companies in this market structure. Part of the NCEA Level 3 and the CIE A2 economics courses look at market structures – monopolistic, oligopoly, duopoly, monopoly, and monopsony. A duopoly refers to two firms in a market whilst an oligopoly has a small number of firms but greater than two. Therefore we can say that Oligopoly and Duopoly are very similar market structures and they can co-ordinate their behaviour to exploit the market by lowering competition which in turn leads to greater profits for all.

Bernard Hickey from The Spinoff made some salient points about the Commerce Commission report on the duopoly:

  • Foodstuffs and Woolworths NZ have been protected by 150 covenants that stop competitors getting access to the best locations for supermarkets.
  • Their profits are at least twice as much as is normal for the international supermarket sector,
  • The beneficiaries of these super profits have blamed global forces – eg bad harvests, limited global supply for high prices. Aotearoa had the fifth most expensive groceries in the OECD and households spent the fifth most per capita per week on groceries in 2017.
  • Profits on the supermarket sector’s $22b worth of sales each year are around double what they would be if the market was properly efficient and competitive.
  • Both Foodstuffs and Woolworth NZ use their buying power to shift costs and risks back onto suppliers, while also threatening to pull suppliers’ products and blocking them from supplying the other group.
  • NZ needs to look at what Joe Biden is doing – limiting market power in certain industries – technology, meat-packing, airlines and pharmaceuticals.

The Commerce Commission said

“We consider that the New Zealand market could sustainably accommodate at least one more large-scale rival, and that reducing current constraints on entry and expansion would help to facilitate this. In the long term, actual entry or expansion is likely to be the greatest driver of competition”

How do duopolies exploit the market?

Using the example of the supermarket duopoly Foodstuffs and Woolworths. Each company has two options – high price or low price. Obviously if they both price low they stand to be worse off and if they price high they are both set to gain. The outcome and payoffs are illustrated below:

Maximax – riskier strategy
A maximax strategy is one where the player attempts to earn the maximum possible benefit available. This means they will prefer the alternative which includes the chance of achieving the best possible outcome – even if a highly unfavourable outcome is possible. This strategy, often referred to as the best of the best is often seen as ‘naive’ and overly optimistic strategy, in that it assumes a highly favourable environment for decision making.

In this case, for both food providers, the aggressive maximax strategy is $140m from a low price and $120m from a high price, so a low price gives the maximax pay-off.

Maximin – conservative strategy
A maximin strategy is where a player chooses the best of the worst pay-off. This is commonly chosen when a player cannot rely on the other party to keep any agreement that has been made – for example, to deny.

In terms of the pessimistic maximin strategy, the worst outcome from a low price is $100m, and from a high price is $70m – hence a low price provides the best of the worst outcomes.

Again, lowering price is the dominant strategy, and the only way to increase the pay-off would be to collude and increase price together. Of course, this requires an agreement, and collusion, and this creates two further risks – one of the food companies reneges on the agreement and ‘rats’, and the competition authorities investigate the food companies, and impose a penalty.

Nash equilibrium
Nash equilibrium, named after Nobel winning economist, John Nash, is a solution to a game involving two or more players who want the best outcome for themselves and must take the actions of others into account. When Nash equilibrium is reached, players cannot improve their payoff by independently changing their strategy. This means that it is the best strategy assuming the other has chosen a strategy and will not change it. For example, in the Prisoner’s Dilemma game, confessing is a Nash equilibrium because it is the best outcome, taking into account the likely actions of others.

For more on Duopoly view the key notes (accompanied by fully coloured diagrams/models) on elearneconomics that will assist students to understand concepts and terms for external examinations, assignments or topic tests.

Regional GDP in New Zealand for March 2021

Some recent stats – geographical breakdown of nominal GDP within New Zealand for year ended March 2021. Out of all 15 regions only Taranaki (-5.8%) and Otago (-2.2%) contracted from the previous year.

Highest GDP per capita
– Wellington $75,319
– Auckland $70,952
– Taranaki $70,626

Lowest GDP per capita
– Northland $43,931
– Gisborne $45,545
– Manawatu/Wanganui $49,932

A good exercise with your class is to get them to match the figures with the area of New Zealand. Figures below are in $m

Russia: Goods and services trade with New Zealand

The NZ Parliamentary Library produced some data on the New Zealand’s trade with Russia. The most recent figures for the December 2021 quarter are:
Exports of goods and services to Russia – $75 million
Imports goods and services from Russia – $14 million

Total dairy exports to Russia were $168.9 million for the year ending June 2021. Of this total, butter represented $147.9 million, comprising 5.5% of New Zealand’s total for this commodity – Russia was New Zealand’s 4th largest butter destination in 2021.

Trade with Russia 2019 – 2021

Exports are mainly made up of dairy whilst imports are mineral fuels and oils – crude oil (well over 90%) and Russia was a moderately important source of crude oil imports (16% of New Zealand’s crude imports in 2020). With Marsden Point oil refinery coming offline in April, Korea and Singapore will in future become the main source of refined fuel. The last significant crude oil shipment from Russia was in January 2021. As at 31 March 2021 New Zealand’s total investment in Russia was worth $14 million, a decline from $48 million as at 31 March 2020. During the same period total Russian investment in New Zealand increased from $29 million to $40 million. The graphic on the right (click on it to expand) shows the origin of imports into New Zealand in 2020. Note that Russia has 0.53% of all imports into NZ.

The largest economic impact on New Zealand of the invasion would therefore be mainly indirect, through higher import fuel and commodity prices, instability of financial markets, and the impact on global economic activity.

Sources:

  • Potential impacts of the Russian Invasion of Ukraine on the New Zealand economy, February 2022. New Zealand Foreign Affairs.
  • New Zealand Parliamentary Library – Monthly Economic Review March 2022.

For more on Trade view the key notes (accompanied by fully coloured diagrams/models) on elearneconomics that will assist students to understand concepts and terms for external examinations, assignments or topic tests.

High commodity prices but also high input costs for NZ agricultural sector

New Zealand commodity prices have been on the rise over the last year. Global dairy prices have increase by 14% this year with beef and lamb prices setting record highs. Some economists have said that it is the perfect storm of supply and demand factors.

Supply
As it does every year, the weather has influenced the price of dairy prices especially. A wet start to the dairy season accompanied by a very hot summer has reduced the supply of milk and therefore increasing its price. Also Covid has impacted the supply chains especially that of sea freight (see below) which in turn have impacted feed, fertilisers which has reduced supply. Although the NZ inflation rate has hit a 30 year high at 5.9% this is nothing compared to the costs down on the farm. This year farming cost have increased by:

  • Fertilisers 200% (breakdown in the graph below)
  • Chemicals 50%
  • Sea Freight 500%
  • Diesel 40%
  • Electricity 21%
  • Winter grazing 36.9
  • Cultivation, Harvesting & Animal Feed Cost 18.9%

Fertiliser price inflation

Source: Westpac Economic Overview – February 2022

Demand
The Chinese recovery has mainly been responsible for the rebound in demand as well as other countries coming out of Covid restrictions. Another factor helping the primary sector is the weaker NZ$. It is now trading around the US$0.66 from over US$0.70 in late 2021. Remember that a weaker dollar makes it cheaper for consumers overseas to buy our currency and therefore more price competitive goods

Carbon Prices influence farmer’s investments
In the past year the recent doubling of carbon prices to around $85/unit has encouraged some farmers to focus their attention on tree plantations to the detriment of sheep and beef supply. What is noticeable about investment is that with the high returns on commodity prices farmers are repaying debt rather than re-investing back into their business – although still very high agricultural debt fell from $64bn in July 2019 to $62bn today.

Source: Westpac Economic Overview – February 2022

For more on supply and demand view the key notes (accompanied by fully coloured diagrams/models) on elearneconomics that will assist students to understand concepts and terms for external examinations, assignments or topic tests.

OCR – LSAP – FLP = New Zealand’s Monetary Policy Toolkit

Below is a useful flow diagram from the ANZ bank which adds Large Scale Asset Purchases (LSAP) and Funding for Lending Programme (FLP) to the Official Cash Rate (OCR – Base Rate)

LSAP – this is the buying of up $100 billion of government bonds – quantitative easing
FLP – this gives banks cheap lending based on the Official Cash Rate – could be about $28 billion based on take up
OCR – wholesale interest rate currently at 0.75%. Commercial banks borrow at 0.5% above OCR and can save at the Reserve Bank of New Zealand (RBNZ) at 1% below OCR.

With FLP and more LSAP this will mean lower lending rates and deposit rates. This should provide more stimulus in the economy and allay fears of future funding constraints making banks more confident about lending. Add to this a third stimulus – an OCR of 0.75%. Although there is currently a tightening policy the rate is probably still stimulatory. The flow chart shows the impact that these three stimulus policies have on a variety of variables including – exchange rates – inflation -unemployment – consumer spending – investment – GDP. Very useful for a class discussion on the monetary policy mechanism.

For more on Monetary Policy view the key notes (accompanied by fully coloured diagrams/models) on elearneconomics that will assist students to understand concepts and terms for external examinations, assignments or topic tests.

New Zealand increases minimum wage to $21.20 but will it have an impact?

From 1st April this year the minimum wage in New Zealand will increase from $20 to $21.20 as the Labour government stay true to their election pledge of commitment to supporting employees. Currently inflation at its highest level for 30 years at 5.9% and unemployment is at a record low of 3.2%. In theory the minimum wage increase should see consumers spending more of their income and thereby supporting businesses. However the living wage, the rate at which someone would need to afford the necessities of life and participate as an active citizen, increased to $22.75.

Theory behind the minimum wage
On the graph above a minimum wage of W1 means that the level of employment has fallen but those prepared to work but are involuntary unemployed has increased. However the people still employed are better off as they are paid more for the same work; their gain is exactly balanced by their employers’ loss. The jobs that someone would have been willing to do at less than the wage of We and for which some company would have been willing to pay more than We.

Does the theory of the minimum wage apply in reality?
In reality the theory of the minimum wage explained above is not as simple as it is made out to be. From records in the USA there is no obvious relationship between the minimum wage and unemployment: adjusted for inflation, the federal minimum wage was highest from 1967 through 1969, when the unemployment rate was below 4%. One study (whose authors won the Nobel Prize in Economics) in 1994 by David Card and Alan Krueger evaluated an increase in New Jersey’s minimum wage by comparing fast-food restaurants on both sides of the New Jersey – Pennsylvania border. They concluded, “contrary to the central prediction of the textbook model … we find no evidence that the rise in New Jersey’s minimum wage reduced employment at fast-food restaurants in the state.”

The idea that a higher minimum wage might not increase unemployment goes against the the theory in textbooks as if labour becomes more expensive firms will take on less employees. But there are several reason why this might not be the case:

  • The standard model states that firms will replace labour with machines if wages increase, but what happens if labour saving technologies are not available at a reasonable cost.
  • Some employers may not be able to maintain their business with fewer workers especially in service based industries. Therefore, some companies can’t lay off employees if the minimum wage is increased.
  • Small firms are traditionally labour intensive and can’t afford large capital investment. Therefore the minimum wage doesn’t have the impact of laying off workers.
  • If employers have significant market power that the theory of the supply and demand for labour doesn’t exist, then they can reduce the wage level by hiring fewer workers (only those willing to work for low pay), just as a monopolist can boost prices by cutting production (think of an oil cartel, for example). A minimum wage forces them to pay more, which eliminates the incentive to minimize their workforce.
  • Even though a higher minimum wage will raise labour costs many companies can recoup cost increases in the form of higher prices; because most of their customers are not poor, the net effect is to transfer money from higher-income to lower-income families. In addition, companies that pay more often benefit from higher employee productivity, offsetting the growth in labor costs.
  • Higher wages boost productivity as they motivate people to work harder, they attract higher-skilled workers, and they reduce employee turnover, lowering hiring and training costs, among other things. If fewer people quit their jobs, that also reduces the number of people who are out of work at any one time because they’re looking for something better. A higher minimum wage motivates more people to enter the labor force, raising both employment and output.
  • Higher pay increases workers’ buying power. Because poor people spend a relatively large proportion of their income, a higher minimum wage can boost overall economic activity and stimulate economic growth, creating more jobs.

All the above add a range of variables that are not considered in the simple supply and demand model for labour. It maybe useful as a starting point in discussing the minimum wage but has its limitations in the more complex real world.

Source: Economism by James Kwak

New Zealand inflation hits 5.9%. Potential for wage price spiral?

Consumer prices in New Zealand rose 5.9% annually in the December quarter.
Core inflation measures rose to 5.4% annually. Core inflation excludes certain items that are known for their volatility — namely, food and energy. With this figures it seems that ‘transitory’ inflation is not as relevant and inflation does have some momentum. There is a lot inflation coming in from abroad with Tradable inflation at 6.9%.

Domestic inflation was also strong with non-tradable inflation at 5.3%. Some of the main movers in the CPI:

  • Construction costs up by 15.7%annually – major supply chain issues here
  • Petrol prices up by 30.5% annually – reflects rises in oil prices globally and a weak NZ dollar making imports more expensive.
  • Food – annual change in food prices was 4.1% although the quarterly change was -0.1%
  • 40% of CPI is made up of imports and with inflationary pressure prevalent in the global economy this has led to higher import prices.

Higher inflation in a tight labour market – wage price spiral.
With a tight labour market comes pressure on wages and if they increase and are not accompanied by an increase in output/worker, companies have two choices. Either they absorb the higher costs or they put their prices up. Then with higher prices there is pressure on wages again as employees try to maintain their purchasing power which in turn could lead to a wage-price spiral.

Theory behind the wage-price spiral

As from previous posts, the Phillips Curve analysed data for money wages against the rate of unemployment over the period 1862-1958. Money wages and prices were seen to be strongly correlated, mainly because the former are the most significant costs of production. Hence the resulting curve purported to provide a “trade-off’ between inflation and unemployment – i.e. the government could ‘select’ its desired position on the curve. During the 1970’s higher rates of inflation than previously were associated with any given level of unemployment. It was generally considered that the whole curve had shifted right – i.e. to achieve full employment a higher rate of inflation than previously had to be accepted.

Milton Friedman’s expectations-augmented Phillips Curve denies the existence of any long-run trade off between inflation and unemployment. In short, attempts to reduce unemployment below its natural rate by fiscal reflation will succeed only at the cost of generating a wage-price spiral, as wages are quickly cancelled out by increases in prices.

Each time the government reflates the economy, a period of accelerating inflation will follow a temporary fall in unemployment as workers anticipate a future rise in inflation in their pay demands, and unemployment returns to its natural rate.

The process can be seen in the diagram below – a movement from A to B to C to D to E

Friedman thus concludes that the long-run Phillips Curve (LRPC) is vertical (at the natural rate of unemployment), and the following propositions emerge:

1. At the natural rate of unemployment, the rate of inflation will be constant (but not necessarily zero).

2. The rate of unemployment can only be maintained below its natural rate at the cost of accelerating inflation. (Reflation is doomed to failure).

3. Reduction in the rate of inflation requires deflation in the economy – i.e. unemployment must rise (in the short term at least) above its natural rate.

Some economists go still further, and argue that the natural rate has increased over time and that the LRPC slopes upwards to the right. If inflation is persistently higher in one country that elsewhere, the resulting loss of competitiveness reduces sales and destroys capacity. Hence inflation is seen to be a cause of higher inflation.

Rational expectations theorists deny Friedman’s view that reflation reduces unemployment even in the short-run. Since economic agents on average correctly predicted that the outcome of reflation will be higher inflation, higher money wages have no effect upon employment and the result of relations simply a movement up the LRPC to a higher level of inflation.

Source: ANZ Research December 2021 Quarter CPI Review

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.

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

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

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)

Carbon Footprint – NZ v UK primary industry

Useful video on Food’s true carbon cost from the FT last year – mentions New Zealand apples being sold in the UK not necessarily having a greater global footprint. Apples kept in cold storage would cause a greater carbon footprint than apples being shipped from New Zealand.

Previously food miles (the total distance traveled as food is transported from its place of origin to the consumer’s plate) was one measure of the global footprint and New Zealand is particularly vulnerable due its large quantities of agricultural exports and its geographical isolation. However, transport had been taken out as it was difficult to single out one part of the food system and conclude that because it has come from thousands of miles away it is automatically less sustainable. Therefore, the food miles argument for favouring domestic produce was only valid if food is produced using identical processes around the globe.

In order to reduce CO2 emissions, merely taxing imported food can’t be seen as the answer. As CO2 is emitted at roughly all stages of the process of transporting food to the dining room table, an appraisal of the environmental cost of devouring food from different countries should assess CO2 emissions throughout the product’s complete lifecycle. Stages in a food’s lifecycle include sowing, growing, harvesting, packaging, storage, transportation and consumption. Every phase uses energy and consequently create CO2. These include; Direct Inputs, Indirect Inputs, and Capital Inputs. A simplified flow chart representation of these inputs and the farm outputs, including environmental impacts, but excluding the transport occurring outside the farm gate is shown in Figure 1. Although it was done in 2006 a study by Saunders et al assessed the total CO2 emissions released in the supply of four New Zealand and UK food products to British markets. The report showed (see Table 1 for report data) that in the case of dairy and sheepmeat production NZ is by far more energy efficient even including the transport cost than the UK, twice as efficient in the case of dairy, and four times as efficient in case of sheepmeat.

In the case of apples NZ is more energy efficient even though the energy embodied in capital items and other inputs data was not available for the UK. Onions – where transport emissions account for around two-thirds of all CO2 resulting form the supply of New Zealand crops – are the only product for which UK consumers can reduce CO2 emissions by favouring domestic produce.

A major contributor to New Zealand’s relative CO2 efficiency in dairy production is that New Zealand agriculture tends to apply less fertilisers (which require large amounts of energy to produce and cause significant CO2 emissions) and animals are able to graze year round outside eating grass instead large quantities of brought-in feed such as concentrates. European dairy farms involve housing animals for extended periods of time. The fact that New Zealand farmers do not require subsidies to be internationally competitive, unlike their British counterparts, indicates these efficiencies of production.

Record Terms of Trade for New Zealand – Q2 2021

New Zealand’s terms of trade rose by +3.3 % in the June quarter 2021, reaching a new record high.

Terms of Trade – Q2 2021

  • NZ terms of trade rose by +3.3%
  • Export prices rose by +8.3% due to increases in commodity prices dairy +15.3% and forestry prices +12.7%. were
  • Import prices rose by +4.8% due to commodity prices like fuel +27.1% and metals +12.5%

NZ’s high Terms of Trade highlights how NZ’s role as a food exporter will likely provide the NZ economy with some buffer as the global economy is rocked by the COVID-19 pandemic. But it is the general inflationary aspects of trade prices that is a concern as the 4.8% increase in goods import prices adds to inflation pressure. This is especially prevalent with import prices of consumption goods increasing by 6.3%. This price rise is driven by higher prices offshore rather than fluctuations in the NZ$ which was fairly flat during early part of the year.

What is the Terms of Trade.
The terms of trade index measures the value of a unit of exports in terms of the number of imports it can buy, or the purchasing power of our exports. This is similar to comparing the number of sheep exports that will buy a typical imported family car, from one time to another.

Formula: Terms of Trade (TOT) =

Export Price Index (Px)           x   1000 (base year)
Import Price Index (Pm)

  • An increase in the TOT (e.g. from 1050 to 1200) is called “favourable”
  • A decrease in the TOT (e.g. from 1050 to 970) is called “unfavourable”

A “favourable” (increase) in the TOT may come about because the average:

– export price rose and import price stayed the same
– export prices rose faster than import prices
– export prices stayed the same and import prices fell
– export prices fell but import prices fell faster

The index number that results tells us whether merchandise export price movements have been favourable relative to import price movements. An increase in the terms of trade from 1000 to 1100 represents an increase in the purchasing power of our exports of 10% which means, other things being equal, we would be able to buy 10% more from overseas. As a country we would be wealthier. A decline in the terms of trade would result in the opposite situation.

Limitations of the Terms of Trade

Terms of trade calculations do not tell us about the volume of the countries’ exports, only relative changes between countries. To understand how a country’s social utility changes, it is necessary to consider changes in the volume of trade, changes in productivity and resource allocation, and changes in capital flows.

The price of exports from a country can be heavily influenced by the value of its currency, which can in turn be heavily influenced by the interest rate in that country. If the value of currency of a particular country is increased due to an increase in interest rate one can expect the terms of trade to improve. However this may not necessarily mean an improved standard of living for the country since an increase in the price of exports perceived by other nations will result in a lower volume of exports. As a result, exporters in the country may actually be struggling to sell their goods in the international market even though they are enjoying a (supposedly) high price. An example of this is the high export price suffered by New Zealand exporters since mid-2000 as a result of the historical mandate given to the Reserve Bank of New Zealand to control inflation.

In the real world of over 200 nations trading hundreds of thousands of products, terms of trade calculations can get very complex. Thus, the possibility of errors is significant.

Evaluation

  • A decline in the terms of trade is not necessarily a bad thing. For example, a decline in the terms of trade may occur due to a devaluation in the exchange rate. This devaluation may enable a country to regain competitiveness and increase the quantity of exports.
  • The impact of a decline in the terms of trade will depend on the elasticity of demand. If demand is elastic, the lower price of exports will cause a bigger % increase in demand.
  • Some Less Developed Countries (LDCs) have seen an improvement in terms of trade because of rising price of commodities and food post 2008. It is not always LDCs who see a decline in the terms of trade.
  • It is important to distinguish between a short term decline in terms of trade and a long term decline. A long term decline is more serious for reflecting a fall in living standards.



Can the New Zealand economy bounce back after second lockdown?

As New Zealand completes 7 days of lockdown and with community cases on the rise the question is when can the economy reopen again and will it be able to bounce back like in the third quarter last year – 14.1% growth. An expansionary fiscal and monetary policy – increase in government spending and lower interest rates – were largely responsible for this recovery. Were it not for the lockdown last Wednesday the Reserve Bank of New Zealand would have raised interest rates to slowdown an overheating economy which had recovered well after the initial lockdown.

So with interest rates still at an expansionary 0.25% and a promise from finance minister Grant Robertson to provide a fiscal stimulus there is every chance that the economy should return to pre-second lockdown growth and have a central bank looking to raise interest rates as supply constraints and pent up demand start to inflate prices. Graph below shows the GDP forecast from the Bank of New Zealand – note the bounce back in GDP and the lockdown in mid 2020. However a lot depends on how long the lockdown will last for.

New Zealand Subnational Human development index (SHDI)

Most macro economics courses cover development economics and the human development index (HDI). The HDI is the average of three indices based on three different variables and it sets a minimum and a maximum value for each dimension and then shows where each country stands in relation to these values, expressed as a number between 0 and 1. The higher a country’s HDI score, the higher its level of human development (and vice versa).:

The 3 indices in the HDI are:

Life expectancy: Life expectancy at birth and is:
1 when Life expectancy at birth = 85
0 when Life expe
ctancy at birth = 20.

Education:
Mean years of schooling – a country whose citizens all attained 15 years of education by the age of 25, would have an MYS index of 1.0.
Expected years of schooling – if every student in a country enrolled in a master’s degree that country’s EYS index would be 1.0

Standard of living: GNI per capita (PPP US$)
1 = $75,000 / annum
0 = $100 / annum

The new Subnational Human Development Index (SHDI)is a simple cross-nationally comparable index. While at the national level it coincides with the official HDI constructed by the UNDP, its subnational values reflect – in a globally comparable way – the variation in human development among geographic regions within countries. See graph below for New Zealand. Note that Wellington and Auckland have the highest SHDI score whllst Gisborne and Northland the lowest.

Cost-Benefit Analysis of the Auckland Harbour cycle bridge

Reading Michael Cameron’s blog this morning I was intrigued to read that New Zealand’s Transport Minister Michael Wood did not provide the cost-benefit data when he announced the new $785m Auckland harbour cycle bridge earlier this month. However it has now been revealed the initial assessment by Waka Kotahi is only 0.4 to 0.6. That meant for every dollar spent on the bridge, there would effectively be a 40 to 60 cent loss. If a project is less than 1.0, the project’s costs outweigh the benefits, and it should not be considered.

You wonder about the rationale for this amount of expenditure when there is an opportunity cost – money that could be spent on the areas that seemed to be constantly deprived of government funds e.g. Health (especially with the vaccine rollout), Education etc.

Evaluation of Cost-Benefit Analysis
It is clearly more efficient for public spending to be subject to rigorous analysis, rather than based on the whims of politicians. However, there are a number of criticisms of CBA when projects are given the green light

1. It is often very costly to undertake, though usually this forms a very small proportion of total project spending.
2. Assessing the monetary value of external costs and benefits is often very difficult. What precisely is the value of the congestion that would be reduced if a new bi-pass were built around a busy town? How much extra tourist revenue will actually be gained from a new airport? How long will the building be used as a venue, as in the case of the Viaduct area in Auckland for the 2020/21 America’s Cup. One solution to this problem is shadow pricing, where analysts attempt to place a value on the costs and benefits of a decision or a project where an actual market price does not exist.
3. Changing circumstances can make initial projections appear grossly inaccurate. The Wembley Stadium project in London went considerably over-budget, and the majority Olympic Games are far more costly than originally estimated. For instance the Montreal Olympics in 1976 was eventually paid off in December 2006. Higher interest and inflation rates, and falling exchange rates can all dramatically affect costs.
4. Actual costs can also rise above planned costs as a result of moral hazard, where project managers go over budget because they expect that those who fund the project will make extra funds available, providing an insurance against their over-spending.
5. Ultimately, decisions to go ahead with projects are only guided by CBA, leaving politicians to make the final decision. Politicians are free, of course, to ignore the results of an appraisal. It looks like they have with the cycle bridge.

New Zealand looks to UK and EU for export markets

Concerned with a dependence on the Chinese market for its exports, New Zealand has agreed to the implementation of trade deals with the UK and the EU. Negotiations have been going in the background of rising tensions in the Pacific especially between China and Australia. However being too reliant on one market is a risky business as is depending on one resource to generate export income – the resource curse.

Background to New Zealand’s trade with China
On 7th April 2008 New Zealand became the first OECD country to sign a free trade deal with China. However this is not the only first with regard to the relationship between the two countries. New Zealand was the first to negotiate a WTO accession agreement with China as well as the first to recognise China as a “market economy”. With this in mind, the Chinese government have acknowledged the support of New Zealand by granting them the first bi-lateral agreement with a western nation.

Today China is New Zealand’s largest trade partner, accounting for NZ$19bn (US$13.5bn) exports in the year to the end of March, a quarter of its total exports. The deal with the UK would involve tariff cuts on New Zealand farm exports including dairy, lamb and beef but this would be a concern for UK farmers especially as they have now left the protectionist EU subsidies.

New Zealand trade destinations – March 2020 – March 2021

Source: FT

New Zealand benefiting from high commodity prices.

New Zealand’s commodity prices have increased by 17% this year and is expected to increase by 22% by December 2021. What has caused this increase in prices? With Covid restrictions lifted in many countries this has seen an increase in demand especially from China and South East Asian countries. Dairy, horticulture and forestry commodity prices have been the big winners. Kiwi fruit returns are expected to be the highest on record and log prices have increase over 20% in the last 6 months. Furthermore with the opening up of restaurants in the northern hemisphere the demand for meat will undoubtedly increase which is a good omen for sheep and beef farmers. At this time of year lamb prices normally fall but prices have actually increased over April and May.

Shipping costs have been very high of late but as they start to come down with more supply this will be a further boost to exporters especially bulky exports like forestry. It is expected that wood export volumes will be approaching record high levels over 2021 and 2022. The strong return from commodity prices will mean higher national incomes and will support the strength of the NZ$ and interest rates.

This could be a honeymoon period for New Zealand exporters as supply will eventually catch-up with demand and bring down prices. From a longer-term perspective, environmental constraints are biting on global food production. New Zealand’s dairy sector is at the coal face and the demands by government for fencing and other environmental restrictions means that there is less land being used and lower stock numbers. Other dairy exporters in Europe are also experiencing the same restrictions and it is the consumer who is likely to bear the increase in costs with higher retail prices.

Source: Economic Overview. Reshaping the world. May 2021

New Zealand Regional GDP and GDP per capita in charts

Below are a couple of graphs that might be useful for showing the regional differences in New Zealand GDP and the GDP per capita – Year end 31 March 2020.

  • The value of the New Zealand economy is $323,142m whilst the average income in the country is $64,079.
  • 14 of the 15 regions experienced an increase in GDP (the West Coast was the only region that experienced a contraction in GDP).
  • The Auckland region has the largest regional GDP at $122,557 million.
  • Economic output in the North Island accounted for just under 78 percent of total economic output in New Zealand, with the South Island providing just over 22 percent.
  • Taranaki has the highest GDP per capita at $76,715
  • Northland has the lowest GDP per capita at $42,711

Important to note that these figures are pre Covid-19

New Zealand Supermarket Duopoly – maximax and maximin strategies

Michael Cameron did a very relevant post on his blog ‘Sex, Drugs and Economics’ which focused on the duopoly market structure of New Zealand’s supermarkets. Part of the NCEA Level 3 and the CIE A2 economics courses look at market structures – monopolistic, oligopoly, duopoly, monopoly, and monopsony. A duopoly refers to two firms in a market whilst an oligopoly has a small number of firms but greater than two. Therefore we can say that Oligopoly and Duopoly are very similar market structures and they can co-ordinate their behaviour to exploit the market by lowering competition which in turn leads to greater profits for all.

Using the example of the supermarket duopoly Foodstuffs and Woolworths. Each company has two options – high price or low price. Obviously if they both price low they stand to be worse off and if they price high they are both set to gain. The outcome and payoffs are illustrated below:

Maximax – riskier strategy
A maximax strategy is one where the player attempts to earn the maximum possible benefit available. This means they will prefer the alternative which includes the chance of achieving the best possible outcome – even if a highly unfavourable outcome is possible. This strategy, often referred to as the best of the best is often seen as ‘naive’ and overly optimistic strategy, in that it assumes a highly favourable environment for decision making.

In this case, for both food providers, the aggressive maximax strategy is $140m from a low price and $120m from a high price, so a low price gives the maximax pay-off.

Maximin – conservative strategy
A maximin strategy is where a player chooses the best of the worst pay-off. This is commonly chosen when a player cannot rely on the other party to keep any agreement that has been made – for example, to deny.

In terms of the pessimistic maximin strategy, the worst outcome from a low price is $100m, and from a high price is $70m – hence a low price provides the best of the worst outcomes.

Again, lowering price is the dominant strategy, and the only way to increase the pay-off would be to collude and increase price together. Of course, this requires an agreement, and collusion, and this creates two further risks – one of the food companies reneges on the agreement and ‘rats’, and the competition authorities investigate the food companies, and impose a penalty.

Nash equilibrium
Nash equilibrium, named after Nobel winning economist, John Nash, is a solution to a game involving two or more players who want the best outcome for themselves and must take the actions of others into account. When Nash equilibrium is reached, players cannot improve their payoff by independently changing their strategy. This means that it is the best strategy assuming the other has chosen a strategy and will not change it. For example, in the Prisoner’s Dilemma game, confessing is a Nash equilibrium because it is the best outcome, taking into account the likely actions of others.