Oligopoly Cartels

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					Collusive Behaviour in an Oligopoly
            A2 Economics
                        Key Issues

• The meaning of collusion
• Different forms of collusion
    – Cartels
    – Joint product developments
    – Horizontal and vertical collusion
• Overt and covert collusion
• The benefits of collusion for businesses
• Impact of collusion for consumers – possible market failure
• Is collusions always against the public interest?
• The instability of cartels in an oligopoly
• How competition policy seeks to attack collusion
• Recent examples of anti-competitive practices and cases
• Possible risk of government failure
                    Collusion and Cartels under
• Collusion represents an attempt by firms to recognize their
  interdependence and act together rather than compete
• Collusion – can seen as a move towards joint-profit
• Collusion normally requires control over the market
  supply of a commodity
• Overt collusion
      • This is the creation of a price fixing arrangement with
        a producer cartel responsible for allocating output /
        supply within the market
                    Collusion and Cartels under
• Tacit collusion
   – Dominant firm ‘price leadership’
      • One firm’s price changes are matched by the other firms
      • Price leadership often happens in segments of a market
          – E.g. the market for mortgage lending
          – The market for breakfast cereals
   – Barometric-firm leadership
      • The price leader is the one judged to have best knowledge of
        prevailing market conditions
                   Price Fixing Agreements

• OPEC cartel (still in existence but periodic tensions /
  breakdown of cartel agreement)
• ‘Over the counter’ pharmaceuticals (ended May 2001)
• Cement price fixing (cartel collapsed in 1987)
• European steel producers (cartel fined heavily in 1996)
• Electrical goods retailers and computer games producers –
  investigated by the Competition Commission in 2000
• Alleged price fixing by the main art auction houses
• EU vitamin producers fined 750 million Euro in 2001
                        Horizontal Collusion

• Most collusive activity takes place between firms in the same industry.
• Recent examples:
    – Bus service operators in some cities
    – Car body parts suppliers
    – Steel producers within the European Union
    – Coffee producers (coffee export retention scheme)
    – Independent schools
    – West Midlands roofing contractors cartel!
• But not all horizontal agreements are bad or illegal!
    – Strategic Alliances to share R and D, for example, if registered, can be
      exempted from EU competition law
                    Vertical Collusion

• Vertical restraints refer to the methods used by
  manufacturers to restrict the ways in which retailers can
  market their product
• Examples include Franchising and Distribution channels
• Examples in the UK in recent years include:
   – Car manufacturers and agreements with distributors
   – Football Kit Manufacturers
   – Net Book Agreement (ended in 1995)
   – Over the Counter Pharmaceutical products (ended in May 2001)
                        Price fixing and the law

• Competition law prohibits almost any attempt to fix prices - for
  example, you cannot
    – Agree prices with your competitors, e.g. you can't agree to work from a
      shared minimum price list
    – Share markets or limit production to raise prices
    – Impose minimum prices on different distributors such as shops
    – Agree with your competitors what purchase price you will offer your
    – Cut prices below cost in order to force a smaller or weaker competitor
      out of the market
• The law doesn't just cover formal agreements. It also includes other
  activities with a price-fixing effect. For example, you shouldn't discuss
  your pricing plans with your competitors. If you then all "happen" to
  raise your prices, you are fixing prices.
                   Football shirt price fixing

• The OFT ruled in August 2003 that businesses had
  entered into anti-competitive agreements to fix the price of
  top-selling shirts.
• The 10 businesses – which included Manchester United
  and the Football Association – were fined a total of £18.6
• Two of the other companies involved were All Sports, fined
  £1.35 million, and JJB Sports, fined £8.373 million.
• Before the OFT’s investigation into price-fixing began, it
  was difficult to buy an adult short-sleeved England shirt for
  less than £39.99. By Euro 2004, he says they were widely
  available for as little as £25
                     Toys price fixing

• Argos and Littlewoods were fined a record £22.65 million by the
  OFT for fixing the price of toys and games together with Hasbro
  in breach of the Competition Act 1998.
• Argos, Littlewoods and Hasbro entered into agreements to fix
  the prices of Hasbro toys and games between 1999 and May
  2001, breaching Chapter I of the Competition Act from 1 March
  2000 when it came into force.
• Argos was fined £17.28 million, reflecting its high turnover, and
  Littlewoods was fined £5.37 million. Hasbro was granted full
  leniency, and so its potential penalty of £15.59 million was
  reduced to zero, because it provided crucial evidence that
  initiated the investigation and co-operated fully.
• In November 2002 Hasbro was however fined £4.95 million for
  entering into price-fixing agreements with 10 distributors
            Price Fixing with a Cartel
Individual Firm                  Industry

                                                         MC (industry)


                  Firms Output                   Industry Output
            Price Fixing with a Cartel
Individual Firm                      Industry

                                                             MC (industry)



                  Firms Output                       Industry Output
                        Price Fixing with a Cartel
            Individual Firm                     Industry

                                                                        MC (industry)



                              Firms Output                      Industry Output
                        Price Fixing with a Cartel
            Individual Firm                     Industry


                                                                        MC (industry)



                              Firms Output                      Industry Output
                                Price Fixing with a Cartel
                    Individual Firm                     Industry


                                                                                MC (industry)



            Quota                                    Industry
                                      Firms Output                      Industry Output
                     Collusion is easier when ……..

• There is only a small number of firms in the industry
• The industry has substantial entry barriers
• A large number of customers
• Total market demand not too variable
   – Low income elasticity of demand
   – Demand fairly inelastic with respect to price, interest rates etc
• Firm’s output can be easily monitored
   – Easier to control total supply and identify firms who are cheating
     on output quotas
• Price discounts are hard to deliver
   – Hard for firms to under-cut their rivals and break the cartel
                     Why are Cartels unstable?

• Most cartel arrangements experience difficulties
• Falling demand creates excess capacity in the industry e.g.
  during an economic downturn
• Entry of non-cartel firms into the industry
• Exposure of price fixing by Government agencies
• Over-production which breaks the price fixing
   – OPEC one of the best examples – but other international
     commodity agreements have suffered from similar problems
• Prisoners’ Dilemma suggests that collusion breaks down
   – Incentive to cheat because joint-profit maximization does not
     mean each firm is maximising profits on their own
                Are Cartels Against the
                Consumer Interest?

“Cartels take money off their customers by rigging
markets against them. The OFT will not hesitate to use
its powers to unearth, stop and punish cartels

Firms that operate a cartel can now be fined up to 10%
of their UK turnover for up to three years”

                                          John Vickers

                                       Director General

                                  Office of Fair Trading
                      Are Cartels in the Public
• Consumers may gain from
   – Period of relative price stability
   – A reduction of some of the wasteful costs of advertising and
     marketing if producers co-operate rather than compete with
   – Guaranteed supply from the producer cartel
• Producer cartels may be successful in raising the price of
  exported commodities
   – May help to fund higher levels of capital investment
   – Boost to export revenues for countries with a high dependency
     on exports of primary commodities

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