food prices over the past few years has been the result of several factors. Supply tightness increases volatility, so the high prices of the past few years indicate significant supply tightness in key variables. One of those variables is the supply of food itself. The supply of food has been adversely affected by demand for other agricultural cash crops. In the United States, for example, there has been a dramatic increase in demand for corn and soybeans. The spike in demand derives from increased biofuel demand. Corn and soybeans are converted into ethanol, which has been extensively promoted as a “green” solution to fossil fuel consumption. This demand reduces the supply of corn and soybeans available not only for food consumption, but for animal feed as well. The result is an increase in meat prices. Further, this increased demand for corn and soybeans results in increased cultivation of lands for those crops. That decreases the supply of other crops, such as peas and beans (Clayton, 2008).
The reason that supplies of peas, beans and other crops decrease as a result of increased corn and soybean cultivation is because the supply of agricultural land has not increased. Instead, suburban sprawl has decreased the supply of agricultural land (Wiewel & Persky, 2002). Over the past four years, sprawl increased as a result of robust new housing starts, which in turn were a function of the real estate bubble. The Federal Reserve dramatically increased the money supply by lowering interest rates below equilibrium in the early part of the decade. This lead to a bubble in the housing market. With housing starts being a lagging indicator, the impact of this bubble has been felt most strongly in the past four years. This increase in demand for new homes led to a reduction in the supply of agricultural land, which meant that farmers were unable to cultivate new lands to keep up with increased demand from the biofuel industry.
The third main factor in the global food price spike is the increasing price of fuel (Lapidos, 2008). The causes of this are only speculative, but are believed to derive from increased demand from large developing nations such as China and India. The spike in oil prices drives food prices in many ways. Our food market is global, so food must be transported long distances to reach the markets. Additionally, the food industry relies on oil as a key input in production, packaging and processing. For example, plastics are used extensively in food packaging in developed markets. Fuel prices spiked in 2008, bringing about dramatic increases to food prices that brought this crisis to a head. Compounding the issue, increased demand for fuel leads to an increased demand for biofuels. Higher oil prices reduce demand for oil in the developed world. This does not affect the price of oil, because developing markets absorb that demand. But decreased oil demand in developed markets means increased demand for alternative energy sources, of which biofuels are among the most economically viable. The result is that biofuel demand increases.
We have seen some easing of these supply and demand pressures as fuel prices have dropped dramatically. Yet, the high volatility of fuel prices indicates a low supply. Many observers believe we have hit peak oil already. Therefore, food prices will continue to be volatile. In order to protect against such food price shocks in future, we must consider the interconnectedness of energy policy and food policy. The past four years has shown as that the supply-demand functions of many sectors of our economy are interrelated. As the world’s population continues to increase, demand for food will continue to grow, as will demand for oil. Based on the relationship patterns of the past four years, it seems evident that global food prices will continue to escalate until the supply and demand drivers of food production are decoupled from those relating to our energy needs.
2) One of the major food inputs in North America is corn. Corn is used extensively as an ingredient, and is a major feed crop. Over the past few years, corn has been subject to “unprecedented demand conditions” (Hoffman, et al., 2007). Feed crops such as corn have traditionally been subject to two main demand drivers – domestic feed use and export feed use. To this, a third driver has been added in recent years, that being demand for corn for the production of ethanol. The use of ethanol has been promoted widely as an alternative to expensive, polluting fossil fuels. As the price of oil has increased over the past four years, demand for alternative energy sources such as biofuels has also increased. Demand for corn as a biofuel is expected to exceed demand for exports in the near future (Ibid.).
In the past four years, corn prices have increased steadily, from under $2 per bushel in 2005 to $3.40 per bushel in 2007 (Leibtag, 2008). Futures prices recorded at the Chicago Board of Trade indicate continued increases expected in the market well into 2009 (CBOT, 2008).
By the end of the 2006/07 crop year, 19% of the corn crop went to biofuel production, a 30% increase over the previous year (Ibid.). This increase in demand for corn in biofuel is believed to be a major contributor to the increase in corn prices. However, corn price increases flow through to food price increases inefficiently, and it is felt that the net impact of the recent corn price increases on food production has been less than 1%.
Another component of corn demand is the export sector. Demand for U.S. corn exports has been decreasing. For example, the projection for 2008/09 is down 50 million bushels (Hilker, 2008). This demand is affected by substitutes. Coarse grain production in other parts of the world has increased, which has suppressed international demand for U.S. corn. A contributing factor is the high price of corn. Many countries that import U.S. corn do not have strong demand from the ethanol sector. Therefore, they are willing to substitute other grains if the price of corn is too high. However, lower export demand is offset by increased ethanol demand.
The largest market for U.S. corn production is the domestic feed market. The high cost of corn has also resulted in some substitution in that market. The percentage of corn in feed has decreased slightly as the percentage of other coarse grain has increased. Additionally, high feed prices threaten to reduce the number of grain-consuming animal units (Hoffman et al., 2008). While this market has been slower to react to market shifts than the other key markets, it is the largest market so its impacts are still felt.
On the supply side, total corn production in the U.S. is relatively flat. Projections for the 2008 season show a decline in production of 13 million bushels nationwide, attributable mainly to lower yields (Hilker, 2008). The higher corn prices have spurred an increase in acreage, however. It appears, though, that increases in acreage have not met increases in demand.
As corn prices have increased, demand from the two traditional markets has decreased in response. However, despite new acreage, supply increases have been unable to keep up with the rising demand from the ethanol sector. Ethanol demand has tripled in the past six years and is expected to continue its rapid growth. In export markets, substitutes are emerging to suppress demand for corn, but in the domestic feed market this process is happening more slowly. Therefore, total demand for corn continues to increase. Supplies have increased slightly in response, but these increases have not matched demand increases from the ethanol industry, which continue to be the main driver of corn prices in the U.S.
3) Rising food prices have many impacts on individuals and governments. In developed countries, rising food prices primarily benefit farmers and landowners, who see increased returns of their labor and investment. Consumers, however, do not benefit. In developed countries, the primary impact is that consumers are forced to dedicate a greater portion of their income to food. Food demand in developed countries is generally price inelastic. Part of this is because increases in food commodities flow through to consumers in an inefficient manner. Raw food inputs are only a small component of the cost of highly-processed food. So for example the overall food cost increases will be less than 10% of the increases to the cost of corn. Most of the cost increases are absorbed by animal farmers and food manufacturers, not the consumers (Leibtag, 2008).
This distributes the burden of the cost increases in the developed world. It also means that food cost increases are relatively minor in the developed world. In these regions, the relative wealth of the populace means that food demand is price inelastic. Eating habits will not change as a result of these incremental increases in food prices. Consumers will shift their spending habits to account for the increase percentage of their income that they must dedicate to their food.
In developing countries, consumers are more affected for two reasons. One is that consumers are more likely to buy raw ingredients. Without manufacturing entities to absorb some of the commodity price increases, consumers are left to absorb almost all of the increase (Ibid.). As a result, food prices have increased more in the developing world than in the developed world. Additionally, consumers in these countries already expend a significantly higher percentage of their income on food than do consumers in Western nations. Thus, demand for food in the developing world is price elastic and consumers suffer because they are unable to meet their food needs.
In the developed world, increased food prices suppress demand in other sectors of the economy, which can cause minor shocks in employment and investment in some businesses and industries. In the developing world, food price shocks can result in starvation and civil unrest. The recent wave of food price increases has resulted in protests in diverse places such as Mexico, Pakistan, Italy (Clayton, 2008) and many countries in West Africa (IMF, 2008). Thus, food prices increases are threat to political and social stability in many parts of the world.
There are several steps that governments can take to help limit the impact of soaring food prices on their economies. In the developing world, targeted subsidies can help alleviate the immediate impact on consumers (Ibid.). These subsidies should be temporary, with the goal of alleviating the impact of food price shocks until the market adjusts. In doing this, nations will stabilize food prices, which in turn ensures a degree of social and political stability. Without this stability, the government will be able to do little else to solve the problem.
Nations should also encourage increased domestic food production (Ibid.). This will have two impacts. One is that it will increase supply, which will lower prices of key goods locally. The other impact is that if the country is able to produce a surplus, the high prices of food will help to improve their balance of trade. Increasing supply is critical. Demand for food is increasing with the increases in the world’s population and the world’s wealth. There is increasing competition for agricultural production from biofuels and other cash crop needs. It is imperative that nations secure their own food futures by encouraging production.
Governments should also tie their food policies in with broader agricultural policies. In the developed world, ethanol demand has contributed to global food price increases. It appears that the ethanol boom is an unsustainable policy that has more negative impacts than positive ones. Governments in the developed world should take a more well-rounded view of agricultural production and develop policies that will allow them to meet both their food and their energy needs.
Part B: Question 1) an oligopolistic market is defined as a market that is dominated by a small number of firms. These can be stable, in which the firms do not change, or competitive, in which the firms do change (Bumas, 2000). There are seven main characteristics of an oligopolistic market. The first is that the market is dominated by a small number of large firms. A market in which there is a small number of firms only one of which is dominant is not considered an oligopoly. The reason is because only one firm is able to set market conditions – the other firms are presumed to be niche players that do not directly compete with the large one for the same customers.
The second characteristic is that the firms are rival conscious. When the firms in the market make decisions, part of their decision-making criteria is the expected response of their competitors. Competition in the industry is for the same set of consumers, therefore each firm makes adjustments based not only on what they feel the market will respond to, but also based on what they feel their competitor’s response will be.
The third characteristic is that entry and exit barriers are high. This is a characteristic pertaining mainly to stable oligopolies, the most pure form of oligopoly. Barriers to entry prevent newcomers to the market. At times even the threat of newcomers can influence the behavior of the firms in the oligopoly. Barriers to exit prevent the firms in the market from leaving. This forces them to engage in direct oligopolistic competition with one another.
The fourth characteristic of oligopolies is that the product is typically homogenous. Differentiation can occur, but much of the time companies compete more on the perception of differentiation than on actual differentiation. Oligopolies seldom exist in markets where the product is purely commoditized but they also seldom exist in markets where the product is widely differentiated.
The fifth characteristic is that oligopolies have some control over price. Because of the relatively homogenous nature of the products, oligopolies face negative-sloping demand functions (Ibid.). Consumers are price-takers, and oligopolies have sufficient control over both their inputs and the markets that they can control price. The firms can and do engage one another in price competition, although this is seldom the sole basis for competition.
The sixth characteristic is that when the industry is stable, non-price competition is the norm. Price leadership factors into the competitive equation at times, but firms also seek to differentiate themselves somewhat, because price competition drives down profits to unsustainable levels. The high exit barriers make this scenario unpalatable for the firms involved.
The seventh characteristic is that competition arises when both price and non-price competition are practiced. If the firms compete only on price or only on non-price factors, the degree of competition is imperfect.
Collusion in oligopolistic markets can be detrimental to consumers. Firms in such markets are tempted to engage in collusion for several reasons. They are faced with high exit barriers which essentially force them into competition. However, price competition can be devastating to each company as it drives down margins and profits. However, the products are sufficiently homogenous that the firms have limited capacity to compete based on differentiation. Indeed, if significant differentiation was possible, the threat of new entrants would increase considerably, thus putting an end to the oligopoly. Therefore, the firms in the oligopoly are tempted to engage in collusion in order to maintain their profits and industry stability
Consumers, on the other hand, benefit from competition. Collusion between the firms impedes such competition. The firms will tend to keep prices higher than they would in a perfectly competitive market. The negative-sloping demand function encourages occasional price competition in order to win market share, but long-term price competition does not exist. The particular nature of oligopolies thus represents a deviation from perfect competition. Consumers, faced with relatively homogenous products and negative-sloping demand, would ordinarily be able to benefit from price competition, but the collusion prevents this competition from manifesting long-term. The result is higher prices than would exist without the collusion.
One example is with the beer industry, particularly before the emergence of microbreweries. Consumers received a standardized product because there was no incentive for the major breweries to differentiate. Moreover, prices were held higher than necessary because firms in the industry had a tacit agreement not to compete on the basis of price. One of the results of the collusion is that profits are maintained. If the firms in the oligopoly are all able to maintain relatively stable, healthy profits, they are less likely to compete on other bases. Thus, they spend less on capital investments and product development. The result is fewer new products, and overall a lower degree of product differentiation than would be possible without the guaranteed profits.
The tone of competition was instead focused on the perception of differentiation. This is exemplified in the extensive use of lifestyle advertising, and in new product developments such as light beers that are barely differentiated from the regular products, when compared with the diversity of beer types around the world. This type of competition kept the focus away from prices, allowing brewers the opportunity to remain consistently profitable.
Governments can control the worst abuses of the situation through laws that define collusion and set out remedies for consumers. In the United States, the Hart-Scott-Rodino Act allows the government to take preventative measures, by managing merger and acquisition activities to prevent such oligopolies from occurring. Governments can also influence the number of firms in a given industry through the use of tax and regulatory policy to encourage new entrants into a marketplace. Economic incentives can lower the barriers to entry. In the beer industry, it was the breaking down of legal barriers that allowed for microbreweries to emerge. Furthermore, imports were increased through the removal of trade barriers, encouraging further competition. The beer industry is thus a much weaker oligopoly than it was twenty years ago.
2) the objectives of managers of large companies differ from those of shareholders in many situations. One of the common factors in each situation is that the managers have the opportunity to leverage their position for personal gain. The second common factor is that the personal gain is not congruent with the objectives of the shareholders. The objective of the shareholders is to earn a return on their investment. In theory, the role of the agents is to facilitate that return. Milton Friedman (1970) outlined the case that the facilitation of profits was the primary objective for managers of publicly-held companies, because the shareholders are able to freely make decisions about where to invest their money. Thus, they invest where they feel that they can earn the best risk-adjusted returns. The role of the managers, therefore, is to deliver the best risk-adjusted returns.
Managers at times have the opportunity to do things that more directly benefit themselves, rather than the shareholders. This can come about because they do not have a direct stake in the business. or, the manager may have a stake in the business, but that stake is not as substantial as the opportunity for personal gain with which the manager is faced. Managers are considered to be rational actors, who will make the decision that brings them to most gain. While this is not true of all managers – indeed most of them subscribe more to Friedman’s philosophy – it is true of some. The scandals that have emerged as a result of this have led to an increase in interest in the idea of corporate governance.
Governance programs seek to align the interests of managers with the interests of the company. Over the past decade or two, this has manifested in the use of equity-based compensation. By making managers shareholders, the theory is that their interests will be mutually aligned.
Scandals such as Enron reveal that corporate governance within large firms is problematic.
In the Enron case, the agents were creative in their use of balance sheets, setting up Special Purpose Entities and offshore accounts to hide Enron’s debt. The result was that the company appeared profitable when it was not. At the heart of Enron’s corporate governance problems was the principal-agent problem (Munzig, 2003). In an attempt to solve the principal-agent problem, stock options were used as part of the compensation package for Enron’s senior managers. This occurred because of close relationships between Enron’s Board of Directors and the senior managers (Ibid.). The use of options to align manager interests with those of the shareholders, however, is fundamentally flawed. The options have expiry dates. Shares do not. Therefore, the managers are aligned to short-term objectives that will allow their options to expire in the money. In the case of Enron, these activities were illegal and therefore detrimental to the long-term growth of shareholder value. Enron managers disguised losses so that the stock would increase, allowing them to exercise their options. This represents a gross misalignment of objectives.
Misalignment of objectives was perhaps the most significant corporate governance issue at Enron, but it was not the only one. There was considerable conflict of interest between Enron and the partnerships its managers created. Executives such as Andrew Fastow were able to exact substantial personal profit from these partnerships in direct detriment to Enron shareholders.
Another corporate governance issue was the lack of oversight. The Board had strong personal relationships with Enron executives, which caused the Board members to neglect their duty of care to the shareholders. Moreover, the Board lacked the financial knowledge to understand the specific nature of Enron’s transactions. Accounting and business practices in general are becoming increasingly complicated. This means that it is increasingly important that Boards of Directors have a strong financial background. Research has shown that Boards where at least one member has financial expertise have a significantly lower incidence of restatement of their financial results (Agrawal & Chadha, 2003).
Lastly, the governance issue was compounded by conflict of interest on the part of the auditor, Arthur Andersen. That firm had lucrative consulting contracts with Enron. It was felt that those contracts would be in jeopardy if they investigated or challenged Enron’s accounting practices more stringently. Since the Enron scandal, this particular corporate governance issue has been specifically addressed by legislation.
The Enron collapse was precipitated by a wide range of corporate governance issues. However, the principal-agent problem lies at the heart of the scandal. Aligning the interests of managers with the interests of shareholders is becoming increasingly difficult. Shareholders are seen as taking a long-term view of the company, whereas in many cases executives do not have that same view. As managers and executives increasingly find themselves in a position to gain financially from their roles, firms must find new ways to align executive and shareholder interests. The extensive use of options contributed to the short-sighted tactics used by Enron executives to improve quarterly earnings reports.
Several steps have been taken in the interim to address some of the issues that surfaced in the Enron case. The Sarbanes-Oxley Act was passed to provide stronger legal recourse in the event that deviations in alignment are illegal. The Financial Accounting Standards Board passed Statement No. 123 (R) in order to close a loophole that encouraged the extensive use of equity-based executive compensation. Shareholders are increasingly placing financial experts on their Boards in order to ensure stronger oversight. The multiple catastrophic corporate governance failures at Enron exemplify many of the challenges in corporate governance today and have guided industry and government response to the issue of governance for the past several years since the scandal occurred.
3) Using the W/J approach where injections equal withdrawals in equilibrium, we should expect to observe the following under the given scenarios.
A) in this scenario, the offshore oil discovery represents an injection. General income improves as a result of this newfound revenue stream. The increase in injection warrants new withdrawals in order to maintain equilibrium. General taxation has decreased because the government feels that it no longer needs the money it had previously generated from taxes. That the government found a new source of revenue, however, simply results in a shift. Money that had previously cycled through the economy in the form of taxes and therefore government spending now cycles through the economy in the form of consumer spending. The level of government spending has not changed – only the source of government revenue has. Consumers, however, have more money to spend.
As a result, consumers will spend this money according to their normal patterns. The injection of the oil money needs to be balanced by new withdrawals. The increase in consumer spending will be paired with an increase in the savings rate, representing part of the withdrawal. Other withdrawals will come from an increase in foreign trade, as consumers by foreign-sourced products. Thus, the new money will result in an increase in aggregate expenditure, fueled by consumer purchases. Savings will increase. Imports will also increase due to the increase in consumer demand. The result will be an increase in withdrawals to match the injection of money from the offshore oil.
B) a fall in the value of their wealth will cause consumers to save more. This occurs because the consumers feel that their savings will not grow without new injections. An increase in the marginal propensity to save will impact the economy. Savings represents a withdrawal of funds from the economy. Thus, consumer spending will decrease. As a result, corporations will have less money to spend.
They will also earn less, which will result in a decrease in taxes. That decrease will result in a decrease in government spending. With government and businesses spending less, consumers make less income. This results in another round in the spending reduction cycle. If injections do not increase to match the increase in savings, the economy will be in disequilibrium.
This disequilibrium will result in the continuous cycle of spending reductions on the part of government and business. The economy will suffer a slowdown. If new injections are not found or if savings rates do not decrease, then the economy may continue to slow down for a long period of time. The decrease in corporate and government spending means that imports will fall. Decreased corporate investment means that exports will also fall. Asset values will continue to fall as decreased earnings reduces stock prices and decreased demand reduces real estate prices. This will further increase the marginal propensity to save, thereby perpetuating this cycle.
C) a boom in exports typically would be considered an injection. The additional income from foreign sources allows businesses to increase their spending. It provides more jobs for consumers, who can therefore increase their spending. Governments will collect more taxes, thus increasing government spending. Increased investment from corporations is likely to continue to improve exports further.
In part, the injection will be offset by withdrawals such as increased savings and increased imports due to consumer spending. However, if the exchange rate is favorable for exports, it is unfavorable for imports. Therefore, it is reasonable to predict that withdrawals from imports will either fall or hold steady. This decrease could theoretically balance the increase in exports. The decline in the exchange rate represents a decline in real wealth. As a result, the boom in exports may not be an injection after all. The real value of exports may be the same. or, it could be offset by a decrease in imports. This would allow the economy to find equilibrium.
Typically, a low exchange rate is favored by exporting nations. The increases in savings and imports are often insufficient to offset the injection from the exports. The economy is therefore in disequilibrium. It will continue to expand as the new income circles through the economy. This will occur until export levels stabilize and the economy is allowed to find equilibrium at a new level.
D) the interest rate increase is intended to offset the impacts of increasing inflation. An increase in inflation would result in a decrease in real wealth. This could throw the economy into disequilibrium. By increasing the interest rate, it is hoped that equilibrium will be maintained. An increase in the interest rate will increase savings, which is a withdrawal. This withdrawal cycles through the economy as a decrease in consumer spending, which lowers corporate income. That in turn lowers taxes, government spending and corporate investment. All told, the increased interest rate has the net effect of increasing withdrawals and slowing the economy.
No new injections are created. The increase in the interest rate represents a shift in the size of the economy. After the rate shift, a new equilibrium must be found. As the increase in the interest rate cycles through the economy, this equilibrium is reached. Thus, increasing interest rates in response to the threat of inflation gives rise to disequilibrium. The economy, over the course of the flow of income through it, will gradually return to equilibrium, at the new level intended by those who raised the rate.
Lapidos, Juliet. (2008) “Why are Global Food Prices Soaring?” Slate. Retrieved December 4, 2008 at http://www.slate.com/id/2187882/
Wiewel, Wim & Persky, Joseph. (2002) Suburban Sprawl M.E. Sharpe, Armonk NY, 2002.
Barnier, Michael. (2008) “Europe is Key to Solving Food Crisis” Tehran Times. Retrieved December 4, 2008 at http://www.tehrantimes.com/index_View.asp?code=184060
Clayton, Mark. (2008) “As Global Food Costs Rise, are Biofuels to Blame?” Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved December 4, 2008 at http://www.csmonitor.com/2008/0128/p03s03-usec.html
Hoffman, Linwood; Baker, Allen; Foreman, Linda & Young, C. Edwin (2007) “Feed Grains Backgrounder” USDA Retrieved December 4, 2008 at http://www.ers.usda.gov/Publications/FDS/2007/03Mar/FDS07C01/fds07C01.pdf
Leibtag, Ephraim (2008) “Corn Prices Near Record High, but What About Food Costs?” Amber Waves Retrieved December 4, 2008 at http://www.ers.usda.gov/AmberWaves/February08/Features/CornPrices.htm
Bumas, Lester O. (2000). Intermediate Microeconomics: Neoclassical and Factually-Oriented Models M.E. Sharpe, Armonk NY, 2000.
Munzig, Peter G. (2003) “Enron and the Economics of Corporate Governance” Stanford University. Retrieved December 4, 2008 at http://www-econ.stanford.edu/academics/Honors_Theses/Theses_2003/Munzig.pdf
Friedman, Milton. (1970) “The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase its Profits” New York Times Magazine. Retrieved December 4, 2008 at http://www.colorado.edu/studentgroups/libertarians/issues/friedman-soc-resp-business.html
Agrawal, Anup & Chadha, Sahiba. (2003) “Corporate Governance and Accounting Scandals” University of Alabama. Retrieved December 4, 2008 at http://www.afajof.org/pdfs/2004program/UPDF/P666_Corporation_Finance.pdf
Financial Account Standards Board Statement No. 123 (R). Retrieved December 4, 2008 at http://www.fasb.org/st/summary/stsum123r.shtml
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The paper is sent to your email and uploaded to your personal account. You also get a plagiarism report attached to your paper.
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