Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Falling euro driven by low interest rates and political risks.

Why has the euro fallen so much against the dollar?  The WSJ has this take:
The U.S. Federal Reserve is moving away from monetary easing, while the European Central Bank is deep in an experiment of negative interest rates. To a large degree, a weak euro is a good thing for the eurozone’s efforts to build exports and return ultra-low inflation to healthier levels.

Recall that low European interest rates lead (i) investors to search for higher returns elsewhere (selling euros to buy dollars), and (i) foreign borrowers to borrow in euros and invest in their domestic economy (again, selling euros to buy dollars.)

But the there are also political risks.  With weaker economies, like Greece, unwilling to adopt reforms that would lead to growth, and stronger economies, like Germany, unwilling to bail them out, the future of the Euro is uncertain.  Elections in 2017 will pose further tests.
Consulting firm Bain & Co. has told clients to “withhold new investments” in Western Europe, warning that a breakup of the euro is likely.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

How NOT to motivate physicians: lessons from Cuba

Cuba penalizes physicians for "not meeting quotas" on infant mortality.  How do they respond?
  • When pregnancies are deemed risky, doctors have to coerce women to undergo abortion in spite of their wishes. 
  •  On top of this, forced sterilization in some cases are an actually documented policy tool. These restrictions do reduce mortality, but they feel like a heavy price for the people. 
  •  ...doctors ... lie about the statistics. One thing that is done by the regime is to categorize “infant deaths” as “late fetal deaths” – its basically extending the definition in order to conceal a poorer performance.
What happens when you adjust the infant mortality statistics?
  • ...Cuba moves from having an average infant mortality rate ... to having the worst average infant mortality in that dataset – above that of most European and North American countries.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Psychology saves lives

The field of psychology has fallen on hard times, specifically with its replication crisis (only 1/3 of its experimental results can be replicated), but insights from the field have contributed to our understanding of decision making.  And in New Zealand, framing an issue have overcome popular resistance to paying for kidneys:
New Zealand MP Chris Bishop framed the bill as compensating donors for lost wages rather than paying them. A decrease in the disincentive to donate–an increase in the incentive to donate. To an economist, potato, potato. But for people whose kidneys fail in New Zealand, the right framing may have been the difference between life and death.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Bias in forecasting, e.g., US presidential election

The Financial Times has an article on why the forecasters were so wrong about the election, and referenced some research by behavioral economists on bias:
At Oxford university’s Centre for Experimental Social Science, Mayraz ran experiments in which participants were told that they were either “farmers”, who would be paid more if wheat prices were high, or “bakers”, who would be paid more if wheat prices were low. They were then shown a graph, purportedly tracking the wheat price, and invited to forecast the future price, with a cash reward for accurate forecasts. Despite the fact that they were being paid for accuracy, the farmer-participants systematically forecast higher wheat prices than the bakers. Everyone predicted what they hoped would happen. Does that sound familiar?

Saturday, November 19, 2016

REPOST: How did Blockbuster's CEO solve the double marginalization problem?

Monday, January 12, 2015

How did Blockbuster's CEO solve the double marginalization problem?

Hal Varian's (Chief Economist at Google) tells the story of Blockbuster (a video "rentailer") and its distributors who suffered from "double marginalization" or "the double markup problem." In other words, competition between firms selling complementary products results in a price that is too high and output that is too low:
Consider, for example, video tape rental industry. Prior to 1998, distributors sold video tapes to rental outlets, which proceeded to rent them to end consumers. The tapes sold for around $60 apiece, far in excess of marginal cost. The rental stores, naturally enough, economized on their purchase, leading to queues for popular movies.

The old contractual form suffered from double marginalization.  This means that upstream distributors set a single price and the downstream rentailers took this upstream price ($60) as a marginal cost and priced videos at the point where MR=$60.  Since 60 was far in excess of MC (almost all of the costs of video production and video rentailing are fixed), this resulted in video rental prices that were too high and output that was too low.

The Blockbuster CEO recognized this as a problem and proposed a solution:

In 1998 the industry came up with a new contractual form: studios provided video tapes to rental stores for a price between zero and $8, and then split revenue for rentals, with the store receiving between 40 and 60 percent of rental revenues.

Consider how the new pricing scheme changed the incentives of the video rentailer.  Now the marginal revenue from renting one more video was only 50% of the old marginal revenue, but the price was only 7.5% of the old upstream price.  Now the rentailer produced up to the point where (50%)MR=(7.5%)$60.

.. these contracts increased revenue of both studios and rental outlets by about 7 percent and consumers benefitted substantially. Clearly, the revenue sharing arrangement offered a superior contractual form over the system used prior to 1998.

 This arrangement is subject of course to verification of the downstream revenue by the upstream distributor.  New "smart" cash registers at Blockbuster made this possible:

The interesting thing about this revenue-sharing arrangement is that it was made possible only because of computerized record keeping. The cash registers at Blockbuster were intelligent enough to record each rental title and send in an auditable report to the central offices. This allowed all parties in the transaction to verify that revenues were being shared in the agreed-upon way. The fact that the transaction was computer mediated allowed the firms to contract on aspects of the transaction that were previously unobservable, thereby increasing efficiency. 

More of Hal Varian's insights about economics (there are some good stories here) can be found in his popular columns.  He is most famous to MBA's for saying that "marketing is the new finance," urging the Quants, who used to go into finance, go into marketing instead.

HT:  Vlad Mares

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

China plays optimally in a repeated prisoners' dilemma

We have blogged before about how trade policy can resemble a repeated prisoners' dilemma. Now it looks as if China looks as if it is playing optimally:
If Trump acts on his threats to impose a 45% tariff on Chinese imports and officially list China as a currency manipulator, China will take a "tit-for-tat approach," the newspaper, Global Times, said. 
The airline industry was singled out in the list of countermeasures — specifically that China would replace a batch of orders for US-owned Boeing airplanes with French-owned Airbus ones. 
It also said US soybean and maize imports would be halted and China could limit the number of Chinese students studying in the US.

Why is Buffet buying airline stocks?

From the FT:
US airlines have exercised restraint in adding capacity and launching price wars since emerging from the Great Recession and, together with the effects of lower fuel costs, they managed record profits in 2015. This year’s rebound in oil prices has hit profits, however, and made airline shares cheaper.

See our earlier posts on  How to decrease industry rivalry and When do managers care about rival profit?

What happens when you reward monkeys unfairly?