Friday, June 15, 2018

What is the elasticity of demand for Whole Foods?

After Amazon bought Whole Foods, there was increase in foot traffic (a proxy for sales):
Whole Foods’ foot traffic has increased roughly 3% year over year in each of the quarters since Amazon bought the chain, according to an analysis by Thasos Group, which uses mobile-phone location data to determine trends. That came after two straight years of stagnating sales at the chain before the deal. Higher foot traffic improves a retailer’s likelihood of sales, and the figure can be a used as a proxy for a chain’s health. Of 11 supermarkets analyzed by Thasos, Trader Joe’s and Sprouts customers were most eager to try out Whole Foods after the acquisition to potentially check out subsequent price cuts, with 8% of their regular shoppers visiting the rival chain.

Presumably caused by a decrease in price:

Amazon.com Inc. AMZN -0.61% on Monday put itself in the unusual position of being a first-mover on price cuts when it slashed the sticker price on more than 100 items at Whole Foods Market Inc.,many by more than 30%. 

To calculate the implied price elasticity of demand for Whole Foods, divide the quantity increase by the price decrease:

 elasticity = (%change in Q)/(%change in P)=(+3%)/(-30%) = -0.1

Demand seems very inelastic.  If Amazon were trying to maximize profit on its Whole Food sales, it should have raised price, because revenue would have gone up, and quantity, and costs would have gone down.  In fact, the stock price reactions seem to underscore the unprofitability of the move:

Investor concern that Amazon’s price cuts at Whole Foods will trigger a price war led to a stock selloff among traditional grocers Monday, continuing last week’s slide. Sprouts Farmers Market Inc.’s stock tumbled 10%, while Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage Inc. was down by more than 2%. Kroger, the largest U.S. grocery chain by stores and revenue, slipped 1.4% before largely recovering, while Wal-Mart Stores Inc.’s shares slid slightly.

What seems more plausible is that Amazon is applying its traditional pricing algorithms to the acquired Whole Foods stores.
Amazon typically relies on algorithms that scrape competitors’ prices before automatically matching or narrowly undercutting them on its website. It focuses on items that are most popular on the site and that drive traffic, according to former executives in Amazon’s retail divisions. That gives the retail giant a reputation for having the lowest prices, part of its strategy of driving more shopper traffic.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

CompetitionToolBox.com

New web apps designed to teach oligopoly models to lay people.  Just as a child can learn to throw without knowing Newton's Laws of motion, so too can an attorney learn how the models work by using them. 

Friday, May 25, 2018

MoviePass, Bundling and Adverse Selection

The Wall Street Journal reports that MoviePass is offering subscribers the opportunity to see an unlimited number of first-run movies in theaters. Since the marginal cost of another patron is about zero, this sort of bundling can really increase value to consumers. If implemented appropriately, MoviePass could extract some of this additional value. But there may have been a couple problems with the implementation.

First, the monthly subscription is just $9.95 per month. Since the average movie price is just shy of this amount, a customer who sees two or more movies per month comes out ahead. MoviePass reimburses theaters at face value, meaning that they lose money if customers view more than one movie per month. The plan was to generate additional revenue through targeted advertisements, but this does not appear to have filled the gap.

Second, the type of customer who would take advantage of this deal is likely to be an enthusiast who views well over one movie per month. That is, adverse selection may be severe. One investor quipped:
"I'm saving $70 a month going to the movies and losing thousands investing in the company that's letting me do that," lamented Mr. D'Ariano.

The end result is that the parent company has lost a lot of market value, "... MoviePass lost $98.3 million on $48.6 million of revenue in the quarter ended March 31 ..." Ouch!

Saturday, May 19, 2018

The hidden benefits and costs of Corporate Social Responsibility

Another fabulous pointer from MarginalRevolution:

John List started his own firm and ran randomized control trials in different cities (varying the wage and the CSR or the "corporate social responsibility" mission of the firm). He found that it was easier to attract workers to the CSR mission (adverse selection):

...the C.S.R. job attracts about 33 percent more in application rates, so ... “Rather than paying someone $15 instead of $11, I can just say I’m a C.S.R. firm and pay them $11 and I’m going to get the same ... volume of recruits.”

And that these workers were 25% more productive on average.  However, they were also less ethical, 24% more of these workers were found to be cheating on the tasks that they were being paid to do (moral hazard).  Apparently, having a CSR mission gives the workers a moral "license" to behave less ethically.  

Friday, May 18, 2018

Markets for blood

From MarginalRevolution:

It’s a very odd “ethical policy” that leads Canadian provinces to ban paying Canadians for plasma but then import paid plasma from the United States. I am one of the signatories (along with Al Roth, Vernon Smith and Gerald Dworkin among others) of a letter that argues for the efficiency and ethics of allowing compensation for blood plasma donation

Squeezing Scalpers is Backward Integration

The WSJ reports that scalpers are less important to Taylor Swift's current "Reputation" tour. About 3% of the tickets find their way to stubhub versus the usual 30%-50%. Previously, scalpers would purchase tickets to performances by high demand artists and resale these tickets at a markup. In essence, the promoter "outsourced" the task of price discrimination to scalpers. Scalpers were able to capture a margin but bore the risk of unsold seats. Since there is virtually free entry into scalping, I suspect they earn very small economic profits. Promoters would be happy with this if scalpers were better at price discrimination and so were able to pay higher prices up front.
"The primary market has been ceding pricing control to secondary markets," said David Goldberg, a former senior Ticketmaster executive.

But CRM technology has come to concert promotion. Taylor Swift's promoters now have the edge in ferreting out which fans are less price elastic.
For the current Taylor Swift tour, would-be concertgoers were encouraged to register for Ticketmaster's Verified Fan program months before tickets went on sale. They could boost their standing in the ticket queue by watching music videos and purchasing the "Reputation" album or merchandise. Users then received codes that allowed them the chance to purchase discounted tickets over a six-day presale period.

By exploiting this information, they can publicize discounts to hardcore fans while raising overall prices.
The best seats--some with added VIP perks--cost $800 to $1,500 at face value for a given show, with those immediately behind them at $250 each. Spots in the back of the house go for about $50. Regular tickets for Ms. Swift's tour three years ago cost about $40 to $225, according to Pollstar data

Dress it up as cutting out the middleman but this tour "has already grossed 15% more." This is because her organization is now even better at price discrimination than these middlemen had been.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Jobs Elasticity

Seattle recently voted to institute a "head" tax estimated to average $540 per year per employee. Amazon cited this as a reason to halt construction on an office building in Downtown Seattle estimated to bring an additional 7,000 jobs. Or the demand for labor is downward sloping.

But is this just posturing or might Amazon actually scrap the project? A friend did some calculations. Amazon has about 45,000 employees in Seattle. Amazon paid $250 million in state and local taxes in 2017. The tax would add about $24 million in new taxes in Seattle, So 7,000/52,000 = 0.132 and $45m / $250m = 0.18 making the elasticity 0.134/0.18 or 0.74. This estimate seems to me to be within the realm of possibility. The threat appears to be more than mere "cheap talk."

Hat tip: John McMillan

Monday, May 14, 2018

2018 Top 100 Economics Blogs

List is here:

MANAGERIAL ECON

Managerial Econ is the perfect blog for anyone wanting to solve managerial problems and make business decisions using economic principles. Hosted by the authors of the popular managerial economics book Managerial Economics, Managerial Econ is the perfect blend of business and economics and is highly recommended for those with an interest in economics and the managerial aspects of business.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Dog invents currency, convinces humans to accept it

The problem with fiat currency, backed by nothing but the faith that it is valuable, is that the monetary authority will print more of it.  This leads to an erosion of faith which shows up as inflation.   The dog pictured above has invented his own currency.
Early on in Negro's tenure at the school, he came to be aware of the little store on campus where students gather to buy things on their breaks; sometimes they'd buy him cookies sold there. 
This, evidently, is where the dog first learned about commerce — and decided to try it out himself. 
"He would go to the store and watch the children give money and receive something in exchange," teacher Angela Garcia Bernal told The Dodo. "Then one day, spontaneous, he appeared with a leaf in his mouth, wagging his tail and letting it be known that he wanted a cookie."

The dog has apparently have found a way to credibly commit to not printing money to finance deficit spending. Venezuela could learn something from him.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Adverse Selection in Marriage Markets

Someone is having some fun over at "Mail Order Husbands" which appears to be a spoof on the notion of mail order brides. Perhaps adverse selection is a bit more severe among men. Ladies, here are just three of the gentlemen to select from. The others are hilarious too.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Gain an Ally in Your Negotiations

A strike hurts management because the firm does not earn revenue. But it also hurts customers, which could hurt with public relations. If you simply don't collect fares, you hurt management and get the public on your side. This could increase your bargaining position. This strategy could be adopted more broadly.


Thursday, April 26, 2018

Kidney Holdup

Its seems that, back in 2012, a woman was fired by her boss soon after she donated her kidney to her boss ... because she was taking too long recuperating from the donation.
“I feel very betrayed. This has been a very hurtful and horrible experience for me. She just took this gift and put it on the ground and kicked it.’’

It seems she was hired, or rehired, so as to obtain access to her kidney. She had an implicit expectation that she would have continued employment post-donation. But after the operation, the decision was sunk and created a holdup opportunity.

Of course, she sued and apparently she lost. This may not have happened if selling a kidney were legal and she could have contracted for compensation. A market would likely have other benefits as it moves assets (kidneys) from low values uses (essentially "spare parts" in healthy bodies) to higher valued uses (bodies with nonfunctional kidneys).

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

How "localized" is hospital competition?


So-called "gravity choice models" estimate demand using revealed preference.  For example, a vacationer who passes a nearby polluted lake to travel a more distant one tells us that she values the pollution reduction associated with the more distant lake by more the increased “travel time” that she “pays” for it.  Similarly, a consumer who passes a lower-quality grocery store to visit a more distant one tells us that he values the higher quality shopping experience by more the increased travel time that he pays for it.  In both of these applications, the opportunity cost of travel is estimated or assumed to be about $25/hour, close to the median wage.

For health care gravity choice models, however, consumers behave as if their travel costs are much, much higher.  For example, a typical patient will not travel five minutes for elective surgery at a more distant hospital with much lower mortality risk.  The implied opportunity cost of travel is several orders of magnitude higher than in these other contexts, e.g., as much as $100/minute.  This means that competition is extremely localized, or that a merger between two nearby hospitals, located even a small distance away from a non-merging rival, can have enormous effects. 

However, the real reason for the observed reluctance to travel may not be the patient's aversion to travel, but rather the preferences of the patient's physician.

DeveshRaval and Ted Rosenbaum at the FTC show this by estimating travel costs by comparing the change in hospital choice between the first and second births for women who move and switch hospitals.  If the travel costs are all that is determining hospital choice then the woman should switch to a nearby hospital for her second child's birth.  But the data show that the woman is often likely to go to hospitals that are not as close at second birth.  The authors conclude that there must be that something other than distance, like physician preference, determining her choices.  

Their corrected estimates of travel cost imply that demand falls by 5.4% for an extra minute of travel, about half of what it would be without the correction.  

Bottom line:  hospital competition is localized, but about 50% less localized than it would appear from looking at simple choice models.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Taxes and Light Rail vs. Uber and Express Lanes

Colleague Malcolm Getz posts a critique of Nashville's transit plan, up for a vote on May 1, 2018.  He uses the "indifference principle" from chapter 9 to conclude that neither bigger roads, nor mass transit, will reduce congestion

With wider roads, traffic expands to congest them. This well-established fact is the "iron law of traffic." ...
Similarly, ... when some people shift from cars to transit, other people take their place on the roads. Visit cities with vast transit services—Chicago and Atlanta, for example. Notice that roadways are as congested as those in Nashville, if not more so. Transit may attract riders but does not reduce traffic congestion. The average time to travel to work by car is 24.2 minutes in Davidson County, TN, 27.6 minutes in Fulton County, GA, and 32.6 in Cook County, IL.

So what does Professor Getz recommend?  Car-hailing Services and Express Lanes.

The new services will reduce congestion with the confluence of three factors. A) The car services, including Lyft, are more convenient than owning a car or using conventional transit for many trips. B) The car-service companies are offering increasingly sophisticated shared-ride services. C) Digital systems are managing the flow of traffic in real-time on express lanes to forestall congestion. Taken together, these developments improve mobility, increase the capacity of the road network, and reduce congestion. They are also less expensive than trains.

Perhaps the most intriguing part of the report to students is that Prof. Getz uses the indifference principle to evaluate the fairness of using a broad-based sales tax to finance transportation improvements.  Provided that the transit plans work as intended,
Where better transit improves access to a location, the value of real estate increases. Market rents on housing and commercial space increase. The benefits of the transit improvement, then, go to the landlords, the owners of the real estate with better access, not to the transit riders. 

If readers disagree with Professor Getz's analysis, please comment!

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Wither the Price Tag?

Planet Money ran a story about the price tag a few years ago. The premise of the story is that the price tag emerged in just the 1870s and may be on its way out. So how did you know what to pay previously?
You know, for almost all of the history of human commerce - for thousands of years - you walk into a store, and you point to something. And you say, how much does that cost? The guy at the store is going to say, how much you got? You know, everything was a negotiation.

Price tags saved transactions costs but removed the ability to price discriminate. There is a nice discussion of how price tags lowered the skill level required by clerks, and hence labor costs. But now we are in the era of online 'personalized pricing,' a constant price on a tag seems to be on the way out. But we are still working out the rules.
And there is this broader sense, I think, that right now, you know, we're still trying to figure out the rules of this new pricing universe we're in. There is one thing the people clearly don't like, that clearly at least so far is against the rules. And that is when a company charges different customers different prices at the same moment. 

Perhaps this is a quibble, but the point of price tags was to minimize the costs of haggling. The new pricing mechanisms typically do not invite haggling back.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

18th Century Pretzel Standardization

Pretzels, or bretzels, were an important part of the cuisine in southern Germany at least since the 12th century. Apparently, shirking on the size of pretzels could be a problem. The photo here is from Heidelberg and represents a solution adopted nearly three centuries ago. The size and shape of a 'standard' pretzel, about 10" in diameter, was engraved onto the stones at the base of the central cathedral. If anyone suspected they were being cheated, they could place their pretzel on top of the engraving to verify if it was, in fact, large enough. This is an early example of the regulation of minimum quality standards.

BTW, pretzels in southern Germany (with a little butter) are delicious and Heidelberg is a lovely town to visit.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

China's yuan up 11% since President Trump took office

Marginal Revolution reports:

“China’s yuan has appreciated vs. US dollar by +3.7% so far this year, and has risen +10.7% since Trump took office. – US dollar has fallen by about -1% so far this year, on a broad trade-weighted basis.” Link here.




Two ways of explaining this:

  1. China is exporting fewer goods and services [to buy Chinese goods and services, US consumers or the importers that bring the goods to the country need to sell dollars to buy yuan==>demand for yuan increases]
  2. China is investing less in the US, i.e., holding fewer Treasury Bills [to invest in the US, Chinese investors need to sell yuan to buy dollars==> supply of yuan falls]

I suspect both may be going on.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Scaling up Auto Dealership Size

The WSJ reports that the efficient size of an auto dealership in the US is getting larger. They have become 20% larger over the past four years:
The top 50 dealer groups are poised to book more than $175 billion in revenue this year, compared to $144 billion 

There is an consolidation wave going on:
Erin Kerrigan, founder of the Kerrigan advisory, said about 200 dealerships changed hands in 2017, near an all-time high with a similar level of transactions to take place this year.

An economist observer naturally asks why?

1. One explanation suggests that inefficient small firms had been able to survive only because of weak competition. They cannot stay afloat on the smaller margins:
... dealer margins are shrinking amid tough competition and the increased pricing transparency enabled by the Internet. Dealers took home about 2.5% of the selling price of the average new car in 2017, down from about 4.7% in 2009, according to data from the National Automobile Dealers Association; used-car margins slipped to 6.9% from 10.7% in 2009 during that period.

and
 Dealers say they need to as much as triple revenue in the next half-decade to offset shrinking margins and increasing competition from companies that didn't exist a decade ago.

2. Another explanation is that the cost conditions changed so that unit costs are lowest at a larger scale.
"In order to survive and thrive you need scale and scope and access to capital," he [Mr. Rosenberg, chief executive of GPB Capital] said.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

DON'T PANIC: a guide to claims of increasing concentration

New paper by some middling economists:
The Obama Administration’s Council of Economic Advisers (CEA) sounded an alarm in 2016 with an “issue brief” pointing to indications of “a decline of competition.” Principal among them was “increasing industry concentration,” and the key evidence was data from the U.S. Census Bureau. Commentators relied on these data in advocating antitrust reform. But these data do not demonstrate increasing concentration of markets, i.e., ranges of economic activity in which competitive processes determine price and quality, and in which the impact of mergers and trade restraints are evaluated in antitrust law.  
Market concentration is a useful indicator of competition, but Census data relate to aggregations of economic activity much broader than markets. We show that even the least aggregated Census data can be over a hundred times too aggregated, yet the CEA used the most aggregated Census data. It principally cited the change in the 50-firm concentration ratio for 13 broad sectors of the U.S. economy, such as retail trade. We agree with Carl Shapiro, a member of the CEA during the Obama Administration (2011– 12), that these data are “not informative regarding the state of competition.”

These claims have spread rapidly into policy debates without careful review of the claims or the underlying data on which they are based.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Hope for would-be home owners and renters from California!

The State of California is consider a measure that would loosen zoning restrictions near "transit rich" areas, like subway stops.
The impact could be huge. A Times analysis found that about 190,000 parcels in L.A. neighborhoods zoned for single-family homes are located in the “transit rich” areas identified in SB 827. Residences in those neighborhoods could eventually be replaced with buildings ranging from 45 to 85 feet, city officials say.
Increasing housing supply would not only reduce price and help would-be home-owners and renters, but it would also reduce our collective carbon footprint because California, with its mild climate, is one of the "greenest" places to live. 

Monday, March 26, 2018

Bundled Ride Shares


Lyft is experimenting with monthly subscriptions for rides. There is a $15 limit on how much each ride is worth, but for high volume users, this is a deal. This might convince some people to forego owning a car.

Even better, Lyft is trying out different plans: 60 rides for $399 per month versus 30 rides for $199 per month. I suspect their data analysts will pore over the data to see how to taylor offerings.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Cheaper Booze

This is the likely result from allowing more efficient retailers into Texas. A Texas law has prohibited publicly traded firms from selling liquor.
Walmart sued to challenge that rule, and on Wednesday a federal district judge sided with the retail giant. 

The law was specifically written as a barrier to entry to protect mom & pop stores.
The law was created in the early 1990s when the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, or TABC, lost a lawsuit from an out-of-state package store liquor license applicant. The rule forbids publicly traded businesses from selling alcohol to protect family-owned companies.

So, since the legislature could not prohibit only out-of-staters, they simply prohibited all publicly held firms. Naked protectionism.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Half Million Dollar Steel Jobs?

The steel and aluminum tariffs just announced represent a barrier to entry for foreign firms. On the up-side, they are claimed to generate 19,000 steel worker jobs.* On the down-side, steel costs will go up. By how much? A na├»ve estimate would multiply the 25% tariff by $70.6 billion in US steel sales to yield $17.6 billion in additional annual costs. This yields just short of $1 million per steel industry job generated. But steel workers earn about $52,000 per year, not bad but no where near $1 million. A more precise price estimate would take into account the types of steel affected, stimulation of US production, and the reduction in quantity demanded. A more precise estimate could cut this estimate in half or perhaps more, but is still likely to be many multiples of a steel worker's salary. The tariff will move assets from a high valued use to a lower valued use.

*Among the job losses caused by this tariff, it is claimed that there would be 45,000 lost auto jobs and 30,000 lost construction jobs. The costs of these losses should be added to the half million.

Monday, March 19, 2018

When Does a Show Turn a Profit?

Slate recently reported that Amazon Prime's streaming numbers do not look so good ("Amazon Prime’s Streaming Numbers Are Out, and They’re Surprisingly Underwhelming"). But, as they point out, this is not so easy to figure out. One of the goals, perhaps the primary goal, of Amazon's foray into producing TV shows is "customer acquisition" for Amazon Prime's online shopping offerings.
A source informed Reuters that Amazon evaluates shows based on the number of times that show was the first thing viewed by a Prime subscriber after signing up. “The company then calculates how expensive the viewer was to acquire by dividing the show’s costs by the number of first streams it had,” the report explains. “The lower that figure, the better.” Unfortunately, a number of beloved Amazon shows sport high costs per first stream.

This is just one metric because shows now can generate ad revenue too ("Amazon Prime Video free with ads? Not quite"). But it highlights what is most important to Amazon. And it seems to be driving production decisions.
While The Man in the High Castle, for instance, had one of the lowest costs per first stream after its first season, $63, that number jumped up to a whopping $829 following the production of Season Two. Mozart in the Jungle season two, despite having one of the studio’s lowest budgets at $37 million, cost $581 per first stream. Feminist cult favorite Good Girls Revolt was singled out as the highest cost per stream: $1,560 against its $81 million season one budget. The show got the axe after one season and just 1.6 million viewers.

Another inference is that Amazon considers the online shopping to have higher margins. It was willing to set low margins for TV streaming so as to shift out the demand for the complementary product, online shopping. Not too different from bars offering free peanuts to patrons in order to sell more beer.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Why mansions are artificially cheap

That is the title of an excellent blog post by Jaap Weel. In a nutshell, because zoning regulations prevent them from being converted into a a higher valued uses. He compares to this home on a one acre lot that sold for $6 million in Atherton













to 350 unit mixed use condo on a 1.6 acre lot 2 miles further up the peninsula in Redwood City that would fetch hundreds of millions.

If one could convert the mansion into condos, the value of the property could easily increase tenfold.
But the zoning code mandates single-unit buildings with a floor area ratio below 18% on lots of at least 1 acre, so $6m it is. Quite the bargain.

Zoning - keeping assets in low valued uses.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Trucking Costs

One little tidbit in this WSJ story on Tyson's earnings has to do with them passing on to customers the rising MC of trucking transport:
Short-term prices to secure some big rigs have jumped 20% as a result, and long-term shipping contract rates are projected to climb between 5% and 8% this year.

This provides an opportunity to test the relative competitiveness of various downstream industries. We know that the simple pricing rule is (P-MC)/P = 1/|e|. In a more competitive industry, firm's demand curves are more elastic. At one extreme 1/|e| = 1 for a monopolist and at the other, 1/|e| is zero for a perfectly competitive industry. For the former, P should rise with 0.5*MC and for the latter P should rise with 1.0*MC (the math is left as an exercise for the reader). So, for different industries and firms, is the "pass through rate" closer to 0.5 or 1.0?

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Management matters

in exactly the way that economists would predict, both across countries:

Income differences between rich and poor countries remain staggering, and these inequalities are in good part due to unexplained productivity gaps , ..., US productivity is more than 30 times larger than some sub-Saharan African countries. In practical terms, this means it would take a Liberian worker a month to produce what an American worker makes in a day, even if they had access to the same capital equipment and materials.
and across firms within a country:

This huge productivity spread between countries is mirrored by large productivity differences within countries. Output per worker is four times as great, and TFP twice as large, for the top 10% of US establishments compared to the bottom 10%, even within a narrowly defined industry like cement or cardboard box production (Syverson 2011). And such cross-firm differences appear even greater for developing countries (Hsieh and Klenow 2009).

A new survey relates these differences to management practices:
we rated companies on their use of 18 practices, ranging from poor to non-existent at the low end (for example, “performance measures tracked do not indicate directly if overall business objectives are being met”) to very sophisticated at the high end (“performance is continuously tracked and communicated, both formally and informally, to all staff using a range of visual management tools”)...
The large, persistent gaps in basic managerial practices that we document are associated with large, persistent differences in firm performance. Better-managed firms are more productive, grow at a faster pace, and are less likely to die. 
HT: marginalrevolution.com

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

7% gender pay gap for Uber drivers

The flexibility of the gig economy was supposed to eliminate the gender pay gap.  At Uber it didn't:
 ...the entire gender gap is caused by three factors: experience on the platform (learning-by-doing), preferences over where/when to work, and preferences for driving speed. This suggests that, as the gig economy grows and brings more flexibility in employment, women’s relatively high opportunity cost of non-paid-work time and gender-based preference differences can perpetuate a gender earnings gap even in the absence of discrimination.
HT:  Peter Klein

Monday, January 29, 2018

Is food demand at football games elastic?

"Yes" is the answer from the Atlanta Falcons:

Steve Cannon, CEO of the AMB Group, Blank's holding company, told ESPN that although food and beverage prices were 50 percent lower in its new Mercedes-Benz Stadium than the prices in the Georgia Dome the previous year, fans spent 16 percent more.

As a first approximation,
(% Change in Revenue) = (% Change in Price) + (Change in Quantity)

In this case, 16% = -(50%) + X, or X = 66%.  In words, revenue increased because the 50% drop in price was more than offset by the increase in quantity because food demand was much more elastic than the Falcons previously thought--otherwise they would have lowered prices last year. 

To maximize profit on food sales, set MR=MC which implies (Price-MC)/P=1/|elasticity|.  In this case, with an estimated elasticity of -1.32=66/50, the optimal margin on food is 76%. 

HT:  Justin

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Good story of the 2008 housing recession

From a reporter who bought at the height of the housing bubble, then held onto an underwater property for a decade, and then finally sold at a $50,000 loss.  Love the last paragraph:
At a wedding I attended recently, I met a real-estate broker who touted the riches to be made by buying units in the glassy residential towers popping up along the waterfront in Brooklyn, where I live. No matter how slapdash the construction, she said, prices have only one direction to go.  
I had sunglasses on. She didn’t see me rolling my eyes.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Video Game Arcade Bundling


"Geek Mania" in Madison ,WI does not price arcade games per game played. Instead, it sets an admission price and allows patrons to play as much as they desire. This is similar to Walter Oi's "Disneyland Dilemma" when Disneyland went from per ride tickets to a single price of admission.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Entry Barriers for Opticians

A new paper by Timmons and Mills,"Bringing the Effects of Occupational Licensing into Focus: Optician Licensing in the United States," examines the effects of labor market entry barriers. The argument for occupational licensing is that it can serve to assure the quality of practitioners. The argument against is that it restricts supply and drives up prices. Timmons and Mills find no evidence of the former but:
Our results suggest that optician licensing is associated with opticians receiving as much as 16.9 percent more in annual earnings. 

I don't think I have yet seen an example in which occupational licensing was found to improve quality and/or does not raise costs. This is why most economists who study the matter prefer to allow market mechanisms (e.g., warranties, reputation, third party reviews) assure quality rather than government regulation.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Can I take credit for this?

Former student Ford Scudder (NJ state treasurer) must have been paying attention in class, as he reduced the discount rates for NJ defined benefits pension system from 7.9% down to 7%.  The move is controversial as it increases the amount that NJ must set aside for its generous retirement benefits:
The decision will likely increase what the state will have to pay into the pension system next year by $234 million, according to the Treasury Department. Instead of a $3 billion pension contribution in his first budget, Murphy [the new Governor] would likely have to make a $3.2 billion contribution under that estimate.
But it is better in the long run:
“Given the current elevated level of asset values across the board, long-run expected returns have diminished, so it is appropriate to lower the assumed rate of return,” Rijksen said. “Our actuaries have suggested doing so, and it is the unmistakable trend in public pension plans across the country, with some other 20 state pension plans having adopted or being in the process of moving to an assumed rate of return at 7 percent or below.”
Readers of this blog will know that I motivate the topics of discounting and its inverse, compounding, with use our under-funded defined-benefits pensions.  Here is a recent post about another fund, from another under-funded state, doing the same thing:

Thursday, February 2, 2017


Another pension fund lowers discount rate to 7%

If a pension fund has to pay out $100 in 30 years, and earns 7.5% on its investments, it must save 100/(1.075)^30=13.14 today.  If it earns only 7.0%, the amount that it much save increases by 15%.

Calstrs, the second biggest pension fund in the world, just admitted that it is reducing its target rate of return (also its discount rate) from 7.5% to 7.0%.  The increase in savings is split between the teachers and the State of California, the employer of the teachers.
Approximately 80,000 current members of Calstrs could see an increase in their yearly pension contributions of $200 or more as a result of Thursday’s move, Calstrs said. The state of California has already budgeted an extra $153 million for its pension contribution to cover the rate change, bringing the total contribution to $2.8 billion.