Cartel: Wikis

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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A cartel is a formal (explicit) agreement among competing firms. It is a formal organization of producers that agree to coordinate prices, marketing and production.[1] Cartels usually occur in an oligopolistic industry, where there is a small number of sellers and usually involve homogeneous products. Cartel members may agree on such matters as price fixing, total industry output, market shares, allocation of customers, allocation of territories, bid rigging, establishment of common sales agencies, and the division of profits or combination of these. The aim of such collusion is to increase individual members' profits by reducing competition. Competition laws forbid cartels. Identifying and breaking up cartels is an important part of the competition policy in most countries, although proving the existence of a cartel is rarely easy, as firms are usually not so careless as to put agreements to collude on paper.[2][3]

Several economic studies and legal decisions of antitrust authorities have found that the median price increase achieved by cartels in the last 200 years is around 25%. Private international cartels (those with participants from two or more nations) had an average price increase of 28%, whereas domestic cartels averaged 18%. Fewer than 10% of all cartels in the sample failed to raise market prices.

Contents

Origin

The term cartel came up for alliances of enterprises round about 1880 in Germany.[4] The name was imported into the Anglosphere during the 1930s. Before this, other, less precise terms were common to denominate cartels, for instance: association, combination, combine or pool.[5] In the 1940s the name cartel got an Anti-German bias, being the economic system of the enemy. Cartels were the structure the American Anti-Trust-campaign struggled to ban globally.[6]

Private vs public cartel

A distinction is sometimes drawn between public and private cartels, though there is no evidence that Public Cartels are less harmful to the general good, and being Government backed they are much more effective and hence potentially harmful. In the case of public cartels, the government may establish and enforce the rules relating to prices, output and other such matters. Export cartels and shipping conferences are examples of public cartels, as well as labor unions. In many countries, depression cartels have been permitted in industries deemed to be requiring price and production stability and/or to permit rationalization of industry structure and excess capacity. In Japan for example, such arrangements have been permitted in the steel, aluminum smelting, ship building and various chemical industries. Public cartels were also permitted in the United States during the Great Depression in the 1930s and continued to exist for some time after World War II in industries such as coal mining and oil production. Cartels have also played an extensive role in the German economy during the inter-war period. International commodity agreements covering products such as coffee, sugar, tin and more recently oil (OPEC) are examples of international cartels with publicly entailed agreements between different national governments. Crisis cartels have also been organized by governments for various industries or products in different countries in order to fix prices and ration production and distribution in periods of acute shortages.

In contrast, private cartels entail an agreement on terms and conditions from which the members derive mutual advantage but that are not known or likely to be detected by outside parties. Private cartels in most jurisdictions are viewed as being illegal and in violation of antitrust laws.[2]

Long-term unsustainability of cartels

Game theory suggests that cartels are inherently unstable, as the behaviour of members of a cartel is an example of a prisoner's dilemma. Each member of a cartel would be able to make more profit by breaking the agreement (producing a greater quantity or selling at a lower price than that agreed) than it could make by abiding by it. However, if all members break the agreement, all will be worse off.

The incentive to cheat explains why cartels are generally difficult to sustain in the long run. Empirical studies of 20th century cartels have determined that the mean duration of discovered cartels is from 5 to 8 years. However, once a cartel is broken, the incentives to form the cartel return and the cartel may be re-formed.

Whether members of a cartel choose to cheat on the agreement depends on whether the short-term returns to cheating outweigh the long-term losses from the possible breakdown of the cartel. (The equilibrium of a prisoner's dilemma game varies according to whether it is played only once or repeatedly.) The relative size of these two factors depends in part on how difficult it is for firms to monitor whether the agreement is being adhered to by other firms. If monitoring is difficult, a member is likely to get away with cheating (and making higher profits) for longer, so members are more likely to cheat and the cartel will be more unstable.

There are several factors that will affect the firms' ability to monitor a cartel:[7]

  1. Number of firms in the industry.
  2. Characteristics of the products sold by the firms.
  3. Production costs of each member.
  4. Behaviour of demand.
  5. Frequency of sales and their characteristics.
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Number of firms in industry

The lower the number of firms in the industry, the easier for the members of the cartel to monitor the behaviour of other members. Given that detecting a price cut becomes harder as the number of firms increases, the bigger are the gains from price cutting.

The larger the number of firms, the more probable it is that one of those firms is a maverick firm; that is, a firm known for pursuing aggressive and independent pricing strategy. Even in the case of a concentrated market, with few firms, the existence of such a firm may undermine the collusive behaviour of the cartel.[7]

Characteristics of products sold

Cartels that sell homogeneous products are more stable than those that sell differentiated products. Not only do homogeneous products make agreement on prices and/or quantities easier to negotiate, but also they facilitate monitoring. If goods are homogeneous, firms know that a change in their market share is probably due to a price cut (or quantity increase) by another member. Instead, if products are differentiated, changes in quantity sold by a member may be due to changes in consumer preferences or demand.[7]

Production costs

Similar cost structures of the firms in a cartel make it easier for them to co-ordinate, as they will have similar maximizing behaviour as regards prices and output. Instead, if firms have different cost structures then each will have different maximizing behaviour, so they will have an incentive to set a different price or quantity. Changes in cost structure (for example when a firm introduces a new technology) also give a cost advantage over rivals, making co-ordination and sustainability more difficult.[7]

Behaviour of demand

If an industry is characterized by a varying demand (that is, a demand with cyclical fluctuations), it is more difficult for the firms in the cartel to detect whether any change in their sales volume is due to a demand fluctuation or to cheating by another member of the cartel. Therefore, in a market with demand fluctuations, monitoring is more difficult and cartels are less stable.[7]

Characteristics of sales

If each firm's sales consist of a small number of high-value contracts, then it can make a relatively large short-term gain from cheating on the agreement and thereby winning more of these contracts. If, instead, its sales are high-volume and low-value, then the short-term gain is smaller. Therefore, low frequency of sales coupled with high value in each of these sales make cartels less sustainable.[7]

Antitrust law on cartels

General view

International competition authorities forbid cartels, but the effectiveness of cartel regulation and antitrust law in general is disputed by economic libertarians.[8]

United States

The Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890 outlawed all contracts, combinations and conspiracies that unreasonably restrain interstate and foreign trade. This includes cartel violations, such as price fixing, bid rigging and customer allocation. Sherman Act violations involving agreements between competitors are usually punishable as criminal felonies.[9]

European Union

The EU's competition law explicitly forbids cartels and related practices in its article 81 of the Treaty of Rome. Since The Treaty of Lisbon came into effect, the 81 EG is replaced by 101 AEUV. The article reads:

1. The following shall be prohibited as incompatible with the common market: all agreements between undertakings, decisions by associations of undertakings and concerted practices which may affect trade between Member States and which have as their object or effect the prevention, restriction or distortion of competition within the common market, and in particular those which:

(a) directly or indirectly fix purchase or selling prices or any other trading conditions;
(b) limit or control production, markets, technical development, or investment;
(c) share markets or sources of supply;
(d) apply dissimilar conditions to equivalent transactions with other trading parties, thereby placing them at a competitive disadvantage;
(e) make the conclusion of contracts subject to acceptance by the other parties of supplementary obligations which, by their nature or according to commercial usage, have no connection with the subject of such contracts.
2. Any agreements or decisions prohibited pursuant to this article shall be automatically void.
3. The provisions of paragraph 1 may, however, be declared inapplicable in the case of:
- any agreement or category of agreements between undertakings,
- any decision or category of decisions by associations of undertakings,
- any concerted practice or category of concerted practices,
which contributes to improving the production or distribution of goods or to promoting technical or economic progress, while allowing consumers a fair share of the resulting benefit, and which does not:
(a) impose on the undertakings concerned restrictions which are not indispensable to the attainment of these objectives;
(b) afford such undertakings the possibility of eliminating competition in respect of a substantial part of the products in question.

Article 81 explicitly forbids price fixing and limitation/control of production, the two more frequent cartel-types of collusion. The EU competition law also has regulations on the amount of fines for each type of cartel and a leniency policy by which, if a firm in a cartel, is the first to denounce the collusion agreement it is free of any responsibility. This mechanism has helped a lot in detecting cartel agreements in the EU.

Examples

People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.
Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations, 1776

An example of a new international cartel is the one created by the members of the Asian Racing Federation and documented in the Good Neighbor Policy signed on September 1, 2003. Other well-known examples include:

  • Seven Sisters refers to seven multinational oil companies that dominated mid 20th century oil production, refining, and distribution.
  • Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC): As its name suggests, OPEC is organized by sovereign states. It cannot be held to antitrust enforcement in other jurisdictions by virtue of the doctrine of state immunity under public international law. However, members of the group do frequently break rank to increase production quotas.
  • International Match Corporation (IMCO) of Ivar Kreuger in the 1920s.
  • Many trade organizations, especially in industries dominated by only a few major companies, have been accused of being fronts for cartels.
  • Some have argued that even the suppliers of credit can form a cartel to raise the price of credit (the interest rate)[10] or gain political power [11]

See also

References

  1. ^ Sullivan, arthur; Steven M. Sheffrin (2003). Economics: Principles in action. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey 07458: Pearson Prentice Hall. pp. 171. ISBN 0-13-063085-3. http://www.pearsonschool.com/index.cfm?locator=PSZ3R9&PMDbSiteId=2781&PMDbSolutionId=6724&PMDbCategoryId=&PMDbProgramId=12881&level=4.  
  2. ^ a b Khemani, R. S. and D. M. Shapiro (1993): Glossary of Industrial Organisation Economics and Competition Law. Compiled by R. S. Khemani and D. M. Shapiro, commissioned by the Directorate for Financial, Fiscal and Enterprise Affairs, OECD, 1993. Downloadable [1].
  3. ^ Economics A-Z. Glossary of Economic Terms done by www.economist.com. Term can be seen here
  4. ^ The first publication on this topic was: Friedrich Kleinwächter, Die Kartelle. Ein Beitrag zur Frage der Organisation der Volkswirtschaft, Innsbruck 1883.
  5. ^ Ervin Hexner, The International Steel Cartel, Chapel Hill 1943, 8, p. 32-35.
  6. ^ Tony A. Freyer, Antitrust and global capitalism 1930–2004, New York 2006; Wyatt C. Wells, Antitrust and the Formation of the Postwar World, New York 2002.
  7. ^ a b c d e f Bishop and Walker (1999).
  8. ^ Regulation Magazine Vol. 12 No. 2
  9. ^ Antitrust Enforcement and the Consumer U.S. Department of Justice
  10. ^ Encyclopedia of Political Economy: A-K By Phillip Anthony O'Hara Contributor Phillip Anthony O'Hara Edition: illustrated, reprint Published by Routledge, 1999 ISBN 0415187176, 9780415187176 page 348
  11. ^ [2] The cartel of good intentions, Foreign Policy, Washington, Jul/Aug 2002, Authors: William Easterly, Issue: 131, Pagination: 40-49, ISSN: 00157228

External links

Bibliography

  • Bishop, Simon and Mike Walker (1999): The Economics of EC Competition Law. Sweet and Maxwell.
  • Connor, John M. (2008): Global Price Fixing: 2nd Paperback Edition. Heidelberg: Springer.
  • Freyer, Tony A.: Antitrust and global capitalism 1930–2004, New York 2006.
  • Hexner, Ervin, The International Steel Cartel, Chapel Hill 1943.
  • Kleinwächter, Friedrich, Die Kartelle. Ein Beitrag zur Frage der Organisation der Volkswirtschaft, Innsbruck 1883.
  • Levenstein, Margaret C. and Valerie Y. Suslow. What Determines Cartel Success? Journal of Economic Literature 64 (March 2006): 43-95.
  • Liefmann, Robert: Cartels, Concerns and Trusts, Ontario 2001 [London 1932]
  • Stocking, George W. and Myron W. Watkins. Cartels in Action. New York: Twentieth Century Fund (1946).
  • Stigler, George J., The extent and bases of monopoly, in: The American economic review, Bd. 32 (1942), p 1-22.
  • Stigler, George J., The theory of price, New York 1987, 4th Ed.
  • Tirole, Jean (1988): The Theory of Industrial Organization. The MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
  • Wells, Wyatt C.: Antitrust and the Formation of the Postwar World, New York 2002.

Simple English

In economics, a cartel is a group of formerly independent companies overtly agree to work together. The objectives of cartels are to increase their profits or to stabilize market sales. They do this by fixing the price of goods, by limiting market supply or by other means. Monopolies are not cartels, because in a monopoly there is only one independent company. Cartels are bad for the economy in general and for their customers who are overcharged. Cartels usually occur in oligopolies, where there are a small number of players that control the majority of supply in a market.

Besides the sellers' cartel just described, buyers may also form cartels to suppress the price of a purchased input. Another type of cartel is the bidding ring. In bid rigging potential suppliers form an agreement as to which of them will win a supply contract at a price above the competitive price and, if one of them wins, then agree to a rule for sharing the extra profits among themselves. Bid rigging is most common among construction firms trying to get a government building project.

Overview

People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.
Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations, 1776

A survey was done of hundreds of published economic studies and legal decisions of antitrust authorities. It found that the median price increase achieved by cartels in the last 200 years is 25%. Private international cartels (those with participants from two or more nations) had an average price increase of 28%. Domestic cartels averaged 18%. Less than 10% of all cartels in the sample failed to raise market prices.

In general, cartel agreements are difficult to negotiate because potential members typically have different ideal collusive prices. Once formed, cartels tend to be economically unstable, primarily because there is a profit incentive for members to cheat by selling at below the agreed price or selling more than the production quotas set by the cartel (see also game theory). Cheating on prices is difficult for cartel members to observe, so more successful cartels often agree to fix their market quotas, share verifiable information about those shares, and agree in advance on some mechanism to punish members that exceed their quotas. This has caused many cartels that attempt to set product prices to be unsuccessful in the long term. Empirical studies of 20th century cartels have determined that the mean duration of discovered cartels is from 5 to 8 years. However, once a cartel is broken, the incentives to form the cartel return and the cartel may be re-formed. Publicly-known cartels that do not follow this cycle include the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).

Price fixing is often practiced internationally. When the agreement to control price is sanctioned by a multilateral treaty or protected by national sovereignty, no antitrust actions may be initiated. Examples of such price fixing include oil whose price is partly controlled by the supply by OPEC countries. Also international airline tickets have prices fixed by agreement with the IATA, a practice for which there is a specific exception in antitrust law.

International price fixing by private entities can be prosecuted under the antitrust laws of more than 100 countries. Examples of prosecuted international cartels are lysine, citric acid, graphite electrodes and bulk vitamins.

Other websites

References

  • John M. Connor, Global Price Fixing: 2nd edition: Studies in Industrial Organization No. 24. Heidelberg: Springer (2007).
  • Stocking, George W. and Myron W. Watkins. Cartels in Action. New York: Twentieth Century Fund (1946).
  • Levenstein, Margaret C. and Valerie Y. Suslow. What Determines Cartel Success? Journal of Economic Literature 64 (March 2006): 43-95.


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