Should markets be regulated in Brussels or London? Brexit and competition policy

May 26, 2016

(by Bruce Lyons) Much of the UK referendum debate jumps in on headline details about specific ‘regulatory burdens’ without thinking carefully about how to compare membership of the EU against life outside the single market.  In this post, I set out a framework for thinking about the economic advantages and disadvantages of having regulation harmonised across the EU (and possibly implemented centrally in Brussels), as compared with an independent UK-specific regulation (for implementation in London or the devolved nations).[1]  Read the rest of this entry »


Mergers and the Public Interest: the hardest nut to crack for CMA’s new Chief Executive?

May 24, 2016

(by David Reader) After two years at its helm, the Chief Executive of the UK’s Competition & Markets Authority (CMA), Alex Chisholm, is stepping down to become the new Permanent Secretary at the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC). His departure marks the end of an era for the competition watchdog which, despite only becoming fully operational in April 2014, has reached a number of key milestones during his tenure. In a recent speech reflecting on the CMA’s achievements over the last two years, Chisholm made reference to notable progress on enforcement activity, efficient merger control and, of course, some very high-profile market inquiries.[1] His verdict, then, is that there is cause for optimism as the authority embarks on a new chapter. But the outgoing CEO is also mindful of ‘the 3 big challenges’ that lay ahead for his successor.  Perhaps the most striking of these ‘harder nuts to crack’, as Chisholm puts it, is the CMA’s ability to deal with ‘challenges to the primacy of competition analysis when sensitive mergers give rise to calls for public interest interventions’.[2] Read the rest of this entry »


Other web browsers are available: The EC case against Google

April 26, 2016

(by Richard Cadman) On 20th April 2016, the European Commission (EC) sent a Statement of Objections to Google outlining its view that Google had breached EU antitrust rules by imposing restrictions on Android device manufacturers and mobile network operators (MNOs). This post briefly discusses the economics of this case and draws a parallel with the EC case against Microsoft (Case COMP/C-3/37.792), but also identifies two key differences. Read the rest of this entry »


The CMA’s Energy Market Remedies: Boxed into the Wrong Corner?

April 14, 2016

(By David Deller) In an earlier blog post, I provided an initial reaction to the CMA’s provisional remedies for the UK energy market. This blog post considers the underlying assumptions that appear to have provided the ‘envelope’ for the remedies that the CMA considers suitable and proportionate. I critique the CMA’s reasoning in three core areas: (i) the size of interventions that could be justified by the estimates of harm; (ii) why the headline harm estimates are likely to be overestimates; and (iii) the limited evidence for concluding that smart meters are a panacea to low consumer engagement. After such a lengthy investigation it is disappointing to see such weaknesses in reasoning. Read the rest of this entry »


Should I always hire the best-ranked lawyer?

March 21, 2016

(by Chris Hanretty) Rankings, ratings and reviews are common in life.

They claim to tell us which are the best films, the best albums, even the best universities.

Ratings are particularly useful for credence goods — goods the quality of which we poor consumers can’t judge.

Law is a good example of a credence good. I might hire a lawyer to represent me in court. I might even attend the court hearing. But I’d have no way of telling whether the lawyer’s arguments were good or bad. If I knew which arguments were good or bad, I could probably have saved some money and represented myself.

It’s therefore no surprise to see that there are lots of rankings for lawyers in the UK. One company (Chambers & Partners) is particularly known for ranking barristers — the kind of lawyers who earn their crust standing up and arguing cases in court.

Does this mean that you should always try and get the best-ranked barrister to represent you? Read the rest of this entry »


How weak is customer response in the energy market, why, and what is the benchmark?

March 17, 2016

(by Catherine Waddams) In its provisional decision on remedies for the Energy Market, the Competition and Markets Authority measures weak customer response by the amount of money which is ‘left on the table’ by customers who do not switch to cheaper tariffs.  However, research at the Centre for Competition Policy shows that understanding such inertia is complex, and that consumers differ considerably in their propensity to change suppliers.  This variation is found even among comparatively well informed respondents who are aware of potential gains and the time it might take them to search for and switch to a better deal, and even after accounting for observable demographic and other factors, and for consumer expectations.  This matters both for designing an effective package of remedies and, in due course, for evaluating their success.  Why? Read the rest of this entry »


Should Energy Customers be Empowered or Protected?

March 14, 2016

(by Catherine Waddams) The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has argued that competition is the way to empower most energy customers, but that prepayment users need additional protection. The compromise highlights the tension between competition and protection, because although competition is often the best way to ensure the lowest average prices and highest service quality for consumers on average, it is a process which carries no guarantees about the outcomes, nor about which particular customers and providers may win and lose from the process. Read the rest of this entry »


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