Tuesday, 21 April 2015

The shape of our competitive landscape

Every now and then there's a debate about our industrial structure. Some argue that as a small economy we've already got an issue with industries that are too concentrated, and so need to be unusually alert to collusive oligopolistic behaviour, while others argue that we're nowhere near concentrated enough, and that our fragmented industries need to bulk up so we've got companies at the fighting weight to be internationally competitive.

There's a lot of interest in the issues. The viewing stats for this blog are currently showing that my most read piece at the moment is the post that criticised the 'national champions' approach, not that it's easy to kill it off. There have been a number of recent moves in that direction, as I reported here.

In any event, it occurred to me that I didn't have too clear an idea of the actual concentration of New Zealand markets and the strength of competition within them. And then I remembered that Stats' Business Operations Survey (assorted links to commentary and data here) has a question about how many competitors respondents thought they had. I've played around with the data, and here are the key results, by size of business.

Is this benign or troubling? On the plus side, the typical situation faced by a New Zealand business is one of many competitors, with a core of several bigger ones (the "several dominant" phraseology comes from the survey questionnaire, and is a bit at odds with how competition folk would normally use "dominant", but it's pretty clear what the responses must mean). Add in the 20% or so of firms who face multiple competitors, with no especially big ones in the mix, and you find that 70% or so of businesses operate in what are likely to be reasonably competitive markets (I know, numbers of firms don't automatically align with intensity of competition, but it still looks the way to bet).

On the troubling side, close to one fifth of all businesses say they operate in a duopoly or triopoly, and another 5% say they've got a completely captive market with no competitors at all (and, I'd guess, some of those in the 5% of "Don't knows" might be in the same boat, but would probably not prefer to say so).

So after a first pass through the data, there's no knockout evidence either way: there's evidence for a mostly competitive economy, and there's evidence of potentially problematic concentration. If you feel like having a closer look yourself, you'll find the underlying data at NZ.Stat, in Module A of the Business Operations Tables.

Incidentally, if you were minded to take the radical step of asking a competition authority to account for whether it's making any difference or not, you could do worse than put "the proportion of businesses reporting a captive market or no effective competition" onto its shopping list.

1 comment:

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