COMPETITION forces companies to keep prices low to attract customers. But if a few firms become powerful enough, they can see off competitors and charge more. A new working paper by Jan De Loecker of the University of Leuven and Jan Eeckhout of University College London presents evidence that this is happening across the rich world.
The researchers examine markups—selling prices divided by production costs. At 1, products are sold at cost; above 1, there is a gross profit. Using the financial statements of 70,000 firms in 134 countries, the authors find average markups rose from 1.1 in 1980 to 1.6 in 2016.
America and Europe saw the biggest increases (see chart). But in many emerging markets markups barely rose. In China they fell. That suggests rich-world firms may have been able to increase markups by outsourcing to cut labour costs. Another possibility is that corporate concentration may have increased because of lax antitrust enforcement or the growing heft of companies benefiting from…Continue reading