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 An oligopoly is a market structure
in which a few firms dominate.
When a market is shared between
a few firms, it is said to be highly
concentrated. Although only a few
firms dominate, it is possible that
many small firms may also
operate in the market.
 Oligopoly is a market structure in which a
small number of firms has the large majority
of market share. An oligopoly is similar to a
monopoly, except that rather than one firm,
two or more firms dominate the market.
 For example, major airlines like British
Airways (BA) and Air France operate
their routes with only a few close
competitors, but there are also many
small airlines catering for the
holidaymaker or offering specialist
services. Oligopolies are common in
the airline industry, banking, brewing,
soft-drinks, supermarkets and music.
 1. Interdependence
 2. Strategy
 3. Barriers to entry
 4. firms sell either identical or differentiated
products.
 Firms that are interdependent cannot act
independently of each other. A firm operating
in a market with just a few competitors must
take the potential reaction of its closest rivals
into account when making its own decisions.
For example, if a petrol retailer like Engine
wishes to increase its market share by
reducing price, it must take into account the
possibility that close rivals, such as Total and
others, may reduce their price in retaliation.
 Strategy is extremely important to firms that
are interdependent. Because firms cannot act
independently, they must anticipate the likely
response of a rival to any given change in
their price, or their non-price activity. In
other words, they need to plan, and work out
a range of possible options based on how
they think rivals might react.
 Whether to compete with rivals, or collude
with them.
 Whether to raise or lower price, or keep price
constant.
 Whether to be the first firm to implement a
new strategy, or whether to wait and see what
rivals do.
 Natural entry barriers
 Artificial barriers
 Economies of large scale production. :
 If a market has significant economies of scale
that have already been exploited by the
present, new entrants are discouraged.
 Ownership or control of a key scarce resource
: Owning scarce resources that other firms
would like to use creates a considerable
barrier to entry, such as an airline controlling
access to an airport.
 High set-up costs : High set-up costs deter
initial market entry, because they increase
break-even output, and delay the possibility
of making profits. Many of these costs are
sunk costs, which are costs that cannot be
recovered when a firm leaves a market, and
include marketing and advertising costs and
other fixed costs.
 High R&D costs : Spending money on
Research and Development (R & D) is often a
signal to potential entrants that the firm has
large financial reserves. In order to compete,
new entrants will have to match, or exceed,
this level of spending in order to compete in
the future. This deters entry, and is widely
found in oligopolistic markets such as
pharmaceuticals and the chemical industry.
 Predatory pricing : Predatory pricing occurs
when a firm deliberately tries to push prices
low enough to force rivals out of the market.
 Limit Price : means the current firm sets a low
price, and a high output, so that entrants
cannot make a profit at that price. This is
best achieved by selling at a price just below
the average total costs (ATC) of potential
entrants. This signals to potential participants
that profits are impossible to make.
 Superior knowledge : An incumbent may, over
time, have built up a superior level of
knowledge of the market, its customers, and
its production costs. This superior knowledge
can deter entrants into the market.
 Advertising : Advertising is another sunk cost
- the more that is spent by incumbent firms
the greater the restriction to new entrants.
 A strong brand : A strong brand creates loyalty,
‘locks in’ existing customers, and deters entry.
 Loyalty schemes : Schemes such as Tesco’s Club
Card, help oligopolists retain customer loyalty
and deter entrants who need to gain market
share.
 Exclusive contracts, patents and licenses :
 These make entry difficult as they favour
existing firms who have won the contracts or
own the licenses. For example, contracts
between suppliers and retailers can exclude
other retailers from entering the market.
 Overt : Overt collusion occurs when there is
no attempt to hide agreements, such as the
when firms form trade associations like the
Association of Petrol Retailers.
 Covert : Covert collusion occurs when firms
try to hide the results of their collusion,
usually to avoid detection by regulators, such
as when fixing prices.
 Tacit : Tacit collusion arises when firms act
together, called acting in concert, but where
there is no formal or even informal
agreement. For example, it may be
accepted that a particular firm is the price
leader in an industry, and other firms
simply follow the lead of this firm. All firms
may ‘understand’ this, but no agreement or
record exists to prove it
 Competitive oligopolies
 When competing, oligopolists prefer non-
price competition in order to avoid price
wars. A price reduction may achieve strategic
benefits, such as gaining market share, or
deterring entry, but the danger is that rivals
will simply reduce their prices in response.
 This leads to little or no gain, but can lead to
falling revenues and profits. Hence, a far
more beneficial strategy may be to undertake
non-price competition.
 oligopolies can successfully thwart
competition, they restrict output to maximize
profits, producing only until marginal cost
equals marginal revenue — hence oligopolies
exhibit the same inefficiencies as a
monopoly.
 The Kinked-Demand curve theory is an
economic theory regarding oligopoly and
monopolistic competition. Kinked demand
was an initial attempt to explain sticky prices.
 The kinked demand curve model assumes
that a business might face a dual demand
curve for its product based on the likely
reactions of other firms to a change in its
price or another variable
 The assumption is that firms in an oligopoly are
looking to protect and maintain their market
share and that rival firms are unlikely to match
another's price increase but may match a price
fall. I.e. rival firms within an oligopoly react
asymmetrically to a change in the price of
another firm.
 If a business raises price and others leave their
prices constant, then we can expect quite a large
substitution effect making demand relatively
price elastic. The business would then lose
market share and expect to see a fall in its total
revenue.
 The reaction of rivals to a price change
depends on whether price is raised or
lowered. The elasticity of demand, and hence
the gradient of the demand curve, will be also
be different. The demand curve will be
kinked, at the current price.
 If a business reduces its price but other firms
follow suit, the relative price change is
smaller and demand would be inelastic.
Cutting prices when demand is inelastic leads
to a fall in revenue with little or no effect on
market share.
 The kinked demand curve model makes a
prediction that a business might reach a
stable profit-maximising equilibrium at price
P1 and output Q1 and have little incentive to
alter prices.
 The kinked demand curve model predicts
there will be periods of relative price stability
under an oligopoly with businesses focusing
on non-price competition as a means of
reinforcing their market position and
increasing their supernormal profits.
 Short-lived price wars between rival firms can
still happen under the kinked demand curve
model. During a price war, firms in the
market are seeking to snatch a short term
advantage and win over some extra market
share.
 One prediction of the kinked demand curve
model is that changes in variable costs might not
lead to a rise or fall in the profit maximising
price and output.
 This is shown in the next diagram where it is
assumed that a rise in costs such as energy and
raw material prices leads to an upward shift in
the marginal cost curve from MC1 to MC2.
 Despite this shift, the equilibrium price and
output remains at Q1.
 It would take another hike in costs to MC3 for the
price to alter.
 There is limited real-world evidence for the
kinked demand curve model.
 The theory can be criticised for not
explaining why firms start out at the
equilibrium price and quantity.
 That said it is one possible model of how
firms in an oligopoly might behave if they
have to consider the responses of their rivals.
 Oligopolies may adopt a highly competitive strategy,
in which case they can generate similar benefits to
more competitive market structures, such as lower
prices. Even though there are a few firms, making the
market uncompetitive, their behaviour may be highly
competitive.
 Oligopolists may be dynamically efficient in terms of
innovation and new product and process
development. The super-normal profits they generate
may be used to innovate, in which case the consumer
may gain.

 Price stability may bring advantages to
consumers and the macro-economy because
it helps consumers plan ahead and stabilises
their expenditure, which may help stabilise
the trade cycle.
 High concentration reduces consumer choice.
 Cartel-like behaviour reduces competition
and can lead to higher prices and reduced
output.
 Firms can be prevented from entering a
market because of deliberate barriers to
entry.
 There is a potential loss of economic welfare.
 Oligopolists may be allocatively and
productively inefficient.
Oligopoly market

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Oligopoly market

  • 1.
  • 2.  An oligopoly is a market structure in which a few firms dominate. When a market is shared between a few firms, it is said to be highly concentrated. Although only a few firms dominate, it is possible that many small firms may also operate in the market.
  • 3.  Oligopoly is a market structure in which a small number of firms has the large majority of market share. An oligopoly is similar to a monopoly, except that rather than one firm, two or more firms dominate the market.
  • 4.  For example, major airlines like British Airways (BA) and Air France operate their routes with only a few close competitors, but there are also many small airlines catering for the holidaymaker or offering specialist services. Oligopolies are common in the airline industry, banking, brewing, soft-drinks, supermarkets and music.
  • 5.  1. Interdependence  2. Strategy  3. Barriers to entry  4. firms sell either identical or differentiated products.
  • 6.  Firms that are interdependent cannot act independently of each other. A firm operating in a market with just a few competitors must take the potential reaction of its closest rivals into account when making its own decisions. For example, if a petrol retailer like Engine wishes to increase its market share by reducing price, it must take into account the possibility that close rivals, such as Total and others, may reduce their price in retaliation.
  • 7.  Strategy is extremely important to firms that are interdependent. Because firms cannot act independently, they must anticipate the likely response of a rival to any given change in their price, or their non-price activity. In other words, they need to plan, and work out a range of possible options based on how they think rivals might react.
  • 8.  Whether to compete with rivals, or collude with them.  Whether to raise or lower price, or keep price constant.  Whether to be the first firm to implement a new strategy, or whether to wait and see what rivals do.
  • 9.  Natural entry barriers  Artificial barriers
  • 10.  Economies of large scale production. :  If a market has significant economies of scale that have already been exploited by the present, new entrants are discouraged.  Ownership or control of a key scarce resource : Owning scarce resources that other firms would like to use creates a considerable barrier to entry, such as an airline controlling access to an airport.
  • 11.  High set-up costs : High set-up costs deter initial market entry, because they increase break-even output, and delay the possibility of making profits. Many of these costs are sunk costs, which are costs that cannot be recovered when a firm leaves a market, and include marketing and advertising costs and other fixed costs.
  • 12.  High R&D costs : Spending money on Research and Development (R & D) is often a signal to potential entrants that the firm has large financial reserves. In order to compete, new entrants will have to match, or exceed, this level of spending in order to compete in the future. This deters entry, and is widely found in oligopolistic markets such as pharmaceuticals and the chemical industry.
  • 13.  Predatory pricing : Predatory pricing occurs when a firm deliberately tries to push prices low enough to force rivals out of the market.  Limit Price : means the current firm sets a low price, and a high output, so that entrants cannot make a profit at that price. This is best achieved by selling at a price just below the average total costs (ATC) of potential entrants. This signals to potential participants that profits are impossible to make.
  • 14.  Superior knowledge : An incumbent may, over time, have built up a superior level of knowledge of the market, its customers, and its production costs. This superior knowledge can deter entrants into the market.  Advertising : Advertising is another sunk cost - the more that is spent by incumbent firms the greater the restriction to new entrants.
  • 15.  A strong brand : A strong brand creates loyalty, ‘locks in’ existing customers, and deters entry.  Loyalty schemes : Schemes such as Tesco’s Club Card, help oligopolists retain customer loyalty and deter entrants who need to gain market share.  Exclusive contracts, patents and licenses :  These make entry difficult as they favour existing firms who have won the contracts or own the licenses. For example, contracts between suppliers and retailers can exclude other retailers from entering the market.
  • 16.  Overt : Overt collusion occurs when there is no attempt to hide agreements, such as the when firms form trade associations like the Association of Petrol Retailers.  Covert : Covert collusion occurs when firms try to hide the results of their collusion, usually to avoid detection by regulators, such as when fixing prices.
  • 17.  Tacit : Tacit collusion arises when firms act together, called acting in concert, but where there is no formal or even informal agreement. For example, it may be accepted that a particular firm is the price leader in an industry, and other firms simply follow the lead of this firm. All firms may ‘understand’ this, but no agreement or record exists to prove it
  • 18.  Competitive oligopolies  When competing, oligopolists prefer non- price competition in order to avoid price wars. A price reduction may achieve strategic benefits, such as gaining market share, or deterring entry, but the danger is that rivals will simply reduce their prices in response.  This leads to little or no gain, but can lead to falling revenues and profits. Hence, a far more beneficial strategy may be to undertake non-price competition.
  • 19.  oligopolies can successfully thwart competition, they restrict output to maximize profits, producing only until marginal cost equals marginal revenue — hence oligopolies exhibit the same inefficiencies as a monopoly.
  • 20.  The Kinked-Demand curve theory is an economic theory regarding oligopoly and monopolistic competition. Kinked demand was an initial attempt to explain sticky prices.  The kinked demand curve model assumes that a business might face a dual demand curve for its product based on the likely reactions of other firms to a change in its price or another variable
  • 21.  The assumption is that firms in an oligopoly are looking to protect and maintain their market share and that rival firms are unlikely to match another's price increase but may match a price fall. I.e. rival firms within an oligopoly react asymmetrically to a change in the price of another firm.  If a business raises price and others leave their prices constant, then we can expect quite a large substitution effect making demand relatively price elastic. The business would then lose market share and expect to see a fall in its total revenue.
  • 22.  The reaction of rivals to a price change depends on whether price is raised or lowered. The elasticity of demand, and hence the gradient of the demand curve, will be also be different. The demand curve will be kinked, at the current price.
  • 23.  If a business reduces its price but other firms follow suit, the relative price change is smaller and demand would be inelastic. Cutting prices when demand is inelastic leads to a fall in revenue with little or no effect on market share.
  • 24.
  • 25.  The kinked demand curve model makes a prediction that a business might reach a stable profit-maximising equilibrium at price P1 and output Q1 and have little incentive to alter prices.  The kinked demand curve model predicts there will be periods of relative price stability under an oligopoly with businesses focusing on non-price competition as a means of reinforcing their market position and increasing their supernormal profits.
  • 26.  Short-lived price wars between rival firms can still happen under the kinked demand curve model. During a price war, firms in the market are seeking to snatch a short term advantage and win over some extra market share.
  • 27.  One prediction of the kinked demand curve model is that changes in variable costs might not lead to a rise or fall in the profit maximising price and output.  This is shown in the next diagram where it is assumed that a rise in costs such as energy and raw material prices leads to an upward shift in the marginal cost curve from MC1 to MC2.  Despite this shift, the equilibrium price and output remains at Q1.  It would take another hike in costs to MC3 for the price to alter.
  • 28.
  • 29.  There is limited real-world evidence for the kinked demand curve model.  The theory can be criticised for not explaining why firms start out at the equilibrium price and quantity.  That said it is one possible model of how firms in an oligopoly might behave if they have to consider the responses of their rivals.
  • 30.  Oligopolies may adopt a highly competitive strategy, in which case they can generate similar benefits to more competitive market structures, such as lower prices. Even though there are a few firms, making the market uncompetitive, their behaviour may be highly competitive.  Oligopolists may be dynamically efficient in terms of innovation and new product and process development. The super-normal profits they generate may be used to innovate, in which case the consumer may gain. 
  • 31.  Price stability may bring advantages to consumers and the macro-economy because it helps consumers plan ahead and stabilises their expenditure, which may help stabilise the trade cycle.
  • 32.  High concentration reduces consumer choice.  Cartel-like behaviour reduces competition and can lead to higher prices and reduced output.  Firms can be prevented from entering a market because of deliberate barriers to entry.  There is a potential loss of economic welfare.  Oligopolists may be allocatively and productively inefficient.