Countervailing Power and Input Pricing: When is a Waterbed Effect Likely?

Stephen P. King

Monash University - Department of Economics; Productivity Commission

April 24, 2012

A downstream firm with countervailing power can extract a reduced price from an input supplier. A waterbed effect occurs if this price reduction leads the input supplier to raise the price that it charges another downstream firm. Policy makers have been concerned that this waterbed effect could undermine downstream competition, and it was considered in detail in the 2008 UK grocery inquiry. This paper presents a simple but parsimonious model to investigate if and when a waterbed effect may arise. It shows that the effect may arise through optimal pricing behaviour, but that this critically depends on the nature of upstream technology, downstream competition and consumer demand. In particular, downstream competition tends to work against a waterbed effect, but convex upstream costs support the effect. The analysis is complementary to recent academic work on the waterbed effect that focuses on bargaining constraints.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 24

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Date posted: April 26, 2012  

Suggested Citation

King, Stephen P., Countervailing Power and Input Pricing: When is a Waterbed Effect Likely? (April 24, 2012). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2045485 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2045485

Contact Information

Stephen Peter King (Contact Author)
Monash University - Department of Economics ( email )
Wellington Road
Victoria, Roodepoort 3145
Productivity Commission ( email )
Level 28
35 Collins St.
Melbourne, Victoria, Victoria 3000
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