Macroeconomic Policy and Financial Markets Research Assistant, CaixaBank (Barcelona)
Nicola gave the following remarks to the new students in the Barcelona GSE Class of 2015 earlier this fall at a welcome reception in Bellaterra.
Before I begin, let me join the faculty and the School staff and congratulate all of you for having been accepted to the Barcelona Graduate School of Economics; I have to admit that it’s a pleasure to give you the welcome speech as Alumni speaker from the previous year.
I remember sitting where you are now exactly 1 year ago: I had no idea what lay ahead of me, what challenges I was going to face and the new friends I was going to make. Like all of you, I was at the beginning of a new path: in my case, I had been working as an engineer for 5 years when I decided to join the master in Macro. But still, I had plenty of questions in my mind: am I going to be up to the level of the School? What am I going to learn? Will I have time to go back home from time to time or is the rhythm of the Master going to destroy me J?
Now, after 1 year, I have been asked to share with you my experience at Barcelona GSE, and I will do my best to give you a few pieces of advice that may help you during this year:
First: Be open to sharing your knowledge and experience!
One of the main assets of the Master is not only what you can learn from the professors, but also what you can learn from your classmates, and what your classmates can learn from you. Some of you may already have working experience, some of you may come from a different background (political science, mathematics, physics, engineering, etc.) and you must take advantage of this cultural mix. The faculty will encourage you to study and carry out the assignments in small groups and after studying Game Theory, I understood that cooperating and helping each other is better than competing against each other (well, at least not during an exam, where you are not allowed to do that J). So my advice is to be open-minded and share your knowledge with others.
Second: Don’t be scared to work with data analysis software!
The Barcelona GSE is well known not only for the rigorous mathematical and statistical approach but also for the computational skills that you are going to acquire. You will have the possibility to work with different software (i.e. Matlab, Gretl, Stata, to mention only a few) and the knowledge of this software may help you find a job afterwards: companies and universities are strongly interested in candidates who are able to perform data analysis and work with numbers. If you work in a company, your future manager may ask you to help him or her in taking the right decision under uncertainty; and you will need to be able to process the information that you have available, both quantitative and qualitative. If you opt for a career at the University, you may develop a model to better understand the phenomena that you are investigating; in both cases you will need the programming skills that you can learn and develop this year. So, again, my advice is: don’t be afraid to get your hands “dirty” with data analysis software.
Third: Get involved!
This is once in a life opportunity, and you must take fully advantage of it! You have the unique chance to share this experience with people from all around the world, with different cultures, ages and backgrounds. This is something I found fascinating and my advice is to enjoy this opportunity. Although the Master is demanding, having a day off in a city like Barcelona will help you to recover your energy, and I am sure you will spend some unforgettable evenings and nights with your classmates.
All right, that’s all from my side. Once again, congratulations to everyone and good luck.
Editor’s note: The following post was written by Barcelona GSE alumnus Antonio Massieu (Competition and Market Regulation ’13). Antonio is Senior Associate at Santamarina & Steta S.C. in Mexico City.
The energy industry in Mexico is experiencing the biggest paradigm shift in the past seven decades, since the oil expropriation in the late 30’s. The energy reform that was recently enacted will dramatically change the way the energy sector is developed in Mexico, meaning the most significant economic happening since the execution of NAFTA, in 1994. Said reform will shake the Mexican energy industry vigorously, transforming a monopolistic sector operated by two state companies that performs the vast majority of the productive sector activities, into an open-market industry where players can freely participate through clear and transparent rules, under the regulation of operators and agencies endowed with broad powers. The profound changes brought by the reform occurred both in the substantive areas of the industry and in the institutional structures that shape the energy sector. In one hand, the new legal framework redefined the way the activities that constitute the productive chains of the hydrocarbons and electricity sectors are carried out; in the other hand, the institutions responsible for supervising and regulating the market performance were considerably strengthened.
Naturally, as a new market emerges, market problems also emerge. Therefore, it will be essential that the new Mexican energy market is wrapped by rules and institutions that seek to correct eventual market failures that arise, and that through their actions, establish an appropriate competitive process that yields benefits to competitors, to final consumers, and of course, to the Mexican State.
Modifications made to the Mexican Oil&Gas sector meant undoubtedly, the most important change in the whole energy industry, as a result of the energy reform. Said sector becomes an open market, where Petroleos Mexicanos (Pemex) –formerly the State-owned company that carried out all Oil&Gas exploration and exploration (E&E) activities, will compete against other players from the private sector. This competitive process is implemented through tenders conducted by the federal government, where both the private sector and Pemex will freely participate, in order to be granted with contracts for substantive E&E activities. Transparency will be an element of the utmost importance during the bidding rounds, since it will secure that Pemex and the private sector compete on equal grounds; in other words, a fair and clean competition process will only be possible as long as the federal government does not favor Pemex –which despite its participation in the open market, will remain as a state owned company- or any other bidder in the development and further resolution of the aforementioned bidding rounds, or allow any anti-competitive practices to take place (such as collusive behaviors among the bidders).
As for midstream activities, the energy reform introduced a new market dynamic that will foster a more effective and fair competition process. Currently, the activities of transport, storage and distribution that are developed through the pipeline grid will be operated and managed by a new government agency, the National Center for Control of Natural Gas (CENAGAS). This entity will assume control and ownership of all pipeline infrastructure that today belongs to Pemex – which, due to its economic features, constitutes a natural monopoly-, and administer the activities carried out there. The CENAGAS will operate as a figure internationally known as an “ISO” (independent system operator), and will be obliged to fulfill important mandates, such as granting open and non-discriminatory access to the grid to all participants (including Pemex) and avoid problems of vertical integration in regulated activities, among others.
 More the 75% of the pipelines in Mexico belong to Pemex.
The electricity sector in Mexico will also be transformed significantly by means of the energy reform, since it will stop being a vertically integrated industry where a State-owned company (Federal Electricity Commission “CFE”) conducts all activities of the productive chain industry, in order to be transformed into a liberalized sector where undertakings (both public and private) will compete against each other in an open market, aiming to satisfy the needs of consumers.
For such purpose, a wholesale spot market will be put into place. Said spot market will seek to replicate international models in order to foster competition among different companies that will be able to generate, trade and supply energy to final users. Domestic supply will be carried out by CFE –at a regulated tariff-, acquiring energy through tender processes, while industrial supply will happen through a free competition process, where generators, suppliers and consumers will complete transactions at market, non-regulated prices. In order to regulate the new market structure, the Government created the National Center of Energy Control (CENACE), which will serve as an ISO, aiming to operate and control the electric grid.
CENACE will be in charge of different relevant tasks, such as the granting of open access to undertakings participating in the electric industry, controlling the allocation of power into the grid (both demand and supply), surveilling the continuous bids posed by market participants into the spot market (in order to avoid coordinated anti-competitive effects) and coordinating the transactions executed by the market players, as well as the configuration of the market, in terms of possible vertical integration in the performance of activities by companies. This market will be particularly interesting in terms of competition policy, since CENACE will be in charge of regulating the operation of a natural monopoly –the electric grid- which is owned by one of the participants of the market, the CFE, which will compete against other undertaking in the activities of generation and supply of power; this represents a very unique case in the world, and will be added as one of the main challenges that Mexican authorities will face with the implementation of the energy reform.
Regulators and entities of the energy sector
One of the great challenges of the reform is to establish an institutional framework capable of operating the new emerging energy markets in Mexico, in which various companies (public and private) will interact in a competitive environment, hitherto unknown for the country. Of course, in order to accomplish this goal, it is imperative to create strong institutions, with high degrees of independence, able to issue clear regulations and impose heavy penalties to regulated undertakings.
Both regulatory agencies and ISO’s will need to follow closely the development of the energy markets, and make sure that competition is achieved. Unlike what happened with the IFETEL, which is the independent body responsible for regulating the telecommunications market in Mexico, regulators and ISO’s in the energy sector were not endowed with broad powers in competition policy matters. In this sense, and despite some of its powers seek to create conditions of competition, these institutions will have to interact closely with the Federal Competition Commission, in order to timely detect and punish anti-competitive practices in the industry, in order to correct market failures and increase consumer welfare.
 Regulatory Commission of Energy and National Hydrocarbons Commission
Energy reform emerges as a great opportunity for Mexico to join the global trailblazers in the sector. At first glance, the work has been done satisfactorily, as sufficient legal and institutional conditions for implementing competitive markets were generated, where agents will interact correctly, generating consumer welfare. However, the correct development of the industry will depend not just on the rules and the institutions itself, but on the right behavior of both authorities and undertakings. Possibly the only advantage that Mexico has to be the second-to-last country in the world to undertake an opening process of this nature, is that it had the opportunity to study similar processes, and learn from positive and negative experiences in other countries. Now the challenge is to test that knowledge, and build a successful energy sector that can boost growth in the country.
Editor’s note: The following post was written by Barcelona GSE alumnus Guillem Roig (Competition and Market Regulation ’08). Guillem is currently a PhD student at the Toulouse School of Economics in France.
Competition and the Hold-Up Problem: a Setting with Non-exclusive Contracts
Why some of us do not spend the desired time and resources to nurture and improve the relationship with our parents, friends or business partners? Because once the time and resources are spent, we are afraid of possible opportunistic behavior. Economists frame opportunistic behavior in simple trading relationships where a buyer and seller are able to undertake specific investment into the exchanged good. Fisher Body, a manufacturer of body cars, refused to locate their body plants adjacent to General Motors assembly plans, a move that was necessary for production efficiency.
To fight opportunistic behavior we cannot rely on “good faith” alone, but we need to establish institutions to reduce its occurrence. Many modern societies have written laws, neutral courts of justice and arranged reasonable rules to resolve disputes. Yet, what happens when a sound and solid institutional system does not exists? In this paper, I consider situations where investment contracts cannot be enforced and I explore how the introduction of competition among the sellers of an homogeneous good gives the right incentives to undertake profitable specific investment.
In these types of models, the equilibrium payoff of the sellers is a measure of their indispensability, which directly depends on the outside option available to the buyer. The trading partners invest efficiently only when the trading outcome is the most competitive. When competition is the most severe, investments do not effect the outside option of the buyer and each seller appropriates his marginal contribution of the trading surplus. Any other equilibrium gives the seller incentives to over-invest. Sellers’ investments not only generate larger trading surpluses but also reduce the outside option of the buyer. The asymmetric partition of the trading surplus generates investment inefficiencies.
In a related article, I study how the configuration of the market structure is affected by the way an endogenous number of suppliers compete in the market. With non-exclusive trade and a common buyer undertaking cooperative investment, I obtain a direct link between the level of competition and investment that affects the market structure of the supply side of the market. Trading outcomes that are more competitive are associated with a larger and more homogeneous distribution of investment among active suppliers, and an equilibrium with no investment might occur in trading outcomes that are less competitive. Buyer’s investment works as a mechanism to incentivize competition and this becomes more effective the more competitive the trading outcome is. The paper gives a theoretical insight for the coexistence of first with second tier suppliers and predicts situations where investment does not materialize.
I started this project in September 2012, after a short visit at the University of Arizona where I meet a group of law academics working on the design of trading contracts. I soon became interested in topics of contract theory and organization design and researched in the area of transaction cost economics.
The upturn of the project came in May 2013 when I benefited from an ENTER exchange program at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona. I presented my work in a series of seminars and the suggestions of Prof. Inés Macho and David Pérez Castrillo were invaluable at that stage of the project. I dismissed the design of complex trading contracts and I went back to basics. I concentrated on framing the problem of transaction costs without any established formal institution.
In my model, I never talk about investment contingent contracts or contract enforceability, I only allow for the interaction of economic agents in the market. In many situations, we might not need a complex and sophisticated institutional framework but we just must allow “the invisible hand” to function.
The working paper series of the Toulouse School of Economics are free and accessible online, so for further information please check out my articles here!
What do you do when you receive your monthly payment? Do you leave the office a bit earlier and have some drinks with your friends? Now, imagine you are a self-employed, non-paid, agricultural worker who works to support your family in the Andeans regions of Peru. Moreover, suppose you are credit constrained and with limited access to markets. What would you do if you start receiving monthly cash transfers from your generous government? Would not you take a break? After all, you work very hard and need some rest, right?
Such a program does exist and is named JUNTOS (“together” in Spanish). It gives around US $40 per month to mothers of poor children if they send their kids to school and to health centers on a regular basis. The objective of the program is to reduce current and future poverty through cash transfers and investments in children’s human capital.
Labor economists would say that JUNTOS generates an income effect: if your income is higher you would consume more leisure and work less (assuming that leisure is a normal good). However, most of the empirical literature on cash transfers and labor supply find no effects on participation in the labor market, hours of work, and earnings. This literature relies on comparisons between households who receive the transfer to households who do not. Does this mean that labor supply does not respond to cash transfers? Continue reading “Cash Transfers and Labor Supply in Peru”
Since the advent of the Eurozone sovereign-debt crisis, economic commentators have drawn attention to macroeconomic imbalances within the Eurozone. This column presents evidence on the link between macroeconomic imbalances and differences in culture – or more specifically, interpersonal trust. A conservative estimatation (sic) suggests that a one standard-deviation increase in trust reduces macroeconomic imbalances by about a quarter of a standard deviation. Moreover, differences in interpersonal trust can explain a fifth of the variation in intra-Eurozone imbalances.
This is just one more example of the creative research being done in greater GSE community.
The authors have a working paper on this topic here.
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