Italian paste producers were operating as a cartel '

The five largest paste producers of Italy have been keeping for years the prices high by forming a 'paste-cartel'. The headquarters of companies such as Barilla, De Cecco and Divella last week were also the scene of house searches carried out by the Italian authority, reports Al-Jazeera. Each of the company immediately got a fine imposed of 12.5 million euro.

The search is the result of 3 years 'investigation that began in 2007, when the competition authorities' paste-boycott "proclaimed after the prices had increased by 36%. The Union of Italian Pasta Makers denies the existence of such a cartel and will appeal against the fines imposed.

ItaliĆ«'s vijf grootste pastaproducenten hebben jarenlang de prijzen kunstmatig hoog gehouden door een ‘pasta-kartel' te vormen. De hoofdzetels van bedrijven als Barilla, De Cecco en Divella waren vorige week dan ook het toneel van huiszoekingen die werden uitgevoerd door de Italiaanse mededingingsautoriteieten, meldt Al-Jazeera. Elk van de bedrijven kreeg onmiddellijk een boete van 12,5 miljoen euro opgelegd.

De huiszoeking is het resultaat van een 3 jaar durend onderzoek dat in 2007 begon, toen de mededingingsautoriteiten een ‘pasta-boycot' uitriepen nadat de prijzen met 36% waren gestegen. De Italiaanse Unie van Pastamakers ontkent het bestaan van zo'n kartel en gaat in beroep tegen de opgelegde boetes.

BT goes on broadband price offensive

BT outlined an aggressive pricing strategy for its new superfast broadband service yesterday in a move it hopes will enable it to poach rivals' customers.

Britain's leading fixed-line telephone company said consumers would have to pay £20 per month for its high-speed broadband service based on optical fibre.

The £20 offer is £8 cheaper than a similar broadband service provided by Virgin Media, the cable television operator and currently BT's only rival in high-speed internet access.

UK broadband speeds lag behind those in many other industrialised countries. BT is responding by spending £1.5bn on a new fibre network.

John Petter, an executive at BT's retail unit, said the pricing of the superfast broadband service would ensure it became a mass-market phenomenon.

"The name of the game for BT is getting customers to come back to BT for all their services," he added.

At 29 per cent, BT's share of the broadband market is relatively small compared with many of Europe's other former fixed-line phone monopolies.

BT's fibre network will provide customers with download speeds of up to 40 megabits per second, which is 10 times faster than the current industry average.

The network will support the increasingly popular activity of watching video in high definition.

Analysts say BT's aggressive pricing may prompt rivals such as Carphone Warehouse and BSkyB to sign wholesale deals with the company. If agreements are reached, these two groups would get access to BT's fibre network in order to supply high-speed broadband to their customers.

BT's fibre network will run past 40 per cent of homes by mid-2012, mainly in towns and cities. The company is willing to consider extending this to 90 per cent of households with public funding.

The government has proposed a 50p per month tax on telephone lines to finance superfast broadband infrastructure in rural areas. The Conservatives have opposed the levy.

By Andrew Parker, Telecoms Editor Published: January 22 2010 02:00 FF.com


Europe Ahead: European prices hover near 1% amid recovery signs

Prices in the euro zone decelerated as a consequence of the global downfall that had caused a massive contraction in sectors and slowdown in economic activities. However, with the improvement witnessed recently and the remarkable signs of recovery, prices started to incline leaving the negative areas and heading toward the target level set by the ECB.

Inflation became positive in November for the first time since April and the incline continued in December, seen by the flash estimate indicator which rose to 0.9% from 0.6%. Today, the euro area will release its CPI for December with expectations to come in line with the flash estimate.

The reading was spurred by the rise the general price level in the largest four economies in the euro region, where the reading approached 1% where Trichet expects inflation to remain close to in the near term.

Trichet in the press conference following the rate decision for January, said price pressures will remain subdued and inflation will stabilize over the medium term, as monetary measures confirm low inflation pressure.

Prices benefited from the oil's rally, which after sliding to a low below $33 a barrel in February last year, jumped to highs around $80a barrel in December as an outcome to the pick up in global demand and the dollar's depreciation.

In addition, the monetary measures adopted by the ECB to enhance prices and rekindle growth succeeded, so far, in lifting prices to the upside. These measures spurred economic activities and caused the economy to leave recession in the third quarter by expanding 0.4% and it is on its way to expand more in the fourth quarter, according to the strong data released in the last three months of 2009.

Yesterday, ECB members met to set the interest rate where they left the rate unchanged at its historical low at 1%. The cost of borrowing is expected to remain low this year to support the nascent recovery. Some analysts are expecting a rise to 1.5% by the end of 2010.

Trichet mentioned that excess liquidity will be absorbed when necessary and they will continue exiting stimulus measures and he will call national European governments to implement fiscal exit strategies. Thus, we might witness a gradual scale back to the non-standard measures and a rise in interest rate; depending on the performance of the economy on the coming period.

ECB sees the economy will expand at a moderate pace in 2010 and recovery will be "uneven", as factors supporting the economy are temporary. Also, the ECB governing council is expecting slightly positive growth on average.

The euro area benefited from the rise in exports in expanding in the third quarter, but the appreciation in the value of the euro capped gains. Today, the ECB will release its trade balance for November where expectations are referring to a decline in surplus to 7.0 billion euros from 8.8 billion euros, while the seasonally adjusted is expected to retreat to 5.0 billion euros surplus from the prior surplus of 6.3 billion euros.

In November, the 16-nation currency jumped to a high of 1.5144 against the dollar, which probably affected European sales overseas as commodities became expensive relative to their U.S. counterparts.

The ECB announced in November that the European economy will grow 1 percent in 2010, higher than the previous projections of 0.3%; while in 2009, the economy may contract 3.9% instead of 4.5% contraction predicted in August.

Source: 2009 ecPulse. All Rights Reserved.


Retailers Seek Book Pricing Investigation

The Christian Booksellers Association (CBA), last week asked the Department of Justice to investigate what they call "illegal, predatory pricing" by Amazon.com, Target and Wal-Mart. Similar actions have been taken by the American Booksellers Association.

The CBA, representing thousands of Christian publishers, is concerned that pre-sales of new books by popular authors are being sold at a loss by retail giants attempting to control the market for hardcover bestsellers. In a letter to the Justice Department, the CBA cited Stephen King's new "Under the Dome" as an example. The book typically retails for as much as $35, costs store owners $17.50 but was sold for between $8.98 and $9 by the three retailers.

"Amazon.com, Wal-Mart, and Target are using predatory pricing practices in what appears to be an attempt to control the market for hardcover bestsellers," the CBA board of directors wrote in the letter to the Justice Department's Antitrust Division.

In an article at Christianity Today, Eric Grimm, business development manager at CBA (formerly known as the Christian Booksellers association), said Christian retailers have long been concerned about competitors' pricing strategies, and called the letter a "pre-emptive" action before the competition for Christian books grows even more challenging.

"What we want to do is establish that this is an unfair practice so that when the next big blockbuster comes out of a Christian book that they won't do the same thing," he said.

The larger retailers, for their part, say they're just trying to give the customers the best deal they can.

"I think it's worth noting that there is no investigation," said Greg Rossiter, a spokesman for Wal-Mart. "We're serving our customers and, in terms of any legal concerns, we also work to follow applicable laws."

Added Target spokeswoman Leah Guimond: "Target is firmly committed to respecting all laws and operating in compliance with all legal and regulatory standards. Within this context, we seek to be competitive in the marketplace."

CBA is the trade association for the Christian Retail Channel, serving the interests of thousands of member Christian retailers, publishers, music labels, and gift distributors.

The CBA letter follows a similar request for a Justice Department investigation by the American Booksellers Association, which cited deeply discounted pre-sales of new books by King, former vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin and novelist John Grisham by the same three retailers.

"The entire book industry is in danger of becoming collateral damage in this war," the ABA's board of directors wrote in an Oct. 22 letter.

According to Christianity Today both The Justice Department and Amazon declined comment on both letters.

Grimm said customers at Christian stores mistakenly think they are being charged too much for some books, not realizing store owners would have to shut their doors if they sold them at the same prices as big- box stores, the news organization reported.

"The case is they can't buy at the same level or process that everybody else can buy, so that puts them at a disadvantage," he said. "People are using pricing as a strategy to control the market or put other people out of business."




Pricing increased after merging two hospitals

Healthcare has become more expensive with the merger of hospitals in Rotterdam and Het Gooi. This is because the hospitals as regional monopolists can impose price increases.

This is in an unpublished study by the Dutch Competition Authority (NMa), which includes overseeing on competition in the healthcare sector. "This concern a huge study, two hospital mergers have been used as a case", said the spokeswoman of the NMa. The full market study in hospitals, will be announced by the NMa in January. The opposition party SP wants minister Klink (Health, CDA) immediately stop proclaiming a merger. "The report clearly states that the healthcare becomes more expensive by the mergers of hospitals, writes Leijten Member of Parliament (SP) in a press release.

The NMa investigated the merger of Hospital Hilversum and hospital Gooi-Noord of Tergooihospitals in 2005, and the legal merger of the Rotterdam Port Hospital and Erasmus MC in 2006. The competition watchdog examined the prices of hip operations. In Tergooihospitals these operations went up by 10 percent or even more after the merger. In the Rotterdam hospitals rose operating expenses even to above the national average.

"Hip operations are actually slightly more expensive," says a spokeswoman for the Haven Hospital. "This has nothing to do with our collaboration with Erasmus. We are an independent operating company and implement its own pricing policy. "Why is it then? "Our quality is above average and we are therefore not without reason the preferred exporter of hip operations insurance organisation Achmea."

Between 1985 and 2009 the number of hospitals decreased from 162 to 93. The NMa approves too many hospital mergers, says healthcare economist Marco Varkevisser recently. Concerning to his opinion, the NMa should have banned the mergers in Het Gooi, in Zeeland and in Alkmaar and Den Helder.

Bij het samengaan van ziekenhuizen in Rotterdam en in Het Gooi is de zorg duurder geworden. Dat komt doordat de ziekenhuizen als regionale monopolisten prijsverhogingen kunnen afdwingen. Dit staat in een nog ongepubliceerde studie van de Nederlandse Mededingingsautoriteit (NMa), die toeziet op de concurrentie in onder meer de zorgsector. „Het gaat om een grote studie, waarin twee ziekenhuisfusies als casus zijn gebruikt”, zei de woordvoerster van de NMa vanmorgen. De volledige studie naar marktwerking bij ziekenhuizen brengt de NMa in januari naar buiten. De oppositiepartij SP wil dat minister Klink (Volksgezondheid, CDA) per direct een fusiestop afkondigt. „Het rapport stelt duidelijk dat de zorg duurder wordt door de fusies van ziekenhuizen, schrijft Tweede Kamerlid Leijten (SP) in een persbericht. Leijten heeft een debat aangevraagd. De NMa onderzocht de fusie van Ziekenhuis Hilversum en Ziekenhuis Gooi-Noord tot Tergooiziekenhuizen in 2005, en de juridische samenvoeging van het Rotterdamse Havenziekenhuis en het Erasmus MC in 2006. De concurrentiewaakhond bekeek onder meer de prijzen van heupoperaties. Bij Tergooiziekenhuizen zijn deze operaties tot wel 10 procent duurder geworden na de fusie. Bij de Rotterdamse ziekenhuizen zijn de operatiekosten gestegen tot boven het landelijk gemiddelde. „Bij ons zijn de heupoperaties inderdaad iets duurder”, zegt een woordvoerster van het Havenziekenhuis. „Dat heeft niets te maken met onze samenwerking met het Erasmus. Wij zijn een zelfstandige werkmaatschappij en voeren een eigen prijsbeleid.” Hoe komt het dan wel? „Onze kwaliteit is bovengemiddeld en we zijn dan ook niet voor niets de preferred uitvoerder van heupoperaties voor verzekeraar Achmea.” Tussen 1985 en 2009 is het aantal ziekenhuizen afgenomen van 162 tot 93. De NMa keurt te vaak ziekenhuisfusies goed, betoogde gezondheidseconoom Marco Varkevisser onlangs. Volgens hem had de NMa de fusies in Het Gooi, in Zeeland en in Alkmaar en Den Helder moeten verbieden. Bron : NRC Handelsblad - jan 2010