Competition, regulation, and pricing behaviour in the Spanish retail gasoline market
The restructuring of the Spanish oil industry produced a highly concentrated oligopoly in the retail gasoline market. In June 1990, the Spanish government introduced a system of ceiling price regulation in order to ensure that "liberalization" was accompanied by adequate consumer protection. By 1998, prices were left to the "free" market. This paper examines the pricing behaviour of the retail gasoline market using multivariate error correction models over the period January 1993 (abolishment of the state monopoly)-December 2004. The results suggest that gasoline retail prices respond symmetrically to increases as well as to decreases in the spot price of gasoline both over the period of price regulation (January 1993-September 1998) and over the period of free market (October 1998-December 2004). However, once the ceiling price regulation was abolished, cooperation emerged between the government and the major operators, Repsol-YPF and Cepsa-Elf, to control the inflation rate. This resulted in a slower rate of adjustment of gasoline retail prices when gasoline spot prices went up, as compared with the European pattern. Finally, the Spanish retail margin was by the end of our timing period of analysis, as in the starting years after the abolishment of the state monopoly, above the European average. This pattern confirms our political economic hypothesis, which suggests that the Spanish government and the oil companies were working together in reducing the inflation, in periods of rising oil and gasoline prices. It is also inferred that explaining the pricing pattern in energy markets may require different hypothesis than the classical perspective, involving just firms taking advantage of market power.
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