Pricing Behaviour and the Introduction of the Euro: Evidence from a Panel of Restaurants
This paper assembles an original panel of data from 2,500 restaurants in Italy over the 1998-2004 period. The main objective is to study whether the euro cash changeover had an impact on individual pricing behaviour, as it seems to be perceived by consumers. Although the sample is not representative of the whole sector, our interest stems from the possibility of gaining deeper insights from individual data, as well as from the fact that restaurant prices were at the centre of the public discussion. First, the paper analyses the distribution of price changes in several years, to identify what features may contribute to explain the widespread perception of a large effect of the introduction of the euro on prices. Second, the paper discusses the economic mechanisms that may help explaining the impact of the cash changeover on prices. The data show that restaurant prices recorded sizeable increases in both 2001 and 2002 (around 10% and 9%, respectively). The cumulated increase in the price of a meal between 1998 and 2003 is substantial (the index rises by 40%). The changeover might have focused the public attention over this medium-run trend, prompting the attribution of the whole increase to the introduction of the euro. The analysis suggests that such increases reflect in part unfavourable developments on the costs side (strong increases in unit labour costs and fresh food inputs in both years) and strong increases in demand (especially in 2001). Part of the restaurant price increase recorded in 2002, however, does seem ascribable to the effect of the changeover. We find evidence consistent with a ‘menu-cost’ hypothesis for pricing behaviour: the rise in the average meal price is mainly due to a greater fraction of agents who revise their price, rather than to greater individual price revisions. Moreover, more market power (as proxied by a local concentration index) is associated with greater than average price increases during the changeover. A simple interpretation is proposed for this finding, which may also explain why the effects of the cash changeover may have been especially pronounced in this industry as opposed to more competitive ones.
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