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Does Cost Uncertainty in the Bertrand Model Soften Competition?

Listed author(s):
  • Johan N.M. Lagerlöf

    (Department of Economics, Copenhagen University)

The answer is no. Although naive intuition may suggest the opposite, uncertainty about costs in the homogeneous-good Bertrand model intensifies competition: it lowers price and raises total surplus (but also makes profits go up). For some economic environments, this is implied by Hansen’s (RAND, 1988) analysis of a procurement auction. However, several authors appear to have overlooked Hansen’s results. Moreover, his results are derived under two assumptions that, if relaxed, conceivably could reverse them. The contributions of the present paper are threefold. First, it clarifies the implications of Hansen’s results for the relationship between uncertainty and competition in the Bertrand model. Second, it shows that his results hold also if drastic innovations are possible. Finally, the paper assumes asymmetric cost distributions and shows, using numerical methods, that then uncertainty lowers price and raises total surplus even more than under symmetry. If the asymmetry is large enough, however, industry profits are lower under uncertainty. This is in contrast to the known results and reinforces the notion that uncertainty intensifies competition rather than softens it.

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File URL: http://www.econ.ku.dk/english/research/publications/wp/dp_2014/1408.pdf
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Paper provided by University of Copenhagen. Department of Economics in its series Discussion Papers with number 14-08.

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Length: 27 pages
Date of creation: 16 Dec 2013
Handle: RePEc:kud:kuiedp:1408
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  1. Li, Huagang & Riley, John G., 2007. "Auction choice," International Journal of Industrial Organization, Elsevier, vol. 25(6), pages 1269-1298, December.
  2. Marshall Robert C. & Meurer Michael J. & Richard Jean-Francois & Stromquist Walter, 1994. "Numerical Analysis of Asymmetric First Price Auctions," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 7(2), pages 193-220, September.
  3. Robert G. Hansen, 1988. "Auctions with Endogenous Quantity," RAND Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 19(1), pages 44-58, Spring.
  4. Susan Athey, 2002. "Monotone Comparative Statics under Uncertainty," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 117(1), pages 187-223.
  5. Blume, Andreas, 2003. "Bertrand without fudge," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 78(2), pages 167-168, February.
  6. Klemperer, Paul, 1999. " Auction Theory: A Guide to the Literature," Journal of Economic Surveys, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 13(3), pages 227-286, July.
  7. Wayne-Roy Gayle & Jean Richard, 2008. "Numerical Solutions of Asymmetric, First-Price, Independent Private Values Auctions," Computational Economics, Springer;Society for Computational Economics, vol. 32(3), pages 245-278, October.
  8. Raith, Michael, 1996. "A General Model of Information Sharing in Oligopoly," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 71(1), pages 260-288, October.
  9. Klemperer, Paul, 1999. " Auction Theory: A Guide to the Literature," Journal of Economic Surveys, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 13(3), pages 227-86, July.
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