IDEAS home Printed from
MyIDEAS: Login to save this paper or follow this series

Principal-agent Incentives, Excess Caution, and Market Inefficiency: Evidence From Utility Regulation

  • Severin Borenstein
  • Meghan Busse
  • Ryan Kellogg

Regulators and firms often use incentive schemes to attract skillful agents and to induce them to put forth effort in pursuit of the principals' goals. Incentive schemes that reward skill and effort, however, may also punish agents for adverse outcomes beyond their control. As a result, such schemes may induce inefficient behavior, as agents try to avoid actions that might make it easier to directly associate a bad outcome with their decisions. In this paper, we study how such caution on the part of individual agents may lead to inefficient market outcomes, focusing on the context of natural gas procurement by regulated public utilities. We posit that a regulated natural gas distribution company may, due to regulatory incentives, engage in excessively cautious behavior by foregoing surplus-increasing gas trades that could be seen ex post as having caused supply curtailments to its customers. We derive testable implications of such behavior and show that the theory is supported empirically in ways that cannot be explained by conventional price risk aversion or other explanations. Furthermore, we demonstrate that the reduction in efficient trade caused by the regulatory mechanism is most severe during periods of relatively high demand and low supply, when the benefits of trade would be greatest.

If you experience problems downloading a file, check if you have the proper application to view it first. In case of further problems read the IDEAS help page. Note that these files are not on the IDEAS site. Please be patient as the files may be large.

File URL:
Download Restriction: no

Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 13679.

in new window

Date of creation: Dec 2007
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:13679
Note: EEE IO
Contact details of provider: Postal: National Bureau of Economic Research, 1050 Massachusetts Avenue Cambridge, MA 02138, U.S.A.
Phone: 617-868-3900
Web page:

More information through EDIRC

References listed on IDEAS
Please report citation or reference errors to , or , if you are the registered author of the cited work, log in to your RePEc Author Service profile, click on "citations" and make appropriate adjustments.:

as in new window
  1. Carter, Colin A. & Rausser, Gordon C. & Schmitz, Andrew, 1982. "Efficient asset portfolios and the theory of normal backwardation," CUDARE Working Paper Series 133R, University of California at Berkeley, Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Policy.
  2. Murphy, Kevin M & Topel, Robert H, 2002. "Estimation and Inference in Two-Step Econometric Models," Journal of Business & Economic Statistics, American Statistical Association, vol. 20(1), pages 88-97, January.
  3. Angus Deaton & Guy Laroque, 1990. "On The Behavior of Commodity Prices," NBER Working Papers 3439, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Deaton, Angus & Laroque, Guy, 1996. "Competitive Storage and Commodity Price Dynamics," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 104(5), pages 896-923, October.
  5. David Finnoff & Curtis Cramer & Sherrill Shaffer, 2004. "The Financial and Operational Impacts of FERC Order 636 on the Interstate Natural Gas Pipeline Industry," Journal of Regulatory Economics, Springer, vol. 25(3), pages 243-270, 05.
  6. Dusak, Katherine, 1973. "Futures Trading and Investor Returns: An Investigation of Commodity Market Risk Premiums," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 81(6), pages 1387-1406, Nov.-Dec..
  7. Carlton, Dennis W, 1986. "The Rigidity of Prices," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 76(4), pages 637-58, September.
  8. Chambers, Marcus J & Bailey, Roy E, 1996. "A Theory of Commodity Price Fluctuations," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 104(5), pages 924-57, October.
  9. Scharfstein, David S & Stein, Jeremy C, 1990. "Herd Behavior and Investment," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 80(3), pages 465-79, June.
  10. Adam Brandenburger & Ben Polak, 1996. "When Managers Cover Their Posteriors: Making the Decisions the Market Wants to See," RAND Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 27(3), pages 523-541, Autumn.
  11. Cremer, Helmuth & Gasmi, Farid & Laffont, Jean-Jacques, 2003. "Access to Pipelines in Competitive Gas Markets," Journal of Regulatory Economics, Springer, vol. 24(1), pages 5-33, July.
  12. Carlton, Dennis W, 1979. "Contracts, Price Rigidity, and Market Equilibrium," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 87(5), pages 1034-62, October.
  13. Lyon, Thomas P, 1992. "Regulation with "20-20 Hindsight": Least-Cost Rules and Variable Costs," Journal of Industrial Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 40(3), pages 277-89, September.
  14. Palley, Thomas I., 1995. "Safety in numbers: A model of managerial herd behavior," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 28(3), pages 443-450, December.
  15. Holmstrom, Bengt, 1999. "Managerial Incentive Problems: A Dynamic Perspective," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 66(1), pages 169-82, January.
  16. Rick Harbaugh, 2005. "Prospect Theory or Skill Signaling?," Working Papers 2005-06, Indiana University, Kelley School of Business, Department of Business Economics and Public Policy.
Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

This item is not listed on Wikipedia, on a reading list or among the top items on IDEAS.

When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:13679. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: ()

If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

If references are entirely missing, you can add them using this form.

If the full references list an item that is present in RePEc, but the system did not link to it, you can help with this form.

If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

This information is provided to you by IDEAS at the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis using RePEc data.