Marge empresarial, cost i preus. Relació innexistent o inversa


  • Joaquim Trigo Portela


Cost and price have a misunderstood relationship. Whenever cost and price exceed expected values, public opinion wants an explanation. Usually it is said that price increases in some areas cause the increase in the price level. Additionally higher labor cost or big margins are said to be the underlying cause. But higher costs of any kind and bigger profits only imply an increase in cost and price when demand is rigid and the supply is monopolized without close substitutes, or when there is a gap in the reaction of supply to the new demand. In other cases the result is a reduction in profits, and as a reply, changes in the combination of productive factors and the reduction in the number of supplies.
Labor cost is an agreed fixed cost in the most European countries and Spain. An increase in that cost exceeding an improvement in performance results in the medium term in a lower demand for labor. In the short term the result is a reduction in profits. Labor costs have absorbed around 20% of total sales volume in non-financial enterprises in the last 20 years. Net margins of non-financial enterprises, as an average, represented 3% of sales volume. This has several implications: Big relative changes in margins, even if the result of deliberate actions, should have a very limited impact in cost and price; empirical evidence shows that statistical correlation between cost and margins price and are negligible and show rather that price creates a good environment for entrepreneurial profits; when profits decrease, there is no influence on cost and price; and the link between cost and price and in other European countries has the same shape as in Spain. Price stability helps profits to increase. The level of profits is determined by the increase in GDP through two effects: more sales give more profits while fixed costs are spread over more sales and unit costs decrease which improve the margin: more demand pushes prices up, but only temporarily until new supply matches demand. Only when the gap between demand and supply can be covered rapidly or when monetary policy is expansive, the movement of prices can be sustained.
Economic authorities have three ways to contribute to price stability: Monetary policy, control of their current expenses so to avoid a big increase in aggregate demand, and supply side policies to allow a rapid answer to changes in demand and to increased competition in markets. Changes in relative prices and cost and price are different things. Attempts so control the first create expectations of monetary stability, which help to promote economic growth. Attempts to control the second disturb the efficiency in the assignation process of productive factors and deteriorates the potential rate of GDP growth. Direct price control is condemned to failure because it means controlling the cost of productive factors and the economic activity as a whole, but requires non-available information and an intervention power that does not exist. Furthermore it results in repressed inflation, decreases in quality, double pricing and a reduction in the volume of activity. Moral admonitions have no effects at all. It is not costs that form prices but the opposite. The expectation of prices makes the entrepreneur accept costs and, if the forecast proves to be correct, the margin appears as a residual rent. To promote price stability is far better in educating consumers in order to use their purchasing power to avoid price increases than blaming activities where prices have the biggest propensity to grow.