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Competition and Competitors: Evidence from the Retail Fuel Market

Policy makers and antitrust authorities are concerned about the lack of competition in the fuel retail market and its impact on consumer prices. The aim of this article is to empirically evaluate the role of the intensity of competition and competitors' brand affiliation on retail fuel prices. To this end, we use a panel data set with detailed daily on nearly 8,500 gas stations and 2 million price observations; we estimate a reduced-form fuel price equation that accounts for supply (input costs and local competition) and demand shifters (income, traffic intensity, and location) as well as for brand and time fixed effects. We use an instrumental variable estimation strategy, to account for the endogeneity of the intensity of competition. Our results show that premium brands and low-cost brands affect the prices of rival firms in an opposite way. On the one hand, premium brands soften competition in the local markets where they operate and thereby allow their rivals to set higher prices. Besides, price setting by premium-brand stations react differently depending on whether the nearest rival sells the same brand (a friendly competitor) or some other brand. By contrast, low-cost brands contribute to reducing prices through their own prices (direct effect), thereby encouraging competitors to lower their prices (indirect effect). Our results suggest that regulation limiting the entry of premium operators whilst promoting the entry of low cost gas stations will enhance competition at the retail level.

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Keywords: Fuel prices, Local market competition, Antitrust regulation, Spain

DOI: 10.5547/01956574.44.6.xgon

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Published in Volume 44, Number 6 of the bi-monthly journal of the IAEE's Energy Economics Education Foundation.


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