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5.4: Vertical Integration

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    Vertical integration occurs when a firm expands into a different stage of a value chain in which it already operates. For example, suppose the television manufacturing firm had been purchasing the electronic circuit boards that it uses in its television set products but decides to either buy the supplier or start a new operation to make those parts for itself. This would be vertical integration.

    Usually vertical integration will extend to a neighboring stage in the value chain. When a business expands into an earlier stage in the value chain, the business is said to be doing upstream integration. When the expansion is to a later stage of the value chain, the result is downstream integration.

    A major motivation for vertical integration is the potential for improved profitability. As noted earlier, firms at some stages of the value chain may enjoy better market conditions in terms of profitability and stability. If two stages of the value chain are performed by two divisions of the same company rather than by two separate companies, there is less haggling over price and other conditions of sale. In some cases, through a process that economists call double marginalization. it is possible that a single vertically integrated firm can realize higher profit than the total of two independent firms operating at different stages and making exchanges. An independent partner may not conduct its business the way that the firm would prefer, and possibly the only means to make sure other stages of the value chain operate as a firm would like is for the firm to actually manage the operations in those stages.

    Another possible motivation for vertical integration is risk reduction. If a firm is highly dependent on the goods and services of a particular supplier or purchases by a particular buyer, the firm may find itself in jeopardy if that supplier or buyer were to suddenly decide to switch to other clients or cease operations. For example, if the supplier of electronic circuit boards were to cancel future agreements to sell parts to the television manufacturer and instead sell to a competitor that assembles television sets, the television company may not be able to respond quickly to the loss of supply and may decide it needs to either buy out the supplier or start its own electronic parts division. From the circuit board supplier’s perspective, there is also risk to them if they invest in production capacity to meet the specific part designs for the television company and then the television company decides to get the circuit boards elsewhere. By having both operations within the boundaries of a single enterprise, there is little risk of unilateral action by one producer to the detriment of the other producer.

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