• AUGUST 26, 2011

How to measure competition?

Defining Competition

Often when we read about companies, we come across a common word: Competition.

Webster defines competition as follows.

'The effort of two or more parties acting independently to secure the business of a third party by offering the most favourable terms'.

Some other definitions of competition include "active demand by two or more organisms or kinds of organisms for some environmental resource in short supply" and "a contest between rivals".

Competition tends to limit the prices a company can charge for its goods or services.

As competition increases, companies have to offer innovative deals to customers to try and woo them into buying their goods and services.

Intense competition among businesses takes away a lot of freedom from firms in terms of product pricing, quality, and costs. This results in pressure on margins at the operating level as well as the net income.

Higher the competition, higher would be the benefit to the consumer.

While the literature on competition can go on and on, one does wonder if is there a way to measure competition?

The answer is yes.

The field of economics has proposed two measures that can be used to measure competition to some extent.

Obviously, there are limitations to using these measures, which we will discuss later. Nevertheless they do provide a good reference point.

The first measure that can be used to measure competition is called the four firm concentration ratio.

This ratio measures what percentage of the total sales of an industry is accounted for by the four largest firms in that industry.

Let us try and understand this with the help of an example. For our example, we will consider 2 industries - software and auto ancillaries.

Software Auto-ancillaries
Company Name Sales (Rs m) Company Name Sales (Rs m)
TCS 373,245 Motherson Sumi Systems 81,756
Wipro 311,392 Sundaram-Clayton 80,857
Infosys 275,010 Amtek Auto 36,908
HCL Tech 157,304 Tata Autocomp Systems 23,700
Largest 4 1,116,951 Largest 4 223,222
Total Industry 1,784,776 Total Industry 906,165
4 firm concentration ratio 63% 4 firm concentration ratio 25%
Data Source: Ace Equity

The four firm concentration ratio for Software is 63%.

This suggests that the 4 largest firms hold nearly 63% of the total revenues of the industry. This in itself suggests lower levels of competition.

The case is completely different for the auto-ancillaries where the largest four firms hold only 25% of the total revenues of the industry. This suggest a high level of competition.

As a general principle, lower ratio indicates higher competition and vice versa. Generally, a ratio below 60% is regarded as an indicator of a competitive market.

While this ratio can help us understand the levels of competition to some extent, unfortunately it does suffer from a major drawback.

What if the top 4 firms control the largest portion of the sales but still compete intensively among each other?

What if each of them has other products and services in addition to the main product that helps them diversify their product base?

This in turn would reduce the effect of competition on them. What about market shares and market leadership?

The four firm concentration ratio falls short of answering these questions.

This is where the second measure of competition comes in. This is the Herfindahl-Hirschman Index (HHI).

This index calculates the sum of the percentage market share of all the firms in the industry.

Confused? Let's simplify with the help of an example.

Suppose there are 5 firms in an industry. Their market shares look something like this.

  Market Share (%) Square of market share
Company A 20 400
Company B 15 225
Company C 10 100
Company D 10 100
Company E 5 25
HHI   850

The HHI for the industry would be = 202+152+102+102+52 = 850.

A lower HHI number suggests higher levels of competition and vice versa.

Generally an HHI of less than 1,000 is considered to be highly competitive. HHI in the range of 1,000 to 1,800 is considered to be moderately competitive and that over 1,800 is considered to have low levels of competition.

The HHI number does address issues like market shares and competition among the large firms, But it has its own set of limitations.

It fails to address issues like product diversification. It also fails to address things like barriers to entry which are equally important when discussing competition.

The level of competition could be low but if the barriers to entry are also low then competition could go up.

The key aspect to remember is the concept of competition affects all aspects of a business.

Taking advantage of a competitor's weakness is always a good idea.

But is it sustainable?

A competitive advantage should ideally be a great strength that is distinctive.

Competition can be influenced by several factors including the concentration of the industry, cost of switching, fixed costs, and the rate of industrial growth.

Luckily, there are several actions that can be undertaken for staying one step ahead of competitors.

These include differentiation of products, reinventing constantly, identifying untapped opportunities, screening fundamentals, etc.

Look for companies that follow megatrends that can act as big tailwinds over a long period of time. The megatrends evolving through Rebirth of India are the most potent ones.

The video below will help you locate the megatrends evolving through Rebirth of India.

Competition is an important thing to study when analysing a company.

A company's ability to price its products is a direct function of the level of competition in the industry. This in turn has a direct impact on the company's margins.

If a company has high pricing power, then it is able to pass on increase in input prices to its customers. This helps it to protect its margins.

If on the other hand, it lacks this power, then margins come under pressure when input prices go up.

As a result, understanding competition is necessary when it comes to making an investment decision.

Despite all of their limitations, the two measures still provide a good starting point for the discussion on competition.

They may be used as a reference to at least understand whether or not competition exists in a particular industry.

Recommended Readings on How to Measure Competition

Here are Links to Some Very Insightful Equitymaster Articles on How to Measure Competition

Happy Investing!

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