Vertical integration

Industrial organisation was a very important discipline of microeconomics for a period of time especially when it came to supporting or counteracting the trust-busters. And then even as economists were just beginning to peer a little more into industries and understand the workings of firms and the strategic thinking behind them, finance came into the picture and all sorts of crazy connections between business metrics and financial metrics became the science of understanding business, evaluating and valuing them.

Strategic value of firms remain relevant in terms of thinking about merger financial models but these perspectives of looking at incremental value and the ‘main case’ of business-as-usual sometimes misses the point of an acquisition or integration. Aside from financial assessment, the whole strategic decision to undertake a merger or acquisition requires not a business-as-usual view but one that involves a vision of the future. Not forecasting the future but taking active steps to create it.

During a time of massive decentralisation and increasing marketisation, with lots of competitors, we can expect that value can be created by spinning off individual business units but when there’s shortage of resources, intermediate goods and services, vertical integration is powerful. And across the sectors, there are bound to be some that is plagued with bottlenecks and resource problems that only vertical integration can solve – which is to say the strategic value cannot be ignored. In fact, that is very often the way to compete in these markets.

When thinking about firms and business dynamics, are we just focused on the financial metrics or do we want to develop a view on the evolution of competition?