Fixing prices and fixing markets
Price discovery is the process of finding the price through the interaction of buyers and sellers. It allows the forces of supply and demand to arrive at a transaction price, and typically assumes a competitive marketplace in which buyers and sellers are similar in number, size, and influence. This should not be confused with price determination, in which the price is established by some means - or simply announced by some authority - and buyers and sellers agree beforehand to accept whatever the price turns out to be.
Price discovery requires the interaction of buyers and sellers in some type of negotiation process to arrive at a price. These negotiations may be one-on-one, or in group settings such as a central market, an auction, or a commodity exchange where multiple buyers and multiple sellers compete for each transaction. Negotiated trading is considered by most economists and policymakers to be the fairest for both parties because it simultaneously provides the highest selling price and the lowest buying price at that particular point in time.
There has been a definite trend away from negotiated prices for most ag commodities. Despite its advantages, negotiated trading has a number of drawbacks. For one thing, it can be very time-consuming. Finding a willing counterparty, going through the back-and-forth discussions that are part of the negotiation process, and taking all the other steps necessary to successfully complete a transaction can take a lot of time. When prices are volatile, the market may move against one side or the other while negotiations are taking place.
The negotiation process also creates an adversarial relationship between buyer and seller, and few people enjoy the haggling that goes along with purchasing a vehicle, real estate, or other big-ticket item. Given the choice, most shoppers prefer going to a store and paying the listed price instead of dickering with a merchant or vendor. Even after negotiations are successfully completed, there may be a feeling of having been taken advantage of by the other party.
Other pricing methods
The USDA price reporting system was created to give buyers and sellers timely, detailed information about recent transactions so they can make informed decisions. But in agriculture as well as other industries, many buyers and sellers have decided that the benefits of receiving the "best" price are outweighed by the time, inconvenience, and other costs of one-on-one bargaining each time they need to buy or sell. The pricing methods they have adopted vary widely from one commodity to the next. In grains, much of the price discovery function has been outsourced to the larger and more liquid futures market. Basis levels are used to reflect local supply-demand conditions, and may contain some room for adjustment depending on how badly the buyer needs the commodity.
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