Thursday | 01 March, 2007

(Incomplete) BigMac Index for the Caucasus

When comparing iPod pricing across the South Caucasus, we promised more information on the Big Mac index. As described then, the Big Mac index has been suggested by the Economist as a measure of purchasing power parity. The argument is that Big Macs across countries bundle identical products and services, and therefore can serve as a comparable basket.

Unfortunately, the comparison is incomplete: no McDonald's yet in Yerevan (with various explanations offered, including that the region is served through Turkey). That may lend some credence to the Golden Arches Theory of Conflict Prevention, which suggests that countries that have McDonald's are less likely to be in conflict with each other, because they are in the same globalized orbit. (But this theory happens to be dubious, so Ron MacDonald is not yet standing in line for the Nobel Peace Prize.)

How do Georgia and Azerbaijan compare? In Azerbaijan, a Big Mac goes for 2.5 New Azerbaijani Manat, which currently puts it at 2.73 US dollars. At 4.60 GEL, the Georgian Big Mac is at 2.60 USD, 13 Cents less.

Comparing this with the 2006 Big Mac Index (admittedly one that looks forward to an update), the Caucasus is between Hungary (2.90) and Mexico/South Korea (2.63). If you believe the theory behind the index, the Caucasus is sort of close to purchasing power parity, since the American Big Mac costs $3.10.

By comparison, the Euro-BigMac is at 3.86 USD, the Swiss at 5.10, but the Chinese Yen, radically undervalued, at 1.30. Strikingly, the Russian Big Mac is a lot cheaper and goes for 1.83 USD, and the Ukrainian is in the same league at 1.88 dollars.

As with the iPod, pricing may be driven by maximising the margins, not by the actual basket. MacDonald's in both countries is an upmarket product. In Russia and Ukraine it plays to the mass market and is priced accordingly.

Scale will also play a role: with few restaurants in the Caucasus, McDonald's does not enjoy the advantages of scale. On that level, the index underlines that the local cost of doing business still is higher than it will be in Poland, Ukraine, Russia or Hungary.

Comments welcome.