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Chapter 1: Capacity and Utilization Choice in the US Oil Refining Industry

This paper presents a new dynamic model of the operating and investment

decisions of US oil refiners. The model enables me to predict how shocks to crude

oil prices and refinery shutdowns (e.g., in response to hurricanes) affect the price of gasoline, refinery profits, and overall welfare. There have been no new refineries built in the last 32 years, and although existing refineries have expanded their capacity by almost 13% since 1995, the demand for refinery products has grown even faster. As a result, capacity utilization rates are now near their maximum sustainable levels, and when combined with record high crude oil prices, this creates a volatile environment for energy markets. Shocks to the price of crude oil and even minor disruptions to refining capacity can have a large effect on the downstream prices of refined products. Due to the extraordinary dependence by other industries on petroleum products, this can have a large effect on the US economy as a whole.

I use the generalized method of moments to estimate a dynamic model of capacity

and utilization choice by oil refiners. Plants make short-run utilization rate

choices to maximize their expected discounted profits and may make costly long-term investments in capacity to meet the growing demand and reduce the potential for breaking down. I show that the model fits the data well, in both in-sample and out-of-sample predictive tests, and I use the model to conduct a number of counterfactual experiments. My model predicts that a 20% increase in the price of crude oil is only partially passed on to consumers, resulting in higher gasoline prices, lower profits for the refinery, and a 45% decrease in total welfare. A disruption to refining capacity, such as the one caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, raises gasoline prices by almost 16% and has a small negative effect on overall welfare: the higher profits of refineries partially offsets the large reduction in consumer surplus. As the theory predicts, these shocks have a smaller effect on downstream prices when consumer demand is more elastic, resulting in a larger share of total welfare going to the consumer.

Chapter 2: Consumer Search for Online Drug Information

Consumers are increasingly turning to the internet and using search engines

to find information on medicinal drugs. Between 2001 and 2007, the number of

adults using the internet as an alternative source of health information doubled.

At the same time, online and offline advertising spending by drug companies is

growing rapidly. I seek to understand how consumers use search engines to find drug information and how this activity is influenced by direct to consumer advertising.

I utilize a database of user click-through data from America Online to analyze

the search behavior of consumers seeking drug information online. Compared

with other searches, users submitting drug-related queries are more likely to click on more than one result in a search session, and when they do, they click more rapidly through the results and tend to migrate away from dot-com sites and toward those ending in dot-org and dot-net. Offline advertising on a drug serves to increase the frequency and intensity of these searches.

Chapter 3: Drug Information via Online Search Engines

This paper utilizes a database of organic and sponsored search results from four

large search engines to analyze the supply of drug-related information available on

the internet. I show that the information varies significantly across search engines,

domain extensions, and between organic and sponsored results. Regression results reveal that websites with relatively more promotional content are pushed down in the search results while informational sites (including those ending in dot-gov and dot-org) are more likely to appear on page one of the results.