asset specificity


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asset specificity

the extent to which a TRANSACTION or CONTRACT needs to be supported by transaction-specific assets. Where a contract involves the need to create transaction-specific assets, this creates a fundamental transformation in the nature of the relationship between the parties to the transaction. Before investing in specific assets, the investing partner is likely to have many alternative trading partners, which allows for bidding competition. However, after the investment creates transaction-specific assets these become SUNK COSTS with no alternative use and the parties to the transaction then have no alternative trading partners. The terms of the transaction are then determined by bilateral bargaining between the parties to the transaction.

Bargaining between the parties can lead to opportunistic behaviour where one party in a contractual relationship seeks to exploit the other's vulnerability. For example, a seller might attempt to exploit a buyer who is dependent on the seller by claiming that the production costs have risen and pressing for an upward adjustment of the negotiated price. Such opportunistic behaviour seeks to exploit or ‘hold up’ one party to the transaction to benefit the other party For transactions with high asset specificity, the costs of MARKET transactions are high and such transactions are likely to be ‘internalized’ and conducted within organizations, for example a VERTICALLY INTEGRATED firm. See INTERNALIZATION.