The shock in the manufacturing sector in Germany: IFO vs Markit

The modest rebound in the IFO index in March is sometimes interpreted as the counterpoint to the drop of the Markit index released last Friday.
There is indeed an opposition in March between the pace of the two indicators. One goes up again while the other is down.

However, what shocked in the Markit survey is the sharp downturn in the manufacturing sector, while the services sector was doing quite well. The manufacturing index was 44.7 against 47.6 in February. It contracts for the third month in a row. In contrast, the composite services indicator (calculated as the non-manufacturing ISM) is stable in March at 53.7 as in February.
The culprit is the manufacturing index. Yet when comparing the manufacturing index of Markit and that of the IFO we have exactly the same profile.

The peak of the two indices is almost the same and the break observed since the beginning of 2018 is similar.
The shock on the German economy reflects the rapid slowdown in the world trade momentum. The impact on the German economy is through the manufacturing sector whether measured by IFO or Markit.
The pace of service between the two measures is not the same and this is what differentiates synthetic indicators from the two surveys. But services are more reflective of the domestic market than the sensitivity of the German economy to world trade via the manufacturing sector.
The external shock is strong and brutal in Germany and it has first to be stabilized before the beginning of a recovery. It will take time and this justifies the pessimistic forecasts for Germany.

The German economy on the way to normalization

German growth stopped during the second half of 2018. During this period, the GDP was up by only +0.1% compared to the first six months (at annual rate).
It can be seen on the graph that the main source of growth inflection is external demand. Its contribution fell sharply in the second half of the year. The slowdown in trade with China and Asia (a consequence of a Trump effect on Chinese trade) explains the stagnation of exports. But imports are growing rapidly due to a strong private domestic demand.
This is the major point of the graph. Until 2015, the contributions of internal private demand and external demand were of the same order. This is no longer the case and private demand is now the main contributor to growth and with a certain margin. The weight of foreign trade is still important in Germany, but it’s no longer the main source of the German dynamics.
The German economy is normalizing its structure and it becomes comparable to other developed countries where the main source of the GDP growth is the private demand. This shows a greater dependence on its internal market. This is not bad news for the Eurozone.

Germany in recession ?

Recent data on the German industrial production show a rapid drop in the economic activity. The quarterly change was already at -5.5% in the third quarter (annual rate). At the end of November, the carryover for the last quarter of 2018 is at -7.8%.
There is a strong consistency between the quarterly change in the industrial production index and the GDP as it is shown on the graph.
During the third quarter of 2018 the GDP was down -0.8% and related to the strong decrease in the German production this winter, the GDP may again shift downward in the last quarter. Germany would then be in recession.
The impact could be strong on the Euro Area’s momentum and leading to a downward revision of the EA growth forecast (the starting point for 2019 would be lower). The convergence to potential growth (1.6%) would then be quicker than expected.
The ECB will not change its monetary policy before long.

Merkel rejects Macron’s proposals on Europe

Angela Merkel’s interview last week-end, in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, doesn’t not really change the usual German answer on the renewal of European institutions. Her responses remain at odds to Macron’s proposals.

The main difference between France and Germany on the European question is that France thinks that there is an advantage in explicitly coordinating economic policies. A budget can and must do that. This implies a significant intervention capacity which can
be measured by several points of GDP as it has been stressed by Macron and Sarkozy before him.
On the German side, co-ordination is implicit if one respects the defined rules, in particular those which could be taken in the case of a help from the EMF (European Monetary Fund which would take over the European Stability Mechanism. It would be different from the IMF which has a too friendly approach to the Greek debt restructuring). In other words, the adjustment mechanism requires respect for the “right rules” (budgetary austerity) and therefore deeply reducing the need for state intervention.
The coordination advocated by France is the vision of risk sharing within a political entity (the Euro Area) while the German option is that of not sharing the risk because if everyone behaves “in the right way” no country has a risk to share. Continue reading

German risks for Europe

After the failure to form a coalition the first thing to notice is that Merkel is no longer at the center of the game. She has been replaced by the German president, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who will decide what will be the next steps.

These steps can be threefold
1 – A coalition between the CDU-CSU and the social democrats of the SPD but the SPD is reluctant to participate.
2 – A minority government but with the risk of doing nothing while important issues have to be managed (the current negotiation failed on the refugees’ question, on carbon emissions, on taxes and on education) These are important issues that cannot be postponed.
3 – New elections at the beginning of next year

I favor the third possibility but my guess is that in this type of situation domestic questions are at the center of the discussion or of the campaign.
European questions were not at the center in recents days but with Merkel’s recent point of view was a kind of guarantee that Europe would not be forgotten.
It could be the case in a foreseeable future if Merkel is no longer the leader. Europe could then be erased from discussions

The recent improvement in the perception of Europe is twofold.
1- GDP growth is stronger and employment is improving rapidly
2- The commitment between Merkel and Macron to improve the way institutions are working at the European level

If Merkel is weaker and focused on internal issues then European reforms will no longer be on the agenda
This would create an uncertainty that could reduce the economic horizon then limiting investment and the possibility to improve the potential growth. Therefore it can have a negative impact on growth and could  be damaging.

Another point on reforms is that with stronger growth it limits the risk of populism. If, because Merkel is no longer at the center of the picture, reforms are not done then we will see the convergence to a lower growth trend rate and more that the come back of populism with the risk of weaker institutions. Some nationalists want to exit from the EU.
The political process in Germany is at risk not only for the Germans but also for Europeans as the current momentum would become more fragile opening the door to populism

The impact on Brexit negotiators will depend on the result of the current political process. A bias positive to populism would a piece of cake for the UK government as populists do not like Europe. It would be the worst situation for a European citizen.

The German Growth in 3 graphs

The GDP growth was 1.7% (at annual rate) during the fourth quarter of 2016.It was a mere 0.4% in the third quarter. For 2016 GDP was up 1.8% after 1.5% in 2015.
The carry over growth for 2017 at the end of 2016 is 0.5%. It was the same number at the end of 2015 for 2016.
Domestic demand is currently the main support for growth with a high contribution from government expenditures. Since the first quarter of 2015, GDP growth is +1.5% on average and the government expenditures’ contribution is +0.7%; Almost half of it, that’s a large number (data until Q3 2016, the detail for Q4 is not available yet).
Construction is also an important contributor.
Government expenditures and construction are the German response to the refugees’ crisis, leading to a more autonomous .growth. Net exports have a negative contribution (imports were up due to a robust domestic demand).
Growth in Germany follows now a more autonomous and centered growth framework. It has a positive and persistent impact of the Euro Area growth.

The first graph shows the stability of the German business cycle. There is no break in the crisis contrary to what was seen in every other developed country. This reflects the absence of rupture in the private domestic demand. (The break in 2008 is mainly associated with external trade in Germany)

The second graph shows the cumulated contributions of different sources of demand to GDP growth. On the right part of the graph we see that the main sources of growth are the private demand and government expenditures. Since 2013, the net exports contribution is almost neutral (no upward trend).
This support from domestic demand is a source of improvement for the Eurozone
The third graph is the government expenditures’ quarterly contribution to GDP growth since 2015. On average GDP growth was 1.5% and the contribution was 0.7%.

Three Graphs on the German Labor Market

The number of unemployed has slightly increased in August (1 000). Compared to August 2013 this number has decreased by -45 000.
Employment is on a positive trend. During the last 3 months (May – July) it was up by 0.9% at annual rate. But surveys this summer have cast a doubt on such a momentum for the coming months. Continue reading