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Despite the challenging environment German exporters gained global market share in 2015. The year 2016 has not got off to an auspicious start, however. Our new “Export Indicator” points to a double whammy for German exports in 2016. The less favourable outlook for the demand and especially for the exchange rate impact looks set to slow export growth to around 3% in 2016. When analysing German exports, it is worth looking at sector-specific factors as they can play an even more important role than the macroeconomic environment. Overall, German industry faces a challenging year for exports. Further topics in this issue: House prices: Imminent return to normal, overvaluation likely; GDP growth 2016: More domestically driven & facing more downside risks; Merkel likely to weather even weak state election results.
Manufacturing output in Germany increased by 1.1% in real terms in 2015. Just over half of this growth resulted from 2015 having more working days than 2014. Among the main industrial sectors, pharmaceuticals (+4.3%) and automotives (+2.6%) recorded the highest growth rates. By contrast, the mechanical engineering and chemical industries suffered declines in production of 1.1% and 0.4% respectively. Mixed signals are currently shaping the outlook for 2016. For example, the slowdown in growth in major sales markets is being offset by a relatively high capacity utilisation rate in industry at the start of the year, as well as a positive trend in core orders. On the whole, we confirm our forecast that manufacturing output in Germany is not likely to do more than stagnate in 2016. Nevertheless, in light of global economic and geopolitical risks, as well as turmoil in the financial and commodities markets, a certain disturbing feeling remains to the effect that manufacturing output in Germany could also be worse than projected this year.
After three years of high GDP forecast accuracy, we were off the mark by a substantial margin in 2015. The miss can mainly be traced to our assumptions with regard to oil, the USD, the magnitude of the refugee influx and a bit of bad timing, as the USD and oil saw a massive adjustment right after we had published our 2015 forecast. Last year’s imponderables are once again at the top of our list of forecast uncertainties for 2016. In this issue we also look at the wage round in 2016 and Chancellor Merkel’s asylum policy.
The German economy was extremely stable over the course of 2015, although the volatile newsflow that ranged from the oil price shock, material euro exchange rate depreciation, “Dieselgate” right through to the refugee crisis could make one think otherwise. Driven by a 15-year high in private consumption growth economic output rose by more than 1 ½% in 2015, as already achieved in 2014. Economic growth is set to accelerate to nearly 2% in 2016, following a pretty stable trend over the course of the year. Private consumption should remain the most important growth driver. Public consumption will remain expansionary given the continued influx of refugees and resulting public spending. If refugees can be successfully integrated into the labour market, the refugee crisis will provide Germany's ageing society with a medium-term opportunity.
Industrial output in Germany is likely to expand by around 0.5% in real terms in 2015. For 2016, we expect growth close to zero. This means the sustained phase of relatively muted economic dynamics of industrial output seen since 2012 would continue. The rather stable development of producer prices in recent months also provides evidence that would indicate subdued industrial activity. Our forecast for industrial output implies that manufacturing’s share in total German gross value added will shrink for 2015 and 2016.
The logistics sector in Germany is characterised by innovative and diversified companies as well as very good location factors. There are, however, economic and structural factors which suggest that turnover growth will be relatively moderate over the next few years. Between 2003 and 2008 sector turnover grew by a nominal 4.6% per year. Following the recession, that is from 2009 to 2014, the growth rate dropped to 3.4% p.a. (while the inflation rate was somewhat lower). Over the next five years average annualised nominal turnover growth is likely to be more in the range of between 2% and 3%. This would propel sector turnover through the EUR 300 bn barrier. The logistics sector will remain a focus of state regulation; this is true particularly of the important transport segment.
In the German manufacturing sector real net fixed assets in 2013 were 0.8% lower than in 2000. Looking at the average, however, masks the fact that only four out of 19 manufacturing sectors expanded their capital stock compared with 2000. The major importance of the automotive industry is striking. Its net fixed capital formation exceeded that of all other manufacturing sectors combined between 1995 and 2006 and has done so since 2009. The auto industry boosted its real net fixed asset in Germany between 2000 and 2013 by nearly 38%. In the energy-intensive sectors, by contrast, the capital stock in Germany continues to shrink, a trend that has been ongoing for years. If economic policy conditions in Germany were to deteriorate in future, we would expect manufacturing companies to invest even more heavily abroad.
The influx of refugees has raised net immigration to Germany to the record level of more than one million. Among the OECD countries, this trend could put Germany ahead of the United States, traditionally the No. 1 destination country for migrants. As a result, Germany faces the difficult − and costly – Herculean task of integrating the refugees and absorbing the supply shock to the labour market. At the same time, the refugees represent an opportunity for rejuvenating an ageing population in Germany, where there is a growing scarcity of labour and the threat of lower structural growth. In our outlined win-win scenario, successful integration offers Germany the opportunity to consolidate its position as Europe’s economic powerhouse and to increase its attractiveness as an immigration country. A sustained high level of net immigration will attenuate the decline of the trend growth rate brought on by an ageing population. Instead of moving closer to stagnation, the trend growth could still amount to 1% in ten to 15 years as well, which would also benefit social systems.