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The combination of the structural global trade slowdown, increased localization of production, demographic changes in Germany, the impact of recent economic policy decisions and further toughening of international competition are likely to be a considerable challenge for German exporters over the medium term. Thus, the domestic economy will play a bigger role again. Government policies can help ease the transition. German exporters could become even more globally active firms over the medium term. The specific reactions will vary by sector, though. The earnings generated by these firms around the globe are likely to be a blessing for an aging and more domestically driven economy in the decades ahead.
Since around 2009, the German healthcare system has been characterised by weak investment. One reason is that public subsidies for the sector have been reduced. This development harbours risks, for only a regular renewal of medical appliances and equipment is likely to ensure the high quality of treatment in Germany in the long term. By contrast, lower investments in the building stock would primarily mean a reduction in the current hospital overcapacities.
In 2014, Germany exported goods worth EUR 1.1 tr (+3.7%), which represented a new record high. Conversely, German exports to Russia fell by 18% because of the latter's economic and political problems, with the declines in certain sectors even exceeding 30%. True, the share of total German exports going to Russia has decreased to only 2.6% (2013: 3.3%; 2012: 3.5%), but certain sectors and companies are nevertheless being hit hard by the decline. We expect exports to Russia to drop significantly in 2015, too. Out of Germany's major manufacturing sectors it is probably engineering that is suffering the most as Russia is still one of its biggest foreign markets.
The Q4 GDP details corroborate that the German economy ended 2014 on a high note (+0.7% qoq vs +0.1% in Q3) as private consumption received a substantial stimulus from the drop of the oil prices. We increase our 2015 GDP forecast to 2.0% from 1.4% previously. This is especially due to the much larger carry-over effect courtesy of the marked Q4 GDP growth. In addition, we raise our Q1 GDP forecast to 0.5% qoq as the renewed oil price drop will boost consumption again. Sentiment also improved further in January/February with ifo expectations and the composite PMI pointing to 0.5% and 0.4% growth, respectively.
The commercial and data protection foundations for debate about big data may well already be in place. But far removed from the debate about monetisation and data misuse there is another world in which data applications, regardless of their data volumes, can provide a valuable economic benefit to society. Our increasingly digital and data-driven economy enables us to more rapidly detect potential ways to boost efficiency and productivity and subject them to closer scrutiny. In this context, the desire for greater transparency, participation and collaboration provides an important motive for experimenting ultimately in fact with new forms of democratic processes. The initially exponential growth in the volume of data and its intelligent evaluation provide the fertile breeding ground needed for innovation and economic growth in the digital age.
Manufacturing output in Germany rose by 1.9% in real terms in 2014. Q4 helped to end the year on an upbeat note, as a decline in output at the end of 2014 – which we had still been forecasting in autumn – did not materialise. The outlook for 2015 has also improved. German industry is getting a boost from the depreciation of the euro, which is materialising faster and more heavily than expected, as well as from the surprisingly steep drop in the oil price. We have therefore recently raised our forecast for manufacturing output in 2015 in real terms ¾% to 1.5%.
Late last year we raised our GDP forecast for Germany from 0.8% to 1.0% on account of the steep downside correction on expectations for oil prices. We now expect German GDP growth to hit 1.4% in 2015. Reasons: Growth slightly exceeded expectations in Q4 2014; the oil price forecast for 2015 has been lowered again; and the euro has fallen more sharply against the US dollar than anticipated. Given this good outlook for the economy Germany's public budgets are likely to show a slight surplus again in 2015. Moreover, the current account surplus is set to jump to 8% of GDP. This suggests there will be further calls for Germany to use its fiscal room for manoeuvre to pursue a public investment programme. Also, international criticism of German economic policy is likely to grow louder. Further topics in this issue: German industrial output forecast upped to 1.5%, 10 "golden" rules for ifo, PMI and Co., The view from Berlin.
Germany's service sectors have shown themselves to be keener to invest than industry in recent years. The net fixed assets held by the service sectors grew by almost 28% in real terms between 1995 and 2012, although their growth rate has slowed over time. By contrast, the capital stock in the industrial sectors has shrunk by 1.6% in real terms. While, on the one hand, politicians in Germany have been expressing regret or even voicing criticism over the country's current lack of capital spending, on the other they have recently introduced measures (such as their policies on pensions and labour markets) that are hampering investment in Germany rather than stimulating it; this approach is inconsistent.
Following a weak winter half in 2014/15 the economy looks likely to regain its footing as 2015 progresses. However, sluggish performance at the turn of the year means growth will probably average only 1% in 2015 after 1.4% in 2014. It is encouraging, however, that private consumption should remain a major pillar of growth, whereas net exports are likely to have a neutral impact. Nonetheless, signs are increasing that some – in our opinion misguided – economic policy moves (such as the introduction of a nationwide minimum wage as well as an enhanced pensions package) are weighing on the labour market and thus on consumption. Given a weakening of cyclical activity and the costs of economic policy measures, we expect the general government budget to be slightly in deficit in 2015.