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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.
Major trade events such as the upcoming CES for consumer technology and also the recently held Medica for healthcare are the showcases for augmented reality products available in the near future: dental implants that enable deaf people to hear; electronic gloves that convert sign language into text and smart glasses that display information about what or who is facing the wearer. These innovations are highly attractive, but also stoke fears – especially about potential privacy infringements. These fears definitely need to be taken seriously. They should not, however, be allowed to completely overshadow the potential of the myriad business and social opportunities that extend far beyond cutting costs and minimising the risks associated with particularly critical activities.
China-Europe relations are increasingly being shaped by the expanding bilateral exchange between China and Germany, its largest trading partner in the EU. Germany accounted for 45% of EU exports to China and 28% of EU imports from China in 2013. In the first nine months of 2014, EUR 114 bn worth of goods were shipped between the two countries, up 8% from the same period in 2013. Building on these well-established trade ties, China and Germany are now embarking on a concerted push to strengthen investment relations in sync with a surge in Chinese M&A activity into Germany.
Germany is constantly being accused of investing too little. Critics say this hurts Germany itself as well as other countries. This assertion enjoys broad support among (high-profile) economic researchers, international institutions such as the IMF and many lobbyists from the German business community. They see the extra public investment requirements running to 3% of GDP (per year!), with the going buzzword being the "investment gap". The government, in particular, has been called upon to significantly boost its investments in infrastructure. Even the disappointing GDP figures and lowered growth expectations of the past few months are now also being used to justify demands for a rapid increase in (public) investment. Hopes of growth stimuli for the neighbouring countries of Europe are playing a key role in many of these demands – especially at the high end of the demand scale.