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The German government has invited interested parties to a National IT Summit. High-ranking figures from the political, business and academic arenas will meet to tackle the following assignment: “Working and living with digital change – together.innovative.self-determined”. At the summit specific tasks are to be designated in order to boost Germany's capabilities in the area of information and communication technologies. The issues of broadband expansion and Industry 4.0 are pivotal to this assignment. Bold ideas and commitment are urgently required, but not intervention in competition taken for the sake of appearances. The objective is that decisive progress is made with digitalisation in Germany away from the summit limelight as well.
The opportunities provided by digital structural change are being talked up heavily, and the shape they will take over the long term can only be guessed at. Today, everyone can participate interactively in digital spaces as long as they have access to the internet. Flexible and varied relationships are formed between people and their diverse identities in the online and offline worlds. Experimental forms of participation and collaboration will become more important in the medium term, which will continually influence the value creation process in many firms. Digitalisation is thus changing our social and economic lives as well as the way that we interact with one another and how we (have to learn to) handle (personal) data in future.
The recent positive surprises provided by real economic indicators have for now banished concerns that Germany might slide into recession in Q3. However, the ongoing geopolitical risks and the question marks hanging over the expected cyclical upturn will probably lead to weaker growth in exports and company investment. That is why we have scaled back our growth forecast for the winter half-year 2014/2015. Thus, we have lowered our forecast from 1.8% to 1.5%. In our current issue we also address Germany’s fiscal position, we analyse the consequences of potential Russian gas supply disruptions and we take a look at the investment behaviour of German households.
At a time when there are increasing voices demanding a more flexible interpretation of the Maastricht deficit rules, German Minister of Finance Wolfgang Schäuble has presented his budget plan, which does without any new federal debt between 2015 and 2018. This comes much to the chagrin of France, where his colleague Michel Sapin has been forced to admit that this year’s deficit will be at least 4.3% of GDP and that meeting the 3% target needs to be postponed for the third time until 2017 at the earliest.
German GDP only 1 ½% in 2014, considerable risks for 2015. We have scaled back our GDP forecast for 2014 from 1.8% to 1 ½%, as we now expect weaker growth in H2. This also reduces our forecast for 2015 from 2.0% to 1.8%. The risks that this still constitutes an overly optimistic forecast have increased significantly. The German investment cycle will likely be more subdued than expected due to the ongoing weakness of world trade and increasing geopolitical strains. Even the hitherto still robust private consumption is emitting its first warning signs.
The opening of the rail transport market has helped to significantly boost the share of non-federally owned railways in regional passenger transport (2013: 26.4%) and freight transport (33.2%). Performance in these two segments has increased in recent years, too. The factors necessary to enable a continuation of this trend are higher investment in rail infrastructure and dependably predictable grants for regional transport.
Besides transport and energy infrastructure, communications infrastructure is steadily gaining in importance in the regional competition to attract investment. One source of concern in particular though is the significant gulf in investment both between west German and east German federal states as well as between urban and rural regions. This is compounded by the problem that there is usually no viable business model for projects in rural areas without government subsidies. As there is no such thing as a standard blueprint for the broadband rollout with its huge investment requirements, every single project with its specific local features needs to undergo a critical economic feasibility analysis. On this basis, efforts should be taken to work out the best rollout model in terms of technology, funding and time horizon, respectively. In essence, the broadband rollout in Germany requires more government stimuli to foster private investment, but these efforts need to be coordinated and based on sound judgement.
Following the disappointing performance of German industry in Q2 2014, we have revised our production forecast for the year 2014 from +4% to +2.5%. Despite the current geopolitical risks we see no general change in the trend but rather a temporary dip. In the chemicals industry, mechanical engineering and the metal industry we have corrected our forecast downwards – in some cases markedly.
People say that life is easier for optimists. However, this has not held true for forecasters of German economic growth for quite a while now. The good start into the year (Q1: +0.8 qoq) and the upbeat business and consumer sentiment back then had induced us in June to boost our full-year forecast from 1.5% to 1.8%. Nonetheless, we didn't relinquish our place at the lower end of the consensus, which in the meantime had climbed to 2%. If only we had kept our mouths shut!