After looking at the strength of the Euro yesterday it is an interesting counterpoint to look at an economy which would otherwise have a much stronger exchange rate. Whilst the Euro may be in a stronger phase and overall pretty much back to where it began in trade-weighted terms ( 99.26%) it is way lower than where a Deutsche Mark would be. For Germany the Euro has ended up providing quite a competitive advantage as who knows to what level it would have soared as we suspect it would have been as attractive as the Swiss Franc. Rather than an exchange rate of around 1.20 to the US Dollar the equivalent rate would no doubt have been somewhere north of 1.50.
That means that the German economic experience of the credit crunch has seen quite a monetary stimulus if we combine a lower than otherwise exchange rate with the negative interest rate of the ECB ( European Central Bank) and of course the Quantitative Easing purchases of German sovereign bonds. If we look at the latter directly then the purchase of 449 billion Euros of German government bonds must have contributed to the German government being able to borrow more cheaply as we note that the ten-year yield is only 0.46% and that Germany is actually paid to borrow out to the 6 year maturity. This is a factor in Germany running a small but consistent budget surplus in recent times and a national debt which is declining both in absolute terms and in relative terms as at the half-way point of 2017 it had fallen to 66% of annual economic output or GDP. So it may not be too long before it passes the Growth and Stability Pact rules albeit over 20 years late! But let us move on noting a combination of monetary expansionism and fiscal conservatism.
The Euro area
Unlike some of the countries we look at and Greece and Italy come to mind particularly the Euro era has been good for the German economy. It opened in 1999 with GDP of 87.7 ( 2010 = 100) which rose to a peak of 102.6 at the opening of 2008. Like so many countries there was a sharp fall ( 4.5% in the opening quarter of 2009) but the difference is that the economy then recovered strongly to 113.8 in the third quarter of last year. You can add on a bit for the last quarter of 2017 if you like. But the message here is that Germany has recovered pretty strongly from the effect of the credit crunch. Indeed once you start to allow for the fact that some of the economic output in 2008 was false in the sense that otherwise how did we have a bust? You could argue that it has done as well as it did before and maybe better in absolute terms although of course that depends on where you count from. In relative terms the doubt disappears.
Yesterday’s Markit PMI business survey could hardly have been much more bullish.
“2017 was a record-breaking year for the German
manufacturing sector: the PMI posted an all-time
high in December, and the current 37-month
sequence of improving business conditions
surpassed the previous record set in the run up to
the financial crisis.
Although there was an ominous tone to the latter part don’t you think?! We have also learnt to be nervous about economic all-time highs. Moving back to the report we see that the German trade surplus seems set to increase further if this is any guide.
Notably, the level of new business received from abroad
rose at the joint-fastest rate in the survey history,
with anecdotal evidence highlighting Asia, the US
and fellow European countries as strong sources of
new orders for German manufacturers.
This morning we saw official data on something that has proved fairly reliable as a leading indicator in the credit crunch era. From Destatis.
In November 2017, roughly 44.7 million persons resident in Germany were in employment according to provisional calculations of the Federal Statistical Office (Destatis). Compared with November 2016, the number of persons in employment increased by 617,000 or 1.4%.
The rise in employment has been pretty consistent over the past year signalling a “steady as she goes” rate of economic growth. It has also led to a further fall in unemployment which is also welcome.
Adjusted for seasonal and irregular effects, the number of unemployed stood at 1.57 million. It was down by roughly 14,000 people on the previous month. The adjusted unemployment rate was 3.6% in November 2017.
Much better than the Euro area average and better than the UK and US but not Japan which is the leader of this particular pack.
The next issue is to look at wage growth which as we see so often these days seems to be stuck somewhere around 2% per annum even in countries recording a good economic performance. We have seen plenty of reports of wage growth picking up and maybe you could make a case for it rising from 2% to 2.9% over the past year or so but the catch comes if we look back a quarter as it was 2.9% then!
So real wage growth has been solid for these times in Germany since the opening of 2014 but the truth is that it has been driven by lower inflation rather than any trend to higher wages. In what we consider to be the first world wage growth these days seems to be singing along with Bob Seeger and his Silver Bullet Band.
You’re still the same
Moving game to game
Some things never change
You’re still the same
We therefore find ourselves in another quandary for economics 101 which is that economic improvement no longer seems to be accompanied by any meaningful increase in wage growth. A paradigm shift so far anyway. The official data is only up to the half-way point of last year but according to the Bundesbank “Wage growth remained moderate in the third quarter of 2017” so a good 2017 was accompanied by lower real wage growth as far as we know and this from last week will hardly help.
The inflation rate in Germany as measured by the consumer price index is expected to be 1.7% in December 2017. Compared with November 2017, consumer prices are expected to increase by 0.6%. Based on the results available so far, the Federal Statistical Office (Destatis) also reports that, on an annual average, the inflation rate is expected to stand at 1.8% in 2017.
On this road expansionary monetary policy has a contractionary consequence via its impact on real wages and inflation targets should be lowered. Meanwhile it will be party time at the Bundesbank towers as this is quite close to the perfect level of inflation or just below 2%.
Let us welcome the economic good news from 2017 and the apparent immediate prospects for 2018. We can throw in that the Euro era has turned out to be good for Germany overall as the lower exchange rate cushioned the effect of the credit crunch and helped it continue this.
The foreign trade balance showed a surplus of 18.9 billion euros in October 2017. In October 2016, the surplus amounted to 18.8 billion euros.
For everyone else there are two problems here. Whilst there are gains from Germany being efficient and producing products which are in worldwide demand a persistent surplus of this kind does drain demand from other countries especially if helped by an exchange rate depreciation of the sort provided by Euro area membership. It was one of the imbalances which fed into the credit crunch and which the establishment told us needed dealing with urgently. So urgent in fact that nothing has happened.
So it looks like Germany will have a good opening to 2017 and first half to the year. But that is as far as we can reasonably see these days and is an answer to those on social media who asked why I did not join the annual forecasts published ( for the UK as it happens) yesterday. If there is to be a cloud in the silver lining then it seems set to come from this.
In the third quarter of 2017, the perceptible expansion
in the broad monetary aggregate M3
continued; the annual growth rate at the end
of the quarter came to 5.1%, remaining at the
level observed over the last two and a half
years ( Bundesbank )
The old rules of thumb may not apply but where is the inflation suggested? Also there is this.
Consumer credit likewise continued to expand
substantially during the period under review,
with its annual growth rate climbing to 6.7%
by the end of September
Those are Euro area figures and the consumer credit growth seems light weight compared to the UK but that is perhaps only because we are an extreme. Moving onto German data there is some specific which seems rather Anglicised.
Once again, loans for house purchase were a
decisive driver of growth in lending to households.
However, their quarterly net increase has
already been relatively constant for several
quarters, meaning that at 3.9%, their annual
growth rate remained unchanged on the year.
The old theories of overheating risks cannot be fully applied because so far at least the wages element has disappeared but that does not mean that some of the other parts have done so. After all procyclical monetary policy usually ends in tears for someone.
With the caveats expressed above this does make one stop and think.