Monday, October 27, 2014

Downward slide continues

Downward slide continues. German business confidence dropped for the sixth month in a row in October, illustrating the Eurozone’s biggest economy has reached a dangerous stage between soft spell and longer-lasting almost-stagnation. Germany's most prominent leading indicator, the Ifo index, just decreased to 103.2, from 104.7 in September. Both the current assessment and the expectation component slowed down. Particularly the weaker expectation component, which dropped to its lowest level since December 2012, is a reason for further caution. Latest soft data has rather increased than decreased the degree of diffusion, maybe even confusion. While last week’s PMI and consumer confidence indicator had given hope that the economy would slowly recover from the psychological shock waves from the summer, today’s Ifo index is less encouraging. Trying to get some grip on the current state of the economy requires a lot of instinctive feel. At the current juncture, it is still hard to tell whether solid domestic demand can offset weaker industrial activity; and if for how long. While the strong labour market and low interest rates are supporting private consumption and the construction sector, the export-oriented industry is still going through a dry spell. However, the latest reductions in backlogs and optimism stemming from new Chinese bulk orders show that the risk of drying-up is still relatively small. Looking ahead, Germany’s export industry will face several opposing trends in the next months: on the negative side, with France and Italy stagnating, demand from the Eurozone should remain weak. On the positive side, however, the strong US recovery and renewed demand from China bode well for exports. In our view, the German economy is neither near the abyss, nor close to a period of self-complacent honky-dory. It is in a longer-lasting transition period from the end of the positive reform cycle to the challenges an ageing economy is facing. Even if it is does not make sense to use single economic data as a barometer on whether or not the government will decide on growth-enhancing measures, the general need for more domestic investment in Germany remains. Last week’s European Summit, which took place off markets’ radar screens due to the stress test excitement, did not provide any further guidance. While statements in the final summit conclusions like “…the urgency of the prompt implementation of measures to boost jobs, growth, competitiveness…” sounded promising to those hoping for additional fiscal stimulus, the Germanic sentence “structural reforms and sound public finances are key conditions for investment” underlined that the face-off between Germany and the rest of Europe on how to revive the Eurozone economy is far from being solved. In the short run, lower energy prices and the weaker euro exchange rate are already a small stimulus package for the German economy. However, it is a package which will rather delay than advance new structural reforms.

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