Thursday, February 12, 2015

Merkel, growth, Greece and TGEFKAT

The German economy ended a volatile year on a very strong note. According to the statistical office’s first official estimate, the economy grew by 0.7 % QoQ in the final quarter of 2014. This is more than the first estimate for the annual growth number had suggested. Compared with the last quarter of 2013, the economy grew by 1.6%. Details of 4Q GDP will only be published at the end of the month but available monthly indicators and the statistical office’s statement suggest that domestic demand was the main growth driver. A clear sign that lower oil prices have found their way into consumers’ pockets. Looking ahead, the German economy looks set to continue surfing on a wave of economic well-being. With the strong labour market, wage increases, low energy prices and extremely low interest rates, consumers should continue to spend it. At the same time, the weak euro will definitely benefit German exports, letting them return as a growth engine. With a statistical overhang of 0.5%, less public holidays and the external stimulus package our current GDP growth forecast of 1.5% for 2015 looks almost pessimistic. The big unknown for 2015 remains domestic investment. While low interest rates and comfortable liquidity positions of many corporates should normally bode well for investment, uncertainty about the future of the Eurozone and continued geopolitical tensions could still dampen investment growth in 2015. While the German economy is doing what it is supposed to do (ie growing), the German government can concentrate on the conflict with Greece. After the disappointing Eurogroup meeting, hopes on a compromise had received a clear hit. However, yesterday evening at the European leaders’ meeting in Brussels, comments from German chancellor Merkel surprisingly opened the door for Greece. Merkel signaled German willingness to compromise, stressing the importance of rules and being a reliable partner in Europe. Combined with German media reports and official statements, the German government could eventually become flexible on the primary surplus target for Greece and conditions of the planned privatisiation. However, red lines the German government is not willing to cross are clearly debt forgiveness, supervision and credible commitments. This means that Greece would have to swallow some bitter pills like an extension of the current bailout programme and cooperation with the Troika. In this context, it does not surprise that German media yesterday night reported that a group of experts from the three institutions formerly known as The Troika will investigate possible overlaps between the current bailout programme and the wishlist of the new Greek government in the coming days. Whether Merkel’s comments are really a substantial change in the Eurozone’s negotiation chaos and an invitation to compromise or just a precautionary measure so that she cannot be blamed if things go completely wrong, remains to be seen. One thing is at least for sure: with Merkel’s moves, the pressure is now on Greece.

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