German economy gathering steam


FRANKFURT: The German economy, the powerhouse in Europe, is picking up new steam and is set to gather speed later in the year after a weak start, data indicated on Friday.
Consumers have the confidence to spend and business sentiment is rising.

Final data published by the federal statistics office Destatis showed that Germany’s gross domestic product (GDP) notched up an anemic growth of 0.1 percent from January to March, with only consumer spending in positive territory.

But both consumer and business confidence are on the rise, fueling hopes that activity will pick up speed in the coming months, analysts said.

The growth data, although weak, mean that the Ger­man economy has successfully skirted a recession following a sharp contraction of 0.7 percent in the previous quarter, since a recession is technically defined as two quarters running of economic contraction.

But a breakdown of the figures appeared to offer little cheer, since among the different GDP components only private consumer spending was positive, growing by 0.8 percent.

Public-sector spending slipped by 0.1 percent, investment tumbled 2.4 percent, imports were down 2.1 percent, and exports contracted by 1.8 percent, the statisticians calculated.

Destatis blamed the unexpectedly weak start to the year to the “extreme winter weather conditions.”

Nevertheless, the government, economic think-tanks and analysts are all convinced the economy will start picking up speed soon.

Two new key confidence surveys also published on Friday fed such optimism.

German business confidence rose unexpectedly in May, with the Ifo economic institute’s closely watched business climate index rising to 105.7 points in May from 104.4 points in April.

And on the consumer front, too, German households are not allowing forecasts of a eurozone-wide recession sour their optimism, and the GfK institute said that its monthly consumer confidence index is forecast to rise to 6.5 points in June from 6.2 points in May.

That would be its highest level since September 2007.

“Firms are clearly more satisfied with their current business situation than in the previous month. The outlook for future business is unchanged and slightly positive,” said Ifo economist Kai Carstensen.

“The German economy remains on track in a challenging European environment,” he insisted.

Overly optimistic
GfK attributed the robustness of consumer confidence to “the favorable and stable framework conditions in Germany. The high level of employment, favorable wage agreements and slowing inflation are buoying sentiment.”

“Germany’s consumers are riding to the rescue,” said Berenberg Bank economist Christian Schulz.

“With the euro crisis fading from the headlines, strong fundamentals such as low unemployment, rising wages and low inflation are starting to have their ‘normal’ effect. And more growth is in store,” he said.

“In 2013, Germany will have to rely largely on domestic demand for growth,” Schulz added.

Capital Economics economist Jennifer McKeown said that the renewed rise in the Ifo index and the increase in the GfK barometer “will add to hopes that the economy is recovering.”

But she believed the Ifo index “has long painted an overly optimistic picture of the German economy.”

“We still expect only a modest pick-up in German GDP growth, which will not be strong
enough to ensure a recovery in the euro­zone as a whole,” McKeown added.

Newedge Strategy analyst Annalisa Piazza said that the Ifo reading “suggests that activity in Germany is not going to collapse in the coming months.”

However, “we struggle to see further sharp momentum materialising,” she cautioned.

Schulz at Berenberg Bank warned that the outlook for German exports would “likely remain clouded for a while, but as the US economic recovery gathers strength and the eurozone is stabilizing, the outlook should be improving for German exporters, too, despite tough competition from Japan.”

IHS Global Insight economist Timo Klein said that he is predicting full-year GDP growth of 0.6 percent in 2013 and 1.5 percent in 2014, warning that the debt crisis “remains a restraining factor due to lingering uncertainty.”



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