26 Sep The Economic Situation in the Federal Republic of Germany in August 2018
Despite external economic uncertainties, the German economy is proving to be robust. The expansion is continuing at a slightly faster rate in the wake of a stimulus from the domestic economy and higher investment activity in the second quarter.
Output in the goods-producing sector was higher in the second quarter than in the preceding three months. New orders in the manufacturing sector did decline, but the level of orders on the books remains very high. The construction industry is booming.
Employment, incomes and consumer demand are continuing to trend upwards. Sentiment in the retail sector is good, but expectations have been significantly corrected.
The level of gainful activity is increasing across much of the economy. Unemployment is trending further downwards. The need to boost structurally weak areas and to cut long-term unemployment continues to present challenges.
The German economy accelerated somewhat in the second quarter. Price-adjusted GDP grew by 0.5% over the previous quarter. Growth in economic activity in the first quarter has been revised slightly upwards, to 0.4%. The upswing is therefore continuing. Despite the external economic uncertainties, its rate of expansion is only slightly lower than in 2017. The global increase in uncertainty is affecting demand for German exports and the propensity of domestic companies to invest. However, significant domestic upward forces are continuing to have an impact. Employment, income and private and public-sector consumer demand are rising. The service economy, which is largely oriented to the domestic market, is going well, as is reflected in the rise in employment. The construction industry is going full steam ahead, and the industrial sector is cautiously expanding its production, despite the current dip in new orders. However, the risks remain high, especially in the external economic environment. This is also reflected in the ifo business climate index for the economy in general. Whilst the assessment of the current situation in the German economy continues to be well above average, business expectations are now only in line with the long-term average.
The upswing in the global economy is likely to have been somewhat slower in the second quarter as well. This is demonstrated by indicators for global trade and industrial production. With differing developments in the emerging markets, the slowdown in the global economy is mainly due to lower growth in the developed economies. The IHS Markit Global Composite PMI dropped in July for the third month in succession, and the ifo index on the global economic climate deteriorated for the third quarter of 2018. In June, the OECD Composite Leading Indicator for the OECD countries, which is intended to indicate economic turning points, continued its downward trend that began at the end of last year. Nevertheless, according to its latest projection (from May), the OECD expects global GDP to increase by 3.8% in 2018 and by 3.9% in 2019.
German exports of goods and services suffered somewhat at the beginning of the year from the less dynamic external economic environment. In June, exports fell slightly, by 0.3% in seasonally adjusted terms and in current prices. However, following the stagnation in the first quarter, they saw a nominal increase of 1.4% in the second quarter, although the price-adjusted rise was probably smaller. ifo export expectations remain low, as companies await further developments, and do not yet point to a clear pick-up in exports. In contrast, nominal imports of goods and services have been rising since March. In June, they expanded by 0.9% in seasonally adjusted terms, and by 2.8% in the second quarter as a whole, increasing more quickly than exports.
In the goods-producing sector, the stagnation in the first quarter was followed by increases in output in the second quarter. Industrial output did drop by 0.9% in June, but rose by 0.3% in the second quarter as a whole. Construction output was flat in the first quarter, but expanded very sharply in the second quarter, by 1.6%. The indicators suggest that the upward trend in the construction sector will continue. New orders in the manufacturing sector followed up on a tangible rise of 2.6% in May with a sharp fall of 4.0% in June. The figure for the quarter as a whole was thus a clear drop in orders of 1.6%. While the number of orders from the non-eurozone rose by 1.0%, domestic orders and orders from the eurozone fell by 2.0% and 4.9% respectively. The manufacturing industry in Germany still has a very good order backlog; as of May, the range was 5.6 months. According to the ifo Business Climate Survey, the business climate in the manufacturing sector has continued to deteriorate, but is still well above the long-term average. The trend in industrial activity should therefore continue to point upwards in the coming months, but at a moderate pace.
Private-sector consumer spending has picked up speed again this year following a slowdown in the second half of 2017. The real available incomes of private households rose very clearly in seasonally adjusted terms in the first quarter. The latest figures show a decent rise in wages. In July, collectively agreed wages were 2.4% higher in year-on-year terms. If one also considers the ongoing good development in employment, consumer spending is likely to remain a key pillar of the economy in the second quarter. Other indicators of consumer spending are also largely positive. Retail sales rose by 0.9% in the second quarter. The number of new car registrations was up by more than 16% in year-on-year terms in July. Whilst the ifo Business Climate Index shows a decline in expectations in the retail sector in July, the assessment of the current situation stabilised. Consumer sentiment remained at a constantly high level.
The labour market is continuing to develop favourably. In June, seasonally adjusted employment increased by 28,000 persons; employment growth was 1.3% for the year as a whole. In May, the rise in jobs subject to social security contributions matched the average rise seen in the preceding four months, at 43,000 people. The leading indicators are pointing to ongoing strong demand from companies for labour, and a further rise in employment. The seasonally adjusted number of unemployed fell slightly in July, by 6,000 persons, and rose slightly to 2.32 million at the beginning of the summer holidays (unadjusted figure). The gradual reduction in unemployment should continue. Tackling long-term unemployment and boosting the economic potential of structurally weak regions remain long-term challenges.
A detailed report and commentary on the overall situation and trends in the German economy will be published in the September edition of the monthly report, Schlaglichter der Wirtschaftspolitik (“Economic policy highlights”, in German only). This report is expected to be available on the website of the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy in the course of the 35th calendar week of 2018.