This morning’s trade and production data end an almost all-German week in the Eurozone, in which macro-economic data have almost been overshadowed by the mass assaults in several bigger German cities on New Year’s Eve. While the latter could, in our view, mark a turning point in Chancellor Merkel’s handling of the refugee influx, macro data shows a two-speeded economy with strong domestic demand but rather sluggish insutrial and export activity.
Turning to this morning’s data, industrial production dropped in November by 0.3% MoM, adding to evidence that the Chinese and emerging market slowdowns are leaving their marks on the Eurozone’s largest economy. Moreover, these weak data add to concerns that hard data will not be able to catch up with optimistic sentiment indicators. On the year, industrial production remained unchanged. Looking at the details, bright spots were in the production of intermediate (+1.1% MoM) and consumer goods (+1.9% MoM). The construction sector benefitted from the mild weather in November and increased by 1.6% MoM. At the same time, exports increased by 0.4% MoM in November, while imports increased by 1.6% MoM. As a consequence, the trade balance narrowed to 20.6bn euro, from 22.5bn euro in October.
It is not easy to find a common theme for latest German data. While consumption remains solid, on the back of the strong labour market, low inflation and low interest rates, latest developments are still far from creating exuberance. At the same time, industrial production is treading water and the current slowdown is clearly more than only the result of a vacation-driven summer lull.
Looking ahead, ongoing uncertainties in China, a possible slowdown in the US economy and more generally the negative effects from record-low oil prices a quick rebound in industrial production is anything but certain. To the contrary, in our view, industrial activity should continue to remain sluggish this year. However, this does not necessarily have to be a problem. In fact, Germany seems to experience the same phenomenon as for example the US and Chinese economy: a shift from manufacturing towards services. In Germany, this has been illustrated by the Ifo index for individual sectors. While the manufacturing sector has been treading water throughout the year and weakened in recent months, the construction, retail and wholesale sectors have been driving the strong Ifo index performance in recent months. Another piece of evidence that the German economy is currently mainly driven by domestic factors. Moreover, the fact that the Ifo index for the service sector has recently climbed to its highest level since early 2005, provides further evidence for the decoupling of manufacturing and services.
As regards exports, German exporters are still benefitting from the weak euro. Particularly, exports to the US have benefitted from the sharp depreciation of the euro since 2014. As a consequence, the US has been Germany’s most important trading partner this year, taking this number one spot from France. In this regard, renewed fears of a Chinese hard landing should not push the German economy into severe problems. Germany currently exports almost twice as much to the US as to China. However, as it is not only the Chinese economy which is slowing down but also other emerging markets, while at the same time Eurozone peers are still struggling to gain momentum and oil-exporting countries are suffering from low energy prices, the German export sector could soon simply face too many headwinds to prolong the recent success story.
Next week, the German statistical office will continue its long tradition of releasing GDP data for the entire year without having any hard macro data for December. The latest batch of November data suggests a continuation of the recovery in the fourth quarter, albeit at a rather subdued pace. However, in the light of the latest market turmoil, continued concerns about the Chinese economy, extremely low oil prices and the absence of dynamic growth regions in the world economy, any shouts of joy about strong German growth should better remain humble.