Now it’s confirmed. The German economy ended the year with a decent growth performance in the final quarter. Despite increasing external headwinds, the German economy grew by 0.3%. This is slightly less than the first estimate for the annual growth number had suggested and probably the result of an entire batch of disappointing hard December data. Compared with the last quarter of 2014, the economy grew by 2.1%. Working-day adjusted, 4Q growth was 1.3% YoY. 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. Government consumption, a bit of private consumption and another surge in the construction sector supported growth, while at the same time net exports were a drag on growth.
Without any doubt, the performance of the German economy since 2009 has been impressive. In 27 quarters, the economy only shrank three times. Moreover, over this period, the economy moved from a purely export-driven model towards a much more balanced model with domestic factors currently shielding the economy against external headwinds. Sadly, as impressive this well-known growth story might be, against the background of latest financial market turmoil, today’s German GDP data almost look like a relict of the good old days. They will do little to nothing to calm markets.
Looking ahead, the year 2016 could be more challenging for the German economy than many had expected. Not only due to the refugee crisis and increasing political uncertainty but mainly due to increasing external headwinds. On top of the well-known risk factor like slowing China and emerging markets or a still struggling Eurozone, low oil prices and the possible weakness of the US economy could give the German economy a hard time. In particular, any slowdown of the US economy could turn out to be a double whammy for Germany. The direct impact through weaker demand from last year’s most important trading partner and the indirect impact through a stronger euro are in our view currently the biggest risks for the German economy.
To some extent, there are similarities between Germany’s showcase soccer team Bayern Munich and the Eurozone’s showcase economy. At first glance, both performances look impressive and flawless. At second glance, however, weaknesses have emerged recently. These weaknesses have clearly increased the risk for both Bayern Munich and the German economy to surprisingly be knocked off their respective pedestals in the coming weeks and months.