This confidence reading has been followed by a stabilisation and uptick in the German indicators like the IFO and Zew indexes, the GFK consumer confidence index, the February manufacturing and services purchasing managers indexes, and the performance in retail sales. All point more or less in the same direction. So what is causing this.
Well the German economy is certainly export and not domestic consumption lead, so perhaps our instincts should tell us that export performance would be the best place to look to try and get a handle on what has been happening, and it seems that if we do this our intuition will not fail us since according to provisional data from the Federal Statistical Office, a decisive improvement can be noted in January's export performance over the December one, and indeed January marks the first month of improvement after several months of weakening on the export front.
In fact in January Germany exported goods to the value of EUR 84.4 billion and imported goods to a value of EUR 67.3 billion. German exports were thus up 9% year on year and imports up 10.2% over January 2007. When allowing for calendar and seasonal factors, German exports increased by 3.8% and imports by 4.2% over December 2007.
What we can see in the above chart is that German exports staged something of a recovery in January. This recovery is consistent with data readings we have been getting on other fronts, like the IFO and ZEW indexes, and the manufacturing and services PMIs.
This is not by any means a 100% turn round for the German economy, but it does mean that a pretty effective short term brake has been applied to the downward movement in economic activity, and it now remains to be seen how this pans out over the next two to three months.
What we can see is that this rebound is unlikely to be permanent, but for the time being is cushioning the German economy to some extent.
Germany's foreign trade balance showed a surplus of EUR 17.1 billion in January 2008 up from the EUR 16.4 billion achieved in January 2007.
In January 2008 Germany exported EUR 54.3 billion of goods to EU Member States, while it received EUR 43.1 billion worth of imports from EU countries. Compared with January 2007, dispatches to and arrivals from the EU countries increased by 7.7% and 11.2%, respectively. Goods to the value of EUR 36.2 billion (+6.3%) went to euro area countries in January 2008, while imports from those countries were EUR 29.9 billion (+10.0%).
Goods to the value of EUR 18.1 billion (+10.5%) went to EU countries not belonging to the euro area in January 2008, while goods arriving from those countries had a value of EUR 13.2 billion (+13.9%).
Germany exported goods to the value of EUR 30.0 billion to and imported goods to the value of EUR 24.2 billion from countries outside the European Union (third countries) in January 2008. Compared with January 2007, exports to third countries were up by 11.5% and imports from those countries by 8.5%.
In 2007 Germany imported goods to a value of 772,511 million euros as compared with 733,994 million euros in 2006, an increase of 5.2%. In 2007 Germany exported goods to a value of 969,049 million euros as compared with 893,042 million euros in 2006, an increase of 8.5%. In 2007 the goods trade surplus was 196,538 million euros as compared with 159,048 million euros in 2006. This means there was an increase of 23.6% in the trade surplus between 2006 and 2007, and it is the trade surplus that to a large extent drives German GDP growth.
About three quarters of exports of goods “made in Germany” were shipped to European countries. 65% of all goods were delivered to the member states of the European Union. The second important sales market for German goods in 2007 was Asia with a share of about 11%, followed by America, with a share of approximately 10%. Africa and Australia / Oceania only accounted for small percentages of German exports (2% and 1%, respectively).
The majority of German imports also came from Europe (72%), followed by Asia (16%) and America (9%). Goods from Africa and Australia / Oceania played just a subordinate role in imports too (2% and 0.3%, respectively).
In 2007 – as in the year before –the top country of destination for German exports was France followed by the United States and the United Kingdom. Germany exported goods worth 93.9 billion euro to France (9.7% of total German exports), 73.4 billion euro to the United States (7.6%) and 71.0 billion euro to the United Kingdom (7.3%).
Most of the goods imported to Germany also originated from France. The countries ranking second and third were the Netherlands and China. Germany imported goods worth 64.9 billion euro from France (8.4% of total German imports), 64.3 billion euro from the Netherlands (8.3%) and 54.6 billion euro from China (7.1%).
Below you will find lists of German exports by countries for 2006 and 2007. Of interest are, for example, the numbers for China (up from 27,520.6 million euro in 2006 to 29,922.7 million euro in 2007, that is an incease of only 2,402.1 million Euro, or 8.7%) and the Czech Republic (up from 22,255.3 million euro in 2006 to 26,026.6 million euro in 2007, or an incease of 3,771.3 million Euro, about double the Chinese increase at 16.9%). The United States is down from 78,011.4 million euro in 2006 to 73,356.0 million euro in 2007, that is decrease of 4,655.4 million Euro or 6%. Poland is up from 28,820,4 million euro in 2006 to 36,083.2 million euro in 2007, that is an increase of 7,262.8 million Euro or 25.2%. Spain is up from 42,159.2 million euro in 2006 to 48,157.7 million euro in 2007, that is an increase of 5,998.5 million Euro or 14.2%. The Russian Fderation is up from 23,371.8 million euro in 2006 to 28,185.2 million euro in 2007, that is an increase of 4,813.4 million Euro or 20.6%.
Whole Year 2007 German Exports by Country in Million Euro
United States 73,356.0
United Kingdom 70,998.8
China, People's Republic of 29,922.7
Russian Federation 28,185.2
Czech Republik 26,026.6
Korea, Republic of 8,733.0
Whole Year 2006 German Exports by Country in Million Euro
United States 78,011.4
United Kingdom 65,340.5
China, People's Republic of 27,520.6
Russian Federation 23,371.8
Czech Republik 22,255.3
Korea, Republic of 8,476.2
It is now quite evident that some slight easing in the downward on the German growth process is now taking place, the recent data are too consistent to ignore on this front. The IFO reading was not as weak as might have been expected, the GFK consumer confidence reading remained stationary, unemployment continued to fall on a seasonally adjusted basis,and the January retail sales data and February PMI reading indicate an expansion in German retail sales for the first time in several months.
Of course how long this process will last, and how important the turnround will prove to be, is very hard to say at this point. Looking at the general economic environment I wouldn't be betting on any kind of very strong upswing, but the numbers are interesting, and I wouldn't be surprised at all to see the recovery in the January export situation being carried over into February. An Eastern Europe effect perhaps? Certainly several economies are still accelerating there, almost to overheating, and the strong growth rates in German exports to Poland, the Czech Republic and Russia are unmistakable signs of something.
We can see some slight consumption effect in provisional results released by the Federal Statistical Office turnover in the German retail trade for January, since sales were up by 2.7% in nominal terms and 0.6% in real terms over January 2007. When adjusted for calendar and seasonal variations the January turnover was in 1.9% higher in nominal terms and 1.6% in real terms over December.
Now this is not an earth shattering change, but it is significant. If we add to these results the latest reading on the Bloomberg retail sales purchasing managers index, which rose to 52.1 in Feb from 44.2 in Jan (according to data released yesterday by NTC economics), then obviously we can see that the sales climate has improved somewhat. In fact this was the first time in almost a year that German retailers anticipated that future sales performance would exceed plans, while the retail sales rose for the first time in five months. The last time the retail PMI registered an expansion was in September 2007.
As I say at the start of this post, it is very hard to decide how to read all of this, but I imagine everything will become clearer as the days pass.