Advertisement

Storm clouds gather over Germany

The indicators suggest Germany could be facing years of steady decline.

Germany's economy has been trumpeted as a new Wirtschaftswunder, or economic miracle, in recent years. So analysts have been hoping that Germany can lift the rest of the eurozone out of the mire.

Forget it, says John Hulsman of the John C Hulsman global political risk consultancy. There is a "strong case that not only can Berlin not save the rest of the continent, it will be hard-pressed to save itself".

Advertisement - Article continues below

For starters, "the German economy has passed its peak for now", says Thomas Gitzel of VB Bank.

In the past decade, over half of Germany's growth has come from exports. But Germany's main export market, the eurozone, is stagnating and the Ukraine crisis has fuelled fears of a trade war. So it's hard to see much momentum developing in exports.

Long-term prospects are weak

The population, and hence the work force, is set to shrink. In 2060, Germanyis expected to have a population of64 million, from 80 million in 2020. The working-age population will fall by more than 10% between 2015 and 2030.

Advertisement
Advertisement - Article continues below

The upshot? According to the OECD, a rich country think tank, potential annual economic growth will fall to below 1% within the next decade.

There are two main drivers of economic output: the size of the workforce, and its productivity. To make up for the demographic drag, Germany will have to give its productivity a massive boost. Unfortunately, it shows no sign of doing so. Instead, recent moves have been in the opposite direction.

Advertisement - Article continues below

One way to boost productivity, as The Economist points out, is to raise investment in human and physical capital. But spending on education in Germany is lower than in other developed countries, and it is starting to show. Employers are now reporting skills shortages across a range of industries.

Meanwhile, overall investment has actually fallen from21.5% of GDP to 17.2% since 2000. "The government is not only investingtoo little in infrastructure, but also spending too little on maintenance." Businesses have reined in spending too.

One reason for this is that energy costs have risen steeply of late. German industrial power costs are 19% above the European Union average and have climbed by 60% since 2007, compared to increases of about 10% in the US and China, says Bjrn Lomborg of the Copenhagen Consensus Centre in the Financial Times. Germany abandoned nuclear power in 2011 and is trying to ensure that renewables fill the gap.

Advertisement - Article continues below

But the huge subsidies required have raised bills for households and businesses as the state attempts to recoup some ofthe cost. It's extremely bad news for industry's competitiveness.

Heading for the iceberg

For instance, notesThe Economist, prices for the services of architects and building engineers are regulated, "a restrictive arrangement unique to Germany within the EU".

But instead of tackling these issues, the government has actually undone previous reforms that bolstered competitiveness. The pension age, raised to 67 in the mid-2000s, has been lowered to 63 for those in work for 45 years. So state spending will increase.

A relatively high national minimum wage, as opposed to sector-wide deals hammered out between unions and employers, is likely to stifle job growth.A clampdown on temporary workers is also looming. All these backward steps have also discouraged investment.

Add all this up, and Germany today resembles the Titanic, says Eric Schweitzer, the president of Germany's Chambers of Commerce and Industry. "Everyone is partying and no one sees the threat of the looming iceberg."

Advertisement
Advertisement

Recommended

Quiz of the week 4 – 10 July
Global Economy

Quiz of the week 4 – 10 July

Test your recollection of the events of the last seven days with MoneyWeek's quiz of the week.
10 Jul 2020
What next for the world economy?
Global Economy

What next for the world economy?

Major global economies have been recovering from lockdowns more quickly than expected, but are we poised for a “V”, “U” or “W-shaped” recovery?
10 Jul 2020
What gold, bonds and tech stocks have in common
Stockmarkets

What gold, bonds and tech stocks have in common

"Risk off" or "safe haven" assets such as gold and government bonds have been doing well lately. But so have riskier tech stocks. That seems to defy c…
10 Jul 2020
Melbourne locks down as Covid-19 returns to Australia
Global Economy

Melbourne locks down as Covid-19 returns to Australia

A new coronavirus flare-up in Melbourne has forced Australia's second-biggest city into a six-week lockdown. 
9 Jul 2020

Most Popular

Can Rishi Sunak save the economy with stamp duty cuts and half-price meal deals?
UK Economy

Can Rishi Sunak save the economy with stamp duty cuts and half-price meal deals?

John Stepek runs his eye over the chancellor's £30bn stimulus package and asks if it's enough to get the economy back on its feet after months of lock…
9 Jul 2020
An economics lesson from my barber
Inflation

An economics lesson from my barber

On reopening his shop after lockdown, Dominic Frisby’s barber doubled his prices. It’s all part of the post-Covid inflation process – and we’re going …
8 Jul 2020
What gold, bonds and tech stocks have in common
Stockmarkets

What gold, bonds and tech stocks have in common

"Risk off" or "safe haven" assets such as gold and government bonds have been doing well lately. But so have riskier tech stocks. That seems to defy c…
10 Jul 2020