Germany

Michael Steen

Small change

Search the pockets, wallets, purses, car cigarette ashtrays and homes of anyone in (almost) any eurozone country and you are likely to find significant heaps of small, brown iron-and-copper 1 and 2 euro cent coins.

They cost more to make than they are worth, there’s precious little you can buy with them (though the German post office does sell a €0.03 stamp) and they tend to accumulate in drawers and on flat surfaces at an alarming rate. So, one might reasonably ask, why not just get rid of them? Read more

Welcome to a live blog of Mario Draghi’s press conference from ECB HQ in Frankfurt. With rates held and Mr Draghi already having worried investors with his remarks on Wednesday about a slowing German economy, attention will be on what more the bank’s president has to say about the main driver of Eurozone growth. Brought to you by Ben Fenton and Ben Hall.

 

14.47: That’s it for this live blog, but….

…the last word goes to the FT’s Frankfurt bureau chief Michael Steen (well it is his city and his newspaper). His view of the most interesting line from the Draghi press conference:

“Pressed on ways ECB might ease Greek funding problems, Draghi said the bank already agreed to send back any profits it made from Greek bond holdings to the central bank in Athens which could then be transferred to government. The ECB was “by and large done” helping Greece within its mandate he said.”

14.45: Here is an instant reaction from Howard Archer, chief UK & European economist at IHS Global Insight:

ECB President Mario Draghi appeared to ease open the door to a cut in interest rates over the coming months and potentially as soon as December. Potentially significantly when asked whether the ECB had discussed an interest rate cut at their November meeting, Mr. Draghi commented that “we always discuss all instruments.” This contrasted to his comments after both the September and the ECB meetings, when Mr. Draghi said that the ECB had not discussed cutting interest rates. Mr. Draghi also commented that the ECB stands ready to act on standard monetary policy as well as on non-standard policy. Interestingly, though Mr. Draghi indicated that the ECB had not discussed negative deposit rates (they were cut to zero in August).

Furthermore, Mr. Draghi acknowledged that the Eurozone growth situation and outlook had weakened recently, and hinted that the ECB’s GDP growth staff projections would be revised down in their December forecasts. The ECB’s statement observed that “most recent survey evidence for the economy as a whole, extending into the fourth quarter, does not signal improvements towards the end of the year.” Furthermore, the ECB considered that “growth momentum is expected to remain weak” in 2013, largely due to the need of balance sheet adjustments in both the financial and non-financial sectors, an uneven global recovery and high uncertainty. Mr. Draghi has also expressed concern recently over very high and rising Eurozone unemployment. Reinforcing this downbeat assessment of Eurozone growth prospects, the ECB statement observed that “the risks surrounding the economic outlook for the euro area remain on the downside.”

Meanwhile, the ECB’s view on inflation does not appear to preclude an interest rate cut in the near term. While the ECB expects Eurozone consumer price inflation to remain above 2.0% and at elevated levels for the remainder of 2012, the bank sees inflation “declining to below 2.0% again in the course of next year”. The ECB regards long-term inflation expectations as “well-anchored” and believes that underlying price pressures should remain moderate, with the result that current levels of inflation should be “transitory”.

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Claire Jones

Seldom are statements of the obvious as significant as the Bundesbank’s comments yesterday that Germany might well have to tolerate higher inflation than the rest of the eurozone in the coming years.

Jens Weidmann often cites the EC Treaty’s prohibition of monetary financing as an argument against stepping up the European Central Bank’s purchases of government debt.  It would be hypocritical for the Bundesbank president to argue against what is also implicit in the legislation that governs the ECB: that the governing council sets monetary policy for the eurozone as a whole, not individual member states.

Above-target inflation is the natural result of Germany’s position as the bloc’s strongest economy at a time when the divergences between member states’ fortunes are becoming more and more pronounced.

Still, from a central bank more aware than most of the social and economic carnage that accompanies the debasement of currencies, the Bundesbank’s acceptance that higher inflation is a price that it must pay as part of its commitment to monetary union is to be welcomed. Read more

Ralph Atkins

Were Germany’s second quarter growth figures “too bad to be true”? GDP rose by a mere 0.1 per cent compared with the previous quarter, the country’s statistical office has just confirmed. When the first estimates were released in August, the figures had a large shock factor and contributed to the escalating eurozone gloom.

But details suggest the country’s reaction to the Japanese earthquake and nuclear crisis in March explained much of the slowdown. Read more

Ralph Atkins

Maybe the eurozone debt crisis has had an unexpected, beneficial side-effect – getting the Germans to go shopping? German consumers’ propensity to spend saw a surprise rise this month, according to GfK, the Nuremberg-based research organisation. At 36.2 points, its “willingness to buy” indicator is at the highest since February and way above its long-term average.

The escalating debt crisis could provide an explanation, GfK argued. “Many Germans fear for the stability of their currency and are therefore more likely to spend their money on high-value purchases than to save for a rainy day,” it noted. If so, this would be good news for the rest of Europe, helping boost domestic demand at a time when economic growth is stalling. Read more

Ralph Atkins

Shock news in the Bundesbank’s latest monthly bulletin: German house prices have gone up. The more-or-less flat profile of residential property prices over the past decade has been one of the defining features of Europe’s largest economy over the past year. It meant the country escaped a house price bubble, the downside of which is now being seen in the US, UK and, within the eurozone, in Spain and Portugal. (Instead German investors piled into US subprime mortgages – but that’s another story.) Read more

Ralph Atkins

Waiting for a German consumer boom is like… contributions welcome for the most appropriate metaphor. Whatever the comparison, it is not happening yet. Disappointingly for those hoping for a re-balancing, details just released of last week’s fourth quarter gross domestic product data show German growth continued to be driven mainly by exports.

The balance between exports and imports contributed 0.7 percentage points to growth in the fourth quarter. This was offset by a sharp, weather-related fall in construction and a run-down in stocks.

Despite steadily falling unemployment, low interest rates and soaring economic confidence in Europe’s largest economy, consumer spending rose by a measly 0.2 per cent compared with the previous three months, down from 0.5 per cent in the third quarter.  Read more

Ralph Atkins

German consumer optimism has brightened further. The GfK research organisation in Nuremberg estimates its “consumer climate” index will rise again in February, reaching a level last seen in the second half of 2007 – before the global financial crisis took its toll. Germans’ “propensity to buy” this month was the highest since December 2006, it reported.

But “propensity to buy” does not mean actually buying. The most recent German retail sales figures have been disappointing. November saw a 2.4 per cent fall compared with October. While economists generally expect 2011 to see a revival in consumers spending, on the back of steep falls in unemployment, rising wages and a general improvement in German confidence, few expect a dramatic surge. Read more

Ralph Atkins

Berlin’s approach – and that of the European Central Bank – to handling the eurozone crisis, has come under strong attack from Peter Bofinger, economics professor at Würzburg university and an independent adviser to the German government. Without a profound change of strategy there was a “major risk of an unraveling of the euro area,” he has said.

A “dangerous” adjustment process is being forced on eurozone countries, he told a Financial Times/Credit Suisse conference in Frankfurt. The weakest spot is Greece, which faces rising unemployment and debt levels. As a result, political opposition to euro membership would grow, according to Prof Bofinger. “Sooner or later we will have a discussion in Greece: ‘why not leave the euro?’” A new currency could then be devalued and much of the government’s debt cancelled out. Once Greece had left, others would follow. Read more

Ralph Atkins

If Dublin successfully avoids using the European Union’s rescue fund to resolve its banking and fiscal problems, it will probably win friends in Berlin. Germany’s exact view on what Ireland should do is murky, but officials are adamant that Berlin has not pressed for outside intervention.

That makes sense. For Angela Merkel, chancellor, and Wolfgang Schäuble, finance minister, an EU bail-out for Ireland would undoubtedly mean more unwelcome headlines in Bild of the sort the mass-market newspaper ran earlier this year over profligate Greeks and how German taxpayers were paying for the excesses of other eurozone countries.

But the view in Frankfurt is different. Read more