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Global shortages crimp growth in powerhouse Germany

AFP logo AFP 14/10/2021 AFP
The German economy, Europe's biggest, will likely see slower-than-expected growth this year © ludovic MARIN The German economy, Europe's biggest, will likely see slower-than-expected growth this year

Global shortages in industrial components and raw materials have cramped Germany's export driven economy, prompting the country's leading economic institutes to slash their forecast for growth this year on Thursday.

Germany's key automotive sector is suffering from a shortage of semiconductors, a component in both conventional and electric vehicles © RONNY HARTMANN Germany's key automotive sector is suffering from a shortage of semiconductors, a component in both conventional and electric vehicles

In their biannual forecast, the research groups revised down the estimate for 2021 to 2.4 percent, from their earlier prediction of 3.7 percent made in April.

"The corona(virus) pandemic still shapes the economic situation in Germany," the institutes (DIW, Ifo, IfW, IWH and RWI) said in a joint statement, preventing a return to normal economic activity.  

After rapid growth in spring, the German economy had been held back by supply bottlenecks "hampering manufacturing" and meant that "only the consumer-related service industries are growing", the institutes said.

Together the institutes expect pandemic effects and shortages to be "gradually overcome" in 2022, raising their forecast for growth in the year to 4.8 percent from 3.9 percent.

Earlier this week, the International Monetary Fund downgraded its own global economic forecasts, including Germany's outlook, pointing the finger at supply chain disruptions.

- 'Difficult autumn' -

Businesses have to prepare for a "difficult autumn", Joachim Lang, the head of Germany's influential industrial lobby, the BDI, said last week in response to sinking export figures.

Ralph Wiechers, chief economist at the mechanical engineering industry group VDMA, told AFP that businesses were being confronted with shortages across the board, "whether it's wood for pallets, packing materials, steel -- an important input for our industry -- or computer chips, semiconductors".

Orders from customers have also begun to drop among the companies Wiechers represents due to an inability to lay their hands on materials. 

"They are not getting the plastic supplies, so why should they buy a plastic processing machine?" he said.

The deterioration of the economic situation has seen a series of Germany's closely watched economic indicators turn red.

Last week, the federal statistics agency Destatis reported that industrial production went into reverse in August, falling by four percent month-on-month, while incoming orders fell by 7.7 percent after a record July.

Shortages were having knock-on effects on companies' production and revenues, Wiechers said, with mechanical engineering among the sectors most heavily affected.

Only Germany's key automotive sector was suffering more acutely from scarcity -- a situation driven largely by the short supply of semiconductors, a component in both conventional and electric vehicles.

Production lines in Germany at Volkswagen, Opel and Ford have been at a standstill as bottlenecks tighten, while BMW and Mercedes-Benz have been delivering vehicles with missing components, according to the German weekly WirtschaftsWoche.

Slowing production has meant retailers have had to manage delivery problems, too. Almost 74 percent were affected, according to a survey by the Munich-based Ifo institute, including bicycle sellers, DIY centres and purveyors of consumer electronics.

- Inflation concern -

Germany's exposure to international supply issues and dependence on exports mean Europe's economic powerhouse will touch its pre-pandemic level "later than most other countries", said Carsten Brzeski, head of macro research at ING.

Supply chain issues had "blown out" the strong growth ignited by the German government's recovery programme, Brzeski said. 

The course of any further stimulus is likely to be determined by the outcome of ongoing coalition talks, with the centre-left Social Democrats poised to lead the next German government following last month's elections.

Scarcities have also contributed to inflationary pressures that have seen prices in Germany rise at their fastest pace since 1993, up 4.1 percent year on year.

Besides shortages in materials, the surge was driven by one-off tax effects related to the pandemic, as well as sharp rises in energy prices -- a Europe-wide phenomenon -- which rose by 14.3 percent. 

Supply bottlenecks, high energy prices and production stops in Germany were a potentially "toxic mix", which brought 1970s-style "stagflation" to mind, according to LBBW economist Jens-Oliver Niklasch.

In such circumstances, rising prices that are not compensated for by faster growth lead to the economy getting weaker. 


Plus d'infos : AFP

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