In early 2023, the German economy experienced a recession due to the impact of high inflation on household spending, which is a vital driver of Europe’s economic engine.
According to a second estimate from the statistics office, the gross domestic product (GDP) contracted by 0.3% in the first quarter of the year, following a decline of 0.5% in the fourth quarter of 2022. A recession is commonly defined as two consecutive quarters of economic contraction.
The German GDP data revealed unexpectedly negative signals, as stated by Finance Minister Christian Lindner, who expressed concern about the country’s economic performance compared to other highly developed economies.
Lindner emphasized that Germany was losing its growth potential and did not wish for the country to be relegated to lower positions. The International Monetary Fund’s forecasts indicated that a recession was expected only in Germany and Britain among European nations.
Germany’s economy minister, Robert Habeck, attributed the recession to the nation’s previous heavy reliance on Russia for energy supply.
However, he acknowledged that the growth forecasts were even more pessimistic. Habeck stated that efforts were underway to overcome this crisis.
Andreas Scheuerle, an analyst at DekaBank, described the situation as follows: “The German consumer has been greatly affected by soaring inflation, leading to a significant downturn in the entire economy.”
Household consumption declined by 1.2% quarter on quarter after adjusting for price, seasonal, and calendar effects. Additionally, government spending also decreased by a significant 4.9% during the quarter.
German economy remained in a precarious state despite some positive factors such as the warm winter weather, a recovery in industrial activity aided by the reopening of China, and an improvement in supply chain challenges,” commented Carsten Brzeski, ING’s global head of macroeconomics.
These factors were insufficient to pull the economy out of the danger zone of recession. In contrast, there was an increase in investment during the first three months of the year, following a weak performance in the second half of 2022.
German Economy Hit by Inflation
Investment in machinery and equipment experienced a 3.2% growth compared to the previous quarter, while investment in construction saw a 3.9% increase quarter on quarter. Additionally, trade had a positive impact, with exports rising by 0.4% and imports declining by 0.9%.
“The significant surge in energy prices had a negative impact during the winter period,” noted Joerg Kraemer, Commerzbank’s chief economist.
Despite efforts, a recession could not be avoided, and now the focus shifts to whether there will be a recovery in the second half of the year.
Carsten Brzeski remarked, “The optimism that prevailed at the beginning of the year seems to have given way to a more realistic outlook as we move beyond the first quarter.”
Factors such as reduced purchasing power, weakened industrial order books, tightening monetary policies, and the anticipated slowdown of the U.S. economy all contribute to expectations of weak economic activity.
Following a decline in the Ifo business climate, all major leading indicators in the manufacturing sector are now declining, according to Joerg Kraemer.
However, the German Bundesbank predicts modest economic growth in the second quarter as a rebound in the industrial sector compensates for stagnant household consumption and a slump in construction.
This was stated in a monthly economic report published on Wednesday. The combination of factors discussed in the previous statement is expected to have several impacts on the German economy.
Despite efforts to revive economic activity, the inability to escape the danger zone of recession signifies the persistence of challenges.
The positive contributions from factors like warm winter weather and a rebound in industrial activity, supported by the reopening of China, were not sufficient to counteract the underlying weaknesses. As a result, the economy continues to face uncertainties and risks.
However, there are concerns related to trade dynamics. While exports showed modest growth, imports experienced a decline. This suggests that the domestic demand might not be strong enough to fully support the economy, despite some positive signs in international trade.