German economy to recover slightly after recession
After a minor recession in 2023, the German economy is set for a mild recovery in 2024. This recovery will be driven by stronger growth in the domestic consumer services sector, while the outlook for the manufacturing sector is highly dependent on demand from abroad. Although supply chain issues still outweigh the long-term average, they have decreased noticeably over 2023 and should only have a limited impact on production in 2024. In addition, Germany is not expected to face another energy crisis over the winter of 2023-2024 like the one the year before. Natural gas imports declined over the summer of 2023, notably from the Netherlands and Belgium. Due to a change in consumption behaviour and already high gas storage levels (85% in mid-July 2023 compared to 65% in July 2022), the probability of energy scarcity in the winter is lower. However, foreign demand for German products (representing 40% of GDP) is lower than in pre-pandemic times, especially as China has not recovered as fast as expected in 2023. Exports to China, in real terms, were, on average 22% lower in the first half of 2023 than during the equivalent pre-pandemic period of 2019. A similar trend materialised with the second- and third-biggest export partners – France and the Netherlands, respectively – while at least trade with the US (Germany’s largest export partner) normalised. The trend is partly driven by low general demand in Europe and should reverse in 2024; however, some of it, especially demand from China, is due to a structural change in trade relationships and the fact that China is now producing some of the products that they previously imported from Germany, e.g., in the machinery, chemicals and auto parts segments).
On the demand side, the recovery should emanate from personal consumption (52% of GDP), which is likely in part to normalise in 2024 after decreasing in 2022-2023. The main reason is the wage increases which resulted from the collective bargaining agreements struck in early 2023. Average wages should increase between 2% and 5.5% in January 2024, after already increasing in 2023 by an average of 4% to 5% (and/or a €3,000 one-off inflation subsidy). The lack of skilled workers and the durably low level of unemployment have given the unions greater negotiating clout. The government will also raise the minimum wage by 3.4% in January 2024 after a 14.8% increase in the autumn of 2022.The wage adjustment will, in part, level out the purchasing power losses resulting from inflation over the last two years. However, the electricity and gas price caps will be terminated in January 2024 (but an extension until April 2024 is currently under discussion). In addition, the CO²-emission price will increase from €30 per tonne to €35, resulting in a €166 price hike in the regular household heating bill. Taken together, all these measures will feed into inflation. However, as the rise in energy prices is lower than in 2023, the yearly inflation rate should nonetheless decrease further in 2024 and stabilise at around 3%. The core inflation rate excluding energy and fresh food should remain above headline inflation. Until July 2023 and in four successive moves the European Central Bank (ECB) increased its key interest rate by a total of 175 basis points in 2023 to 4.25% for its marginal lending rate, pushing it up to one of the highest interest rate levels in its history. With European inflation being on a downtrend, the ECB should go into “wait-and-see” mode. The first rate cuts are unlikely to occur before mid-2024. In terms of quantitative easing, the ECB already stopped the reinvestments of the APP program in July 2023. The maturing papers as part of the Pandemic Emergency Purchase Program (PEPP) are reinvested fully until at least the end of 2024. Due to the very high interest rate level and the very slow decrease in house prices, construction activity is expected to contract further, while other corporate investments should only post a timid increase. At the same time, government expenditures should further decrease.
Five consecutive years of public deficit
In the wake of the energy crisis, the German government implemented several measures to support private households and companies. Some of the measures, such as the gas and energy price cap, have been less costly than anticipated in 2023 due to falling energy prices. In 2024, all of these measures will be terminated while the higher CO² emission prices will increase revenues. This will lower the public deficit further, but not enough to cause the public budget to swing to a surplus. Nevertheless, even with higher financing costs, public debt as a share of nominal GDP should decrease due to higher nominal GDP.
Germany’s current account surplus should recover further due to an improvement in the terms of trade, together with gradual increases in export volumes and falling import volumes. Trade in the balance of goods will likely be higher in 2024 than during the pandemic years. The structural deficit of trade in the balance of services should widen as more Germans spend their holidays abroad, while the surplus of the investment income balance and the balance of current transfers (deficit) should see only small changes. Moreover, with strong growth in nominal GDP, the current account balance as a share of nominal GDP should be lower than in pre-pandemic times.
The first three-party-governing coalition in German history is (still) muddling through
Following the death in April 2021 of President Idriss Déby who was killed by rebel forces, his son Mahamat Déby took office with the consent of the African Union, given the urgent security situation, despite challenges to his legitimacy. In September 2022, the "transitional" President was given broad executive powers by a meeting of co-opted persons such as the new Prime Minister, Saleh Kebzabo. The transition, which can last up to two years (from September 2022) is still ongoing. While 2024 will probably see elections (presidential and legislative) resulting in a cabinet reshuffle, Mahamat Déby may stand as a candidate and retain the Presidency. While no elections have taken place in the country since 2015 (successive postponements owing to the security context and the subsequent death of Idriss Déby), the next elections will take place in a tense context. The army is omnipresent and the repression of opposition is severe (as was the case of the anti-government demonstrations on 20 October 2022, in response to the announcement of the extension of the transition and the eligibility of members of the transition for the next elections, which were violently repressed, resulting in more than 100 deaths and 300 injuries), in addition to the security threat from Sudan, which is high. The conflict in Sudan could also be a source of instability due to the large influx of Sudanese refugees via the introduction of a humanitarian corridor amid a state of food emergency that was declared in Chad in 2022 and a serious humanitarian crisis. Furthermore, although the junta intends not to take sides in the conflict affecting its neighbour, the geographical proximity of the two countries, as well as the proximity of their communities (the President's family is from the Zaghawa ethnic group, which is in the majority in Sudanese Darfur, one of the two main areas of fighting) and their history, has exacerbated fears of increased tensions within the country and a resurgence of the terrorist threat.
Le déficit du compte courant devrait se réduire en 2024, dans le sillage d’exportations dynamiques qui participeront à l’élargissement de l’excédent commercial. Cependant, il sera encore entretenu par une balance des services (principalement de transports) déficitaire (5 % du PIB), et le rapatriement de bénéfice des sociétés étrangères (principalement dans le secteur minier). L’instabilité politique et sécuritaire persistante continuera de limiter les entrées d’IDE et l’aide extérieure.