Thursday, December 13, 2007

ZEW Investor Confidence Index December 2007

Investor confidence in Germany dropped more than economists forecast in December, reaching the lowest level in almost 15 years, as rising credit costs dimmed the outlook for economic growth. The Mannheim-based ZEW Center for European Economic Research said its index of investor and analyst expectations fell to minus 37.2, the lowest since January 1993, from minus 32.5 last month.

InterBank Rates

The cost of borrowing euros for three months rose to the highest since December 2000 today as banks seem to be hoarding cash to cover their commitments over year-end. The euro interbank offered rate, the amount banks charge each other for such loans, rose 3 base points to 4.93 percent, the European Banking Federation said today. That's 93 basis points more than the European Central Bank's benchmark rate. If we look at the latest available data from the British Banking Association we will see that the three month euro Libor rate turned up once again in mid November, and has not stopped rising since.

It is important to realise here that this movement in the 3 month libor that we see since the start of August has taken place without any change in interest rates at the ECB. But these rates will affect all those borrowers who are on variable interest rates tied to Euribor (or Mibor) and, for example these are nearly 80% of mortgage holders in Spain, so a sharp tightening is now taking place, even as general economic conditions deteriorate.

Growth in Germany is expected by virtually everybody to slow next year, although no-one really knows by how much, and downside risks abound. A drop to 1.7 percent next year was forecast by the RWI economics group last week, but even this may be on the optimistic side.

German Exports

Meanwhile German exports unexpectedly rose in October, pushing the trade surplus to a record.

Still, the euro's 11 percent advance against the dollar this year is making German exports less competitive abroad, adding to concerns. Exports were the driving force behind last year's 2.9 percent economic expansion, which was the fastest in six years. And if we come to look at the evolution of the year on year growth rates in exports (which is the key data point I would argue), we can see that the trend is now definitely down, and indeed that the export component in this present expansion probably peaked sometime in the last quarter of last year.

So what can we expect from this. Well it may be worth reminding ourselves about what happened last time round, ie last time the acceleration in the Y-o-Y growth rates in German exports effectively stalled. That was back in early 2000, as we can see from the chart below. And what happened at that time? Well the fed was easing as the US entered recession, and the euro was to some extent rising, both of which put a strong break on German exports. So it isn't the rise in the currency alone that matters, you have to think about the whole environment which produces it. Why your currency is rising, while someone else's is falling. And of course, in German export terms, after the rise comes the fall. This is the cost of not being able to depend on your own internal demand, you have to depend on someone else's demand.

As we can see once the rate of increase in annual exports entered real decline, GDP was not far behind, and off Germany went into recession. So this time round the same thing may well happen, and domestic demand may well not offset any fall-off in foreign sales as oil-driven inflation and rising borrowing costs steadily sap German consumer and corporate spending power. Last month, consumer prices rose 3.3 percent from a year ago, the most since records began in 1996. The price of oil has gained 44 percent this year. At the same time German wages, as is well known have had only very weak increases in recent years.

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