Germany narrowly avoids recession

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Confusion over new emission standards has hit the country’s car industry

Germany’s economy just about avoided falling into recession during the final three months of last year.

Europe’s largest economy registered zero growth during the fourth quarter of 2018, the country’s Federal Statistics Office said.

That means it avoided two consecutive quarters of contraction, which is the usual definition of a recession.

A weak trade performance dragged on the economy, and consumer spending remained subdued.

The zero growth recorded in the October-to-December period followed a 0.2% contraction in the previous quarter.

Reasons for slower growth last year include a slowdown in the global economy and a weaker car sector, with German consumers less willing to buy new cars amid confusion over new emission standards.

In addition, low water levels, particularly in the Rhine, affected growth by holding back movement of some goods.

‘Worrying’ outlook

Jack Allen, senior Europe economist at Capital Economics, told the BBC: “If you look at Germany across 2018 we’ve seen a pretty broad-based slowdown in growth. We’ve seen household consumption slow, we’ve seen business investment slow and we’ve seen export growth slow.

He added: “What’s particularly worrying is that the early signs for 2019 suggest that a strong rebound is unlikely.”

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The Rhine’s water level was hit by the hot summer

US tariffs on EU car exports, which US President Donald Trump has threatened, could have a major impact on Germany, Mr Allen said, but even if these are avoided the slowdown in the global economy means Germany is still only expected to grow by about 1% this year, compared with about 1.5% in 2018.

However, Claus Vistesen, chief eurozone economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, said he was “optimistic” that the first quarter of this year would be better.

“The January [economic] surveys were poor… but net exports won’t be in free fall forever, and consumers’ spending also ought to pick up.”


By Andrew Walker, BBC World Service economics correspondent

It couldn’t have been much closer. And it is certainly possible that subsequent revisions to these figures will take the fourth quarter figure below zero and Germany into recession as the term is often defined.

For now though it looks like a very soft patch that has affected much of Europe.

Italy had a recession at the end of last year. The eurozone as whole has managed to continue to grow in spite of the weakening performance of two its largest economies. But it has been markedly slower.

That said, the jobs situation specifically in Germany is pretty good. Unemployment is among the lowest in the world at just above 3%.

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