“We are at a crossroads”

Because the economy grew so strongly in the summer, Minister Altmaier remains optimistic. But his latest forecast is more uncertain than ever.

Peter Altmaier (CDU), Federal Minister for Economic Affairs and Energy, in Berlin on Friday

SThe timing was complicated, the calculation was even more complicated: Actually, Federal Economics Minister Peter Altmaier (CDU) wanted to publish the federal government’s autumn forecast on Wednesday.

But when it became clear that Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) and the state premiers would decide on far-reaching cuts that day, the date was rescheduled. However, the partial lockdown in November no longer changed the government’s forecast. It stays with the numbers leaked earlier this week.

Accordingly, the federal government expects gross domestic product (GDP) to decline by 5.5 percent this year compared to the previous year and growth of 4.4 percent in the coming year. The fact that the resolutions of the federal-state conference did not worsen the outlook is largely due to the fact that growth in the third quarter developed better than expected. The Federal Statistical Office put it on Thursday in an initial estimate at 8.2 percent within a quarter.

The supply chains worked

That is the highest growth ever recorded within a quarter. It follows the historic decline in economic output in the second quarter, when GDP shrank by 9.8 percent as a result of the Corona crisis. According to statisticians, growth was carried by higher private consumer spending, more investment in equipment and a sharp rise in exports. At the European level, too, the figures were better than expected: economic output in the euro zone was 12.7 percent higher than in the second quarter, as reported by Eurostat.

“That gives us a buffer,” said Altmaier on Friday. For the fourth quarter, however, the federal government is now only assuming weak growth of 0.4 percent. Before the lockdown decisions, she had hoped for an increase of 1.1 percent in the final quarter. The outlook for the coming year is even more difficult. “We are at a crossroads,” said Altmaier. “The pendulum can swing in one direction or the other.” There is a realistic chance of reaching the 4.4 percent. So the number from the interim projection in September remains for the time being. But the prerequisite is that the number of infections drops significantly.

The Ministry of Economic Affairs puts the loss of added value due to the lockdown in November at 8 billion euros – and as bearable. It is true that consumer spending would decrease significantly. But unlike in spring, the situation in industry is better. “No company has to make short-time work because deliveries are not arriving.” The supply chains worked. The economy is recovering, especially in Asia.

“That will not tear the GDP into the red”

Economists did not quite share Altmaier’s optimism. Despite the significant growth in the third quarter, Andreas Scheuerle from Dekabank warned against false euphoria. The strong recovery was “mainly a technical reaction”. The deeper you push a ball under water, the higher it will jump out of it. That also applies to the economy, said Scheuerle. The increasing number of infections and the measures decided on Wednesday cloud the outlook.

“The rapid increase in GDP deserves applause, but it is overshadowed by the partial lockdown,” said Alexander Krüger from Bankhaus Lampe. Commerzbank chief economist Jörg Krämer said with a view to the growth in the third quarter: “That would have been a wonderful step forward for the fourth quarter. But because of the second corona wave and the new lockdown, we can be happy if economic growth does not fall below zero in the fourth quarter. ”More and more economists share this concern.

After the sharp slump in the second quarter, the German economy grew by 8.2 percent in the third quarter.
After the sharp slump in the second quarter, the German economy grew by 8.2 percent in the third quarter.: Image: dpa

The areas of gastronomy, hotel industry, tour operators and culture particularly affected by the new restrictions together account for around 3 percent of economic output. “If these areas fail for a month, there will be a setback in the fourth quarter, but that will not pull the GDP into the red,” said Torsten Schmidt, head of economic forecasting at the Essen economic research institute RWI of the FAZ. It now depends on how the measures are going of the federal government had an impact on consumer confidence.

Carsten Brzeski, chief economist at ING, expects that many will hold back on new purchases: “The uncertainty, the fear of losing their job, mean that people are cautious and save more.”

Tax hikes to finance the crisis?

Brzeski expects that the industry will cut its production again – albeit not as strongly as in the spring. He shares the Ministry of Economic Affairs’ view that the supply chains are working this time. “But the demand from other European countries, where the infection rate is getting worse, will decline. Investments are being postponed. The strong recovery in Asia can only cushion that slightly, ”Brzeski told the FAZ

Even after the end of the lockdown, the situation will remain tense, according to RWI economist Schmidt: “There will be no strong countermovement like in May and June in December and January. This inevitably means that the pre-crisis level will only be reached later. “

Altmaier puts this “later” in the year 2022. By then at the latest, the losses of the pandemic should be made up again. As before, he rejected the calls for tax increases to finance the crisis, which came again from the SPD on Thursday. “That would only weaken the growth forces – and with it the tax revenues.”