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Thinking about Germany

Giancarlo Elia Valori

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What is Germany’s current role within the EU and in the global economic system? Which game is it playing? These are questions which cannot be answered in an unambiguous and simplistic way, as often happens today.

First and foremost, we shall wonder whether Germany is the cause or the solution of the European political and financial crisis.

Certainly, the current negative economic situation in the EU comes at a time when global financial markets are losing confidence in Greece’s ability to repay its debts.

The contagion of mistrust forces also other peripheral nations, but certainly not Germany, to seek bailouts of their sovereign debt in the framework of the international community, namely the EU itself and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

It is the time when – as was the case in the Toronto G20 Summit of June 2010 – the absolute priority of fiscal consolidation, and hence of the squeeze on public spending, is set.

However, if we make an in-depth analysis, we realize that financial deregulation and the lowering of interest rates have been the primary causes of the Eurozone crisis.

It was precisely the new availability of funding from banks – as also happened in the United States – to excessively stimulate consumption and generate a series of financial “bubbles”, especially real estate ones, which apparently increased tax revenues and hence public spending. Those bubbles, however, quickly deflated and burst out, thus creating a structural imbalance which today makes the difference between Germany and the EU “peripheral” countries.

It is also worth recalling that the Euro introduction made the intra-European banking exchanges increase by 40%, with a relative increase in real estate and commodity prices.

Too much credit and at low interest rates “doped” both South European consumers and their governments.

Nevertheless, in the current crisis situation, the EU central countries and Germany, in particular, have maintained a greater competitive margin, mainly resulting from the relatively low wage growth.

Hence, also in the recent crisis, Germany could increase its exports to the EU peripheral countries, while its banks lent money to the EU marginal countries for them to buy German goods and services.

Therefore Germany must be seen both as the cause and the solution of the economic depression of the Euro zone peripheral countries.

However is Germany currently suffering from an invisible crisis, as some analysts note?

Even in this case, the issue is more complex than it may seem.

It is worth noting that Germany is the fourth world economy and the G20 third largest exporter. It depends on its export economy as Saudi Arabia depends on oil sales.

Currently German exports account for 45.7% of the country’s GDP. Therefore Germany is forced to face the imbalances and liquidity crisis of the countries buying German goods and services.

However, are the strategies adopted so far by Germany to support and stabilize its growth through exports still sustainable?

This raises some doubts in my mind.

Furthermore, all the traditional exporting countries, such as China, Russia, Saudi Arabia and South Korea, are in crisis.

Hence Germany could press ever more with its exporting model, thus preserving the EU as a free trade area, but fiercely competing with the European peripheral countries, which also live on exports and would see the German economy burn up the land under their feet, as currently already happens in many sectors.

We experienced so also with the 2008 crisis: the recession made the sovereign debt of many EU peripheral countries unmanageable and Germany, as net creditor, has always required public spending cuts and a quick repayment of the loans granted.

However, while Germany holds most of European debt securities, and particularly of the countries under crisis, if the South European economies collapse (and this possibility cannot be still ruled out) Germany will no longer have a sufficiently large market for its exports, because it cannot offset the losses in Europe with the corresponding increase in exports to China, the rest of Asia or the Arab countries – all nations which, at different levels, are recording an economic downturn.

Hence if Germany stimulates the growth of the Euro zone which owes money to it, the debt of the EU peripheral countries will increase. However, if the debt owed to Germany by the countries already in crisis rises, the latter will experience a very severe banking crisis and a possible default on their sovereign debt.

This adds to an unemployment rate which, in various ways, amounts to 20% in Southern Europe – a rate similar to the one recorded during the Great Depression in the United States.

Hence, against this background, the German economy cannot shrink up to making impossible to preserve the German export economy model also in the EU “economic locomotive”.

Furthermore, in this situation, the South European countries in financial crisis could not even replace Germany as to exports.

A productive and financial trap of which it is extremely hard to get out.

Moreover Germany has no interest in changing its development model.

It is the model which has produced all German comparative advantages since the introduction of the single currency.

Today the signs of the German crisis, which Germany will project onto the whole EU, are already evident.

The foreign market share for the “made in Germany” products is falling and the return on investment has declined. Many German companies are lowering prices to preserve their traditional market share.

If Germany shifts from an export economy to a productive system linked to the internal market growth, the German high savings rate, which allowed the companies’ technological upgrading, will no longer be possible.

France, for example, is no longer the first EU market for the goods produced in Germany.

In 2015 German exports to China fell by 4%.

Some German exports to the United States are increasing (19%), but the US market share cannot be a substitute for a long period of time.

Currently also the United States are a low-growth country and the US savings are increasing.

On average, the US economic crisis cycle is approximately seven years – hence we shall expect that, in a year or two, the North American market will tend to shrink again.

Therefore the bubble-boost cycle is now embedded in the US economy.

Incidentally, this should make us rethink – in a new way – about Marx’s theory of the inevitability of capitalist crises.

Furthermore, as already mentioned, the return of capital on investment in Germany is ever lower.

Over the last two years, the large German groups have seen a drop in the profitability of the capital employed from 13% to 3%.

Moreover the prices throughout the Euro zone are declining.

Last January prices decreased by an average 3% and the downward trend of average prices is increasingly evident and stable.

Hence, if Germany were to fall into recession, the German solution will likely be to quickly recover the Southern Euro zone’s debt, even with some discounts, and then fiercely eradicate competition from other EU exporting countries, also with unfair or dangerous business practices.

It is worth recalling that the German exposure to Italian banks amounts to 120 billion euro and our credit institutions have a share of non-performing loans (NPL) exceeding 17%.

In absolute terms, the German exposure to Italian banks alone is worth 3% of its GDP.

Hence how long will the German patience last in a phase of economic crisis?

It is also worth considering that this year the Commerzbank profit has fallen by 52%, while Deutsche Bank has recorded a fall in profit by 58%, with a German banking system which has as many as 41.9 trillion derivatives entered in the budget.

It is worth recalling that if Deutsche Bank collapses, the Euro will follow suit.

Moreover, if Germany “bails out” Deutsche Bank, everybody will note the different treatment reserved for the German credit institutions compared to the Greek banks.

It would be a sort of “anything-goes attitude” inside the Euro and the EU proclamations would turn into all talk and no action, as well as window dressing which serves no purpose.

If the German banks (and not just Deutsche Bank) are bailed out by the government, the German debt/GDP ratio will rise from 71% to 110%.

There would be no more room for preaching on austerity by Germany, which could not but accept the Italian, Spanish, Greek and Portuguese debt “overshooting”.

It is worth noting that Deutsche Bank funds most of German exports – hence, if it collapses, the German economy will soon fall into a severe crisis.

Therefore, the following can be predicted: if Germany falls into recession, the first reaction will probably be to quickly recover credits from the Euro zone and then follow a scorched-earth approach as to exports in the rest of Europe.

On the contrary, if Germany succeeds in “standing fast”, it will have every interest in refinancing the Southern Euro zone for it to buy its goods.

In any case, however, the EU situation is neither good nor stable and, in the future, we shall see to what extent the single currency will hold firm or whether Germany, or even Italy, will try to exit from the Euro in one way or the other.

Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr. Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs “International World Group”, he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d’Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: “A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title “Honorable” of the Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France. “

Economy

Armenia’s inability to solve pandemic-related economic problems

Orkhan Baghirov

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According to data from the Armenian government, in 2019 the country’s economy grew by about 7.6%,which was the highest figure since 2008. Further data from the Statistical Committee of Armenia show that the trade and service sectors were the main drivers of economic development. In the same period, 9% growth in industrial output and a 4% reduction in agricultural output were also recorded. Inspired by these growth numbers, during a cabinet meeting in January, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said that he was confident that, as a result of the joint efforts of government members, even higher figures will be registered in 2020. However, as a result of subsequent pandemic-related events, his confidence disappeared and difficulties in solving economic problems have proven the inability of the Armenian government to act independently.

Since the declaration of an emergency situation on March 16, economic activity has significantly slowed, thus leading to the creation of various economic problems and a financial deficit. Even though some restrictions were softened in May, that did not lead to a noticeable increase in economic activity. As a result, the economic forecasts for Armenia in 2020 worsened. According to the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the economy of Armenia will contract by about3.5% in 2020 as a result of global uncertainty and falling demand. However, the Armenian government is more optimistic in its prediction of a decline in GDP of 2%.

One of the main problems created by the pandemic-related economic restrictions is the impossibility of implementation of government-approved budget projects for 2020. As the forecast for Armenia’s GDP worsens, it will lead to lower tax revenues than initially planned for. According to the Finance Minister, Atom Janjughazyan, with the forecast 2% decline of GDP at the end of the year, tax revenues will decrease by about 10% compared with the planned volume. If the economy diminishes by more than 2%,that will lead to an even greater reduction in tax revenues. Janjughazyan also noted that the government plans to keep budget spending unchanged in order to mitigate the negative consequences and create the preconditions for a quick recovery. Although this decision could help to prevent social discontent and avert some economic problems, it could have long-lasting economic consequences by significantly increasing the budget deficit. With a reduction in taxes generated of about 10%, the budget deficit will double, reaching 5% of the projected GDP or $676.4 million (1 Armenian Dram=0.0021 USD). To run the budgeted projects with such a high level of deficit, the government will have to amend the budget legislation in order to exceed existing restrictions.

Another financial problem for Armenia is related to the implementation of support programs. As the emergency situation has substantially impacted economic development, the government has had to implement support programs. Even though these programs have been important in supporting the economy, they have also created financial problems as the government does not have enough resources to implement them independently. To support the economy, the government approved a support package of $315 million. Of these funds, $168 million will be used for long-term economic development programs;$52.5 million for the elimination of economic problems, social tension and liquidity issues; and $42 million for the redistribution of reserve funds. So far, the Armenian government has approved 20 crisis measures for the implementation of support programs.

Financing the high budget deficit and extensive support programs creates financial problems as Armenia does not have sufficient financial resources. Therefore, Armenia must attract funds from other countries or international financial institutions. Based on the calculations of the Armenian government for financing the combined support programs and budget deficit,it needs to raise an additional$546 million. Armenia already has a large volume of external debt (40% of GDP in 2019) and raising additional funds will significantly increase that debt. Taking on an additional $546 million of debt will increase the government’s external debt by about 10%. Taking into account that, during 2019, the total public debt of Armenia increased by about 14.8%, the increase of external debt by about 10% from only one source shows how seriously it will affect the financial security of the country.

Armenia also is facing economic problems in the energy sector. On April 1,GazpromArmenia, the Russian-owned natural gas distributing company, declared that it was going to ask the Public Services Regulatory Commission (PSRC) for changes to gas prices in Armenia. It proposed to set the same price for all customers beginning from July 1. This change would eliminate the discount for low-income families, thus leading to a 35% increase in price for them but a2.2% decrease for consumers that use up to 10,000 cubic meters of gas per month. The Armenian government was dissatisfied with the offered gas rates as it was already dealing with pandemic-related economic problems and it requested that Russia decrease the price of gas that they sell to Armenia.

As the talks with Russia did not lead to desired results, the PSRC accepted the changes but kept the price for domestic users and low-income families unchanged. The PSRC wants the average weighted price of 1,000 cubic meter of gas be set at $266.7 USD,$16.43 below the price that Gazprom Armenia had proposed. The price of natural gas will increase from $212 to $224 per thousand cubic meters for agricultural companies, and from $242 to $255.92for consumers who use more than 10,000 cubic meters of gas per month. The new prices will enter into force on July 19, except for thermal power plants. Despite the fact that PSRC was able to prevent price changes for ordinary citizens, the new rates will create unemployment problems. In order to operate with accepted price changes Gazprom Armenia has to lay off about 1500 employees and reduce its annual revenues about 6%.

The inability of the Armenian government to solve its economic problems with its own financial resources or to diversify its energy imports will lead to significant economic problems. Many countries around the world are facing economic and financial problems and are therefore looking to obtain foreign assistance, and this reduces opportunities to access foreign finance by intensifying competition. Therefore, it is not currently easy for Armenia to attract financial resources. The dependence of the energy sector on the price policies of other countries also creates economic instability. Even though the PSRC was able to avoid natural gas price rises for ordinary citizens, it cannot prevent unemployment issues and price rises for businesses. Therefore, countries that are dependent on foreign financial assistance and are unable to implement independent economic and energy policies during the pandemic and in the post-pandemic period will face serious economic issues. Taking into account that social and economic problems were among the main drivers of the change of government in Armenia in 2018,the pandemic-related economic problems will also have political consequences.

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Economy

Coronavirus Impact On The World Of Work Traverses National Borders

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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With the coronavirus lockdown, one aspect of our lives has been revolutionized … the world of work.  Computers have facilitated the transition and the coronavirus forced a real-life test.  For jobs where it is possible, we are working from home and many of us like it that way.

There are countries that have been doing it long before the coronavirus — at least in numbers far in excess of other industrialized countries.  In the Netherlands 14.1 percent of workers say they usually work away from the office compared to 4.7 percent in the UK and only 3.6 percent in the US.  Only Finland is comparable.  

Finland also allows flexible hours.  Indeed such flexibility has a basis in law ever since the 1996 Work Hours Act giving most workers the right to adjust workplace time.  Thus 92 percent of companies allow flexible hours there (a notable example being an employee who works remotely from Malaga, Spain!) compared to about three-quarters in the US and UK, a half in Russia and only 18 percent in Japan.   Employees can start or finish their workday up to three hours earlier or later.  A new Working Hours Act came into effect on Jan. 1, 2020 through prior legislation, fortuitously given Covid-19.  This now permits workers to schedule up to half their working hours away from the workplace.

Both Finland and the Netherlands also benefit from a culture of trust and equality; also practicality, a quality that small countries nurture to compete with the giants beside them.  Think Russia in one case and Germany for the other.

Flextime has other benefits.  Studies report higher output and efficiency.  When workers are allowed to pick their hours, they drift towards when they want to work.  In Finland, they still have to average 40 hours per week over each four-month period.  Nevertheless, working at a time most suitable for their individual circumstances implies they are working at their best, which also translates to most productive.

HSBC, the large UK bank, looked at what is driving UK productivity growth in a 2018 study.  Eighty-nine percent of respondents cited the importance of flexible working hours and work-life balance rating them higher than financial incentives.  One-in-five also cited poor work-life balance as the main reason for leaving a prior job, ranking it higher than limited opportunities or salary increases.

Meanwhile in the Netherlands, where 98 percent of homes have high-speed internet access, there is also a culture of trust, plus a combination of technology, attitude and expectation to make remote working a success.  King Willem-Alexander issued a photo of himself working from home to encourage others to do the same during the pandemic.

But then, the Netherlands is different.  ING, an Amsterdam-based bank, is now trying out a policy of unlimited vacation time for pilot groups of workers.  They can take as much time off as they want provided their work and set tasks do not suffer.

There must be something in all this for Dutch men averaging 163 cm (6 feet) are the tallest people on earth.  At 179.6 cm, the Finns are not far behind. 

Perhaps employers over here in the US will be enlightened by the statistics.  If there is a silver lining in this dark coronavirus cloud then, it could be in the world of work.

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Economy

Covid-19 and its impact on Belt and road initiative and CPEC

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Nowadays, Covid-19 is increasing rapidly in Pakistan. As of June 30 the amount of confirmed cases had risen to 208359 along with 4254 deaths. Tremendously a very bad situation of Pakistan economy as well as global economy due to this pandemic era. Coronavirus effects many business and major Flagship project in Pakistan like CPEC development due to shortage of local labour. The China-Pakistan Economic (CPEC) is a part of ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) which runs through South-East Asia, South Asia, Central Asia, Russia and Europe by land as well as 21st century Maritime Silk Road, a sea route flanked by China’s coastal regions with South-East and South Asia, the South Pacific, the Middle East and Eastern Africa, all the way to Europe.

The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor badly effect and now most of the people concerned about CPEC development and its impact of covid-19 on development projects. Specifically the CPEC development were also stopped because of the absence of local labour who were forced to stay at home due to lockdown and  to avoid further spread of Covid-19. In addition, the government of Pakistan and china also announced the travel restrictions which delayed the availability of workforce. All business areas and business centers in the port of Gwadar are completely closed, and the impact of all these problems on CPEC and its branches. But there is encouraging news that the port of Gwadar is still operating under strict policies.

Covid-19 has already had a significant impact on the global economy, influencing production, supply chains and the movement of people and goods. Since the outbreak and increasing the cases of corona virus, many people concerned about the impact of covid-19 on CPEC development projects. Most of the people says it has no impact but some people says it has huge impact on development of CPEC. As per my opinion it has a huge Impact on CPEC development. According to the challenging situation Chinese government decided to work again on BRI projects. Chinese government believe that once the pandemic crisis is over BRI projects will lead the world economy recovery and sustainable development.

As our honorable PM Imran Khan said multiple time that corona virus is not going anywhere, we have to live with this epidemic situation following SOP otherwise survival in Pakistan is much difficult as compared to developing and developed countries. If all Factories, industries, and development teams closed for certain time, Pakistan economy will goes down for sure and people will die due to hunger and unemployment. Consequently, the Pakistan Government is in full consultation with the government of China as well as Chinese companies working on the CPEC projects. In this regard, Pakistan government is taking preventive measures and providing full protection to Chinese workforce on CPEC. In addition, the Chinese workers who are returning to Pakistan have to endure double quarantine system for their safety as well as the safety of other workers too.

Contemporaneous, we must be aware of the fact that there is a force in the world that does not want to see CPEC’s success, so they indiscriminately amplify the impact of the pandemic on CPEC development. The Chinese and Pakistan government both nations agreed to continue this project and overcome difficulties caused by Covid-19 and support CPEC construction. Both governments have upheld close communication and coordination on particular issues of CPEC projects. Chinese companies have implemented closed management, and all CPEC projects have maintain prevention and control plans and implemented them very strictly, therefore effectively preventing the invasion of the novel coronavirus. As far as I know, there is no Covid-19 spread at the construction or development sites.

In addition, the Chinese companies contributing in the construction of CPEC projects are also actively making assistances to the prevention and control of the pandemic in several locations in Pakistan, donating material to local government’s offices, schools, and hospitals. When the world suffering from corona virus, china was there for supplying material and help to various nations in the form of medical equipment, protection accessories and medical supplies. It’s a bit challenging circumstances in China in pandemic situation but china prove his kindness in front of other nations that increased the trust of countries in China.

It is still unclear situation when local and global economic activities become stable, which also creates uncertainty about the feasibility of these projects. In the same way, other cross-border corridors and the Silk Road Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) are also facing delays and cancellations. Despite difficult circumstances, the Chinese are promoting BRI, gradually resuming development work and building the health Silk Road. Beijing China is much confident that BRI will lead the global economic recovery after resolving the crisis.

The most common broader issue nowadays is whether the planned BRI projects can be delay in the current economic environment. For instance, it was recently stated that nearly seven to eight years after the creation of CPEC, less than one-third of the development projects had been completed. Since sustainability of financing for BRI projects is already a challenge, and Chinese capital projected to be organized to meet the basic and domestic needs, the pandemic and the resulting slowdown in economic growth will be even more delayed and could even be a death sentence for Some Belt and road Initiative projects as well as CPEC.

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