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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

Former African Envoys advocate for more economic engagements with Russia

Kester Kenn Klomegah

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Former Ambassadors have strongly urged African leaders and business entrepreneurs to prioritize the most sustainable development needs as the best approach to seeking Russian investors in fixing their economies in Africa when they converge this October for the first Russia-African summit planned in Russia’s southern coastal city of Sochi.

In separate interviews, they believed what was abundantly clear how to stimulate African governments into exploring investment opportunities in Russia and Russian investors into Africa within some framework of mutual-cooperation.

Former South African Ambassador, (H.E.) Mandisi Mpahlwa, said that Sub-Saharan Africa has understandably been low on post-Soviet Russia’s list of priorities, given that Russia is not as dependent on Africa’s natural resources as most other major economies. It is important to point out that Soviet and African relations, anchored as they were on the fight to push back the frontiers of colonialism, did not necessarily translate into trade, investment and economic ties, which would have continued seamlessly with post-Soviet Russia.

“Of course, Russia’s objective of taking the bilateral relationship with Africa to the next level cannot be realized without close partnership with the private sector. Africa and Russia are close politically, but they are also geographically distant and the people-to-people ties are still far under-developed. This translates into a low level of knowledge on both sides of what the other has to offer. There is perhaps also a measure of fear of the unknown or the unfamiliar in both countries,” according to Mpahlawa.

Former Ethiopian Ambassador, Professor (Dr) Teketel Forssido, said that one of the biggest problems has been keen competition from the United States, Europe, China and India as more developed countries with more advanced technological and development oriented solutions, and have become, for the past decades, ” investment patrons” in African countries. These are what Africa need, – foreign policy directed towards the development needs of Africa.

Former Nigerian Ambassador, Air Commodore Dan Suleiman, told me that Africa’s drive for sustainable democratic governance backed by an enhanced economically viable environment is of paramount importance. Many African leaders are emphasizing the quest to eradicate poverty and give people a sustainable environment for budding democracy.

“It is Africa’s hope that foreign authorities will back us in this direction. It is important to remind foreign investors that investment opportunities for developing large and medium scale enterprises are abound in Africa. The importance of the informal sector in generating employment and promoting self-reliance through higher productivity. We implore Russian investors to take advantage of these new potentials,” Air Commodore Dan Suleiman stressed in his discussion.

Undoubtedly, the Russian government stance on supporting the policy of Africa to employ plausible solutions to resolve their infinite problems should be extolled assertively, wrote former Tanzanian Ambassador, Dr Jaka Mgwabi Mwambi.

He said, for instance, “Tanzania is currently on the verge of a bitter wrangle with iniquitous restraints, in order to redress all government systems, for the bright future of its wrath citizens. Thanks, it is discernible that the country is proactively moving steadfastly in a middle-income economy.”

Former Kenyan Ambassador to the Russian Federation, H.E. (Dr) Paul Kibiwott Kurgat explained in a recent interview discussion that any platform created for African leaders has to address thoroughly development-oriented questions, Kenya’s diplomacy has mostly focused on strengthening economic cooperation with foreign countries.

“Looking at the global development, Kenya would always like to build on this long history of strong and comprehensive engagement, first and for most, through developing closer ties with Russia in trade, investment and economic cooperation. So, my advice is that African leaders have to think objectively, first about effective ways how to improve the economy,” he said.

The Government of Kenya’s priority sectors range from infrastructure and energy development, industrialization and agriculture, manufacturing, tourism and among others. The development opens a myriad of investment opportunities to all potential foreign investors across the globe including Russia, Paul Kurgat added in his emailed comments from Nairobi, Kenya.

Former Mozambican Ambassador to Russia, Dr. Bernardo Marcelino Cherinda, emphasized that the changes in Russia have provided a greater impetus for forging new diversified relations, especially in the economic sectors, in Africa.

By this measure, African leaders have to relentlessly work towards a more effective cooperation and use political dialogue to remove obstacles that might hinder smooth progress and development. Whether they like it or not, African leaders have to make rational decisions to align their efforts and policies with this key goal of developing or building their economies, according to him.

Both Russia and Africa have to facilitate participation in the private sectors, to get also involved in medium-sized economic partnership, joint ventures, agro-processing industries, health and education. African leaders do not have to, in the least, doubt the enormous potentials that exist for these, according to the former envoy.

“And, I think it’s equally important Russia and Africa focus seriously on cultural aspects in their activities in order to bridge the widening information gap between the two countries. Russia has made the mark and it’s respected for its indelible historical achievements, literature and for the human values. The use of soft power as an instrument for new image-making initiatives has to be intensified,” Cherinda concluded.

Stergomena Lawrence Tax, Executive Secretary of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), assertively stressed in discussion with Russian authorities that strengthening ties in a broad range of economic fields would show that SADC truly remains as one of Russia’s key partners in Africa. SADC is an inter-governmental organization with its primary goal of deepening socio-economic cooperation and integration in the southern region.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and H.E. Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, the first woman to lead the bloc of 54 states, had discussed several times about Russian companies or industries participation in major infrastructure projects on the continent. Currently, Chad’s Moussa Faki Mahamat has also held discussion on Africa’s Fourth Industrial Revolution and has made efforts at enlisting Russia’s effective support for the Agenda 2063 of the African Union (AU).

For the past one and half decades (since his appointment in 2004), Foreign Minister Lavrov has held in-depth discussions on the current situation in Africa and always pointed to the possibility of continuing to promote effective bilateral cooperation in many spheres and to work together towards using fully the existing potentials. He always reminds that Moscow firmly supports the principle “African solutions to African problems” within a framework of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) formulated by the African countries.

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Economy

Business disorder between Europe and U.S.

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The European Union remains cautious in the economic battle with the White House. U.S. President Donald Trump continues to pursue his protectionist policies in international trade system. This has led to raising concerns and serious discontent among the United States’ European partners.

Disputes between the United States and other countries around the world are continuing on trade and economic issues. The fact is that U.S. President Donald Trump intends to exacerbate tensions until the presidential elections of 2020. Many international experts and analysts believe that a major part of the economic approach to the world of Trump has an electoral and political goal.

Many international analysts now talk about the conflicts between the United States and Europe over imposing sweeping steel and aluminum tariffs as a transatlantic “trade war”.

Conflicts that may extend in the near future and affect the widespread relations between Washington and Europe.

On the other hand, the authorities of Germany, Britain and France have not taken a proper approach to the policies of the President of the United States.Though politicians such as Emmanuel Macron, Angela Merkel and Theresa May seek to manage the situation and prevent the exacerbation of tensions with Washington, but people, business owners and European opposition parties are so angry at Trump and the U.S. government that the European troika’s authorities aren’t capable to control or even hide it.

One of the most important reasons for the continuation of Trump’s economic policies in the world is the passivity of European leaders against the White House. Under such circumstances, Europe has threatened to retaliate against the U.S. if Trump imposes steel and aluminum tariffs on European exports.

After Trump made his first announcement on the tariffs, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker threatened to put tariffs on American goods in response to Trump’s decision. That could decrease demand for those products inside EU borders and consequently lead to U.S. workers losing their jobs. But practically, European countries did not do anything about this.

Although some European citizens thought that the Chancellor of Germany would have a more determined approach than other European politicians, this was also a mistake!The German Chancellor stated that European Union member states must give the EU trade commissioner a clear mandate for negotiations with the United States over a long-term exemption from U.S. metal tariffs. Markel added: “Of course, we think it’s important that there are exemptions not only for a limited period of time … So far, we have had a very united stance, namely that we view these tariff demands as unjustified and that we want a long-term exemption.”

The fact is that Merkel’s implicit threat, which she didn’t address directly and explicitly because of her conservative policy towards the United States, is the same as the “European countermeasures” against the United States.

For months now, there have been months of anti-European measures taken by the White House and customs duties on European aluminum and steel. However, European countries have preferred to keep Silent instead of confronting Washington!
Indeed, the prolonged U.S.-EU talks on steel and aluminum tariffs is going to increase the dissatisfaction and anger among the European public opinion. It will also affect the performance of American companies in Europe.

First published in our partner Tehran Times

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Economy

Citizen Capitalism: How a Universal Fund can provide Influence and Income to all

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In the face of growing wealth inequality worldwide, more and more people are discussing alternatives to the current laissez-faire capitalism status quo.  Tamara Belinfanti, Sergio Gramitto and the late Lynn Stout offer up their own solution in Citizen Capitalism: How a universal fund can provide influence and income to all.

Our authors have devised up a concept they call the Universal Fund.  It’s like a sovereign wealth fund, but is privately created and funded via private ordering. That means that the Universal Fund is to be created from donations of stocks by companies and philanthropists.  The government would hence be uninvolved; the Universal Fund is not a socialist venture.  Rather, it is in part modeled on the structure of NGOs like the Sierra Club and the Red Cross. The Fund would provide an annual dividend to every citizen, with no maximum income cap.  Though it may seem absurd to send welfare payments to the wealthy, it’s politically savvy framing.  A free public college bill was passed in ultraconservative Tennessee thanks to having no maximum income cap; conservative detractors weren’t able to use the “class warfare” and “welfare queen” arguments. It should be noted that charitable tax deductions, estate tax reductions and lowered tax brackets would act as a de facto government incentive for the wealthy to donate to the Universal Fund.

The goals of the Universal Fund would be to decrease wealth inequality, encourage long-term investment and increase civic engagement in corporate culture.  On the last point, the authors remind us that, “The top 10% [of wealthiest Americans] hold more than 90% of all shares.”  Even in regards to the other 10% of shares owned, most of them are passively owned.  Most small-time investors don’t have time to vote in the annual general meetings of every company in which they are invested in.  Thus, boardroom votes are dominated by two shareholder proxy advisory firms and individual investors who own a substantial percentage of shares, as well as fund portfolio & hedge fund managers.

These Wall Street elites naturally tend to vote based upon their elitist interests.  Thus, they usually make decisions that are insane in terms of employee welfare, long-term corporate growth, executive pay and the environment. For example, `the authors remind us of the recent case of Martin Shkreli, the hedge fund manager who acquired Turing Pharmaceuticals and then raised AIDS medication prices from $13.50 to $750. This is the embodiment of the Reagan-era Golden Rule of maximizing shareholder value.  Not only is this Gordon Gekko truism objectively crazy, it’s actually legally unfounded.  Contrary to what you hear on CNBC or Fox Business, there’s no legal requirement that companies only focus on maximizing shareholder value.  The book relates the following quote from Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito comments in the recent case Burwell v. Hobby Lobby:“Modern corporate law does not require for-profit corporations to pursue profit at the expense of everything else, and many do not do so.”

CITIZEN CAPITALISM points to the ongoing successes of the sovereign wealth funds of Norway and Alaska, an ultraliberal and an ultraconservative society, respectively.  The Alaskan fund generally provides each citizen with a dividend payment of a few thousand dollars each year, via the state’s oil revenues.  The Government Pension Fund Norway is a more pertinent example, since it’s funded through a $1T stock portfolio.  Norway is not only able to fund its citizens’ pensions through the Fund, but also exert a moral influence on the market.  The Fund boycotts various egregious companies, like cigarette manufacturers, and will sell its shares in a company that gets exposed for abusive practices, like say employing child labor.  Our authors likewise want the Universal Fund to use a carrot-and-stick approach in regards to corporate ethics.

The thesis of CITIZEN CAPITALISM is, as the title suggests, rooted in optimism for capitalism.  Though they write about the success of socialist program in Alaska specifically, a conservative state in the US, the authors are convinced that a sovereign wealth fund bill could never be passed in Congress.  Recent polls and election results, however, show that Americans are starting to overwhelmingly favor ambitious government-program proposals like Medicare for All and a Green New Deal.  As I wrote before, the Universal Fund would mostly be feasible due to tax incentives; these government incentives would likely need to be greatly expanded in order to encourage enough stock donations to build the Fund to a substantial size.  Even America’s greatest philanthropists still stockpile billions of dollars in their offshore bank accounts.  Thus, one shouldn’t expect the Universal Fund or other private UBI schemes to become a replacement for state management of wealth inequality through programs like public school funding and marginal taxation.  Nonetheless, CITIZEN CAPITALISM is a stimulating little primer for rethinking the relationship between Wall St and Main St, managing the looming crises of a rapidly aging workforce and automation, plus the balancing of private and public sectors in regards to solving societal problems.

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