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Stagnation or recession: What threatens the banking system of Germany and the eurozone in 2020

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“One of Germany’s most acclaimed experts” in economic risk analysis, Marcus Krall, “predicts the collapse of the German banking system and the eurozone by the end of 2020.” Krall describes the euro as an “erroneous structure,” whose existence is maintained for political reasons. According to Krall, the euro has a negative impact on Germany’s competitiveness and “weakens the country’s banking system”. Most eurozone countries would “have gone bankrupt” long ago if the European Central Bank did not support them by lowering interest rates. “At the end of next year, Europe may face a dramatic decline in the availability of loans.” There will be massive bankruptcies of businesses, and the unemployment rate will soar. In an attempt to save the situation, the ECB will resort to emissions, which, in turn, will provoke a leap in inflation and “loss of savings not only of the Germans, but also of everyone who invested in euros.” The crisis in the European economy will undermine political support for the euro, “and countries will return to their national currencies.”  It sounds threatening, but let’s try to look at the details.

The slowdown of the German economy has been in place for several years. According to the returns of the year 2018, the GDP growth dropped to its lowest in the past 5 years and amounted to 1.5%, which is a decline of 0.7 compared to 2017. The largest EU economy “narrowly escaped a recession”. In the second quarter of this year, German GDP decreased by 0.1% against the same period the previous year; which, in annual terms, reduced the growth rate to 0.4%. Official forecasts for the results of the current year have been reduced to 0.5% – more than three times, compared with last year’s expectations. By early autumn, forecasts for a further decline in exports amid fears of a general slowdown in the global economy led to more expectations of a further slowdown of the economy.  The government of Angela Merkel, after expressing optimism about growth prospects for the current year, began to acknowledge the problem.

The economy of Germany is to a large extent dependent on exports, and any serious turmoil in international trade will cause Germany more damage than any other EU country. An important factor is the ongoing trade war between the United States and China, which is on the verge of a new escalation. What also creates a negative outlook for the entire European economy is the prospect of Brexit without an agreement between London and Brussels. Finally, the Chinese economy is slowing down, which has caused a decrease in demand for German export products, primarily cars. According to The Financial Times, in the first half of this year, the output in the car-manufacturing industry dropped by 12 percent. Also, the anti-Russian sanctions are hitting “the German farming sector and processing industries; German companies are losing jobs and profit,” – reports Gazeta.ru. Meanwhile, consumer spending and domestic investment continue to grow. Unemployment is at its lowest since the reunification of Germany. Reports of September 9 say that in July German exports rose again by 0.7%, rather than fall, as most observers had expected. Nevertheless, entrepreneurial confidence continues to decline in almost all sectors of the economy. Thus, the GDP growth rate in the 3rd quarter will make the key factor: in case of a decrease, we will be able to talk about a recession in Germany in the formal sense of the word.

Like most European banks, German comapnies have long been fighting a fierce battle to maintain the profitability of business amid the long-running period of ultra-low interest rates. Meanwhile, bond yields, especially long-term ones, continue to decline throughout Europe. The yield on German government bonds is negative for all securities with a validity term of up to 10 years inclusive. For 30-year bonds, the yield fluctuates around zero. The rate difference between short-and long-term borrowings – the main source of income for banks under normal conditions – is close to zero. As investors rush in search for safer assets, the forecasts are disappointing: negative rates will persist “for several more years.” Another negative prospect for the German banking system is the de facto negative rates on ECB deposits. In fact, banks have to pay the Central Bank for keeping their capital in its accounts. The prospect of a new drop in the ECB interest rate in the near future is causing more anxiety among investors.

The ECB is signaling its willingness to lower interest rates in order to neutralize the slowdown in the entire eurozone.  Experts predict that the ECB will either keep rates at the current low level or lower them even more, at least until mid-2020. In these conditions, the German government is likely to resort to tough measures to secure a deficit-free budget, at least in 2019. However, the policy of cutting the state debt could be revised. At the end of this summer, German Finance Ministry officials publicly spoke about a “package of economic incentives” that could be put into effect in the event of a recession in Germany. Depending on the extent of such stimuli, the balanced annual budget policy may be put at risk.

In 20 years, the euro has turned Germany into a key EU economy, critical for the economic stability of the entire union. At the same time, it has become a major factor that cemented the isolation of Germany in Europe. As skeptics had predicted, the admission to the eurozone, despite tough selection criteria, of countries very different from the economic point of view, led to the fact that a deterioration in the global economic situation hits the weakest member countries the hardest. According to critics, “the euro exchange rate is clearly too high for France and Italy (this becomes a blow to their competitiveness), and too low for Germany.” During the Eurozone crisis of 2009, there appeared a vicious circle: the dominance of the Federal Republic of Germany’s economy in the EU allowed Berlin to dictate its conditions for strict budgetary savings to most of Europe. This, in turn, gave rise to an outbreak of anti-German sentiment in a number of countries on the continent, including Greece and Italy.

By now, Central Europe has turned into a supplier of semi-finished products and spare parts for German enterprises. The rest of the EU countries are a market for German goods. Simultaneously, Germany is forced to pay for the economic failure of an increasing number of its partners in the eurozone. Thus, the economic power of Germany, while being the backbone of the entire economic system of the EU, has become almost the main threat to the European integration project. Even though the German economy boasts a significant amount of strength, “weak domestic credit performance, the risk of a global trade recession and the slowdown in China” will continue to “push” Germany to recession, – SaxoBank analysts quoted by Gazeta.ru said in the middle of the year. According to the June results, industrial production went down by 5% year-on-year. The ZEW economic sentiment index has reached its lowest level since December 2011. According to Eurostat, published in early September, the total GDP of the euro area countries grew by only 0.2 percent in the second quarter, which is two times lower against the first three months of this year.

In late August, The Economist made a prediciton that Germany would follow the path of Japan, which has been waging an incessant struggle against the threat of stagnation for decades. Like Japan, present-day Germany is rich, burdened with a large state debt, as well as an aging population. Trends in the German bond market also signal “endless stagnation.” Concerns are growing that politicians have “forever” lost their ability to improve the state of the economy. Moreover, the decline in consumer prices “pushes” discount rates yet lower. As a result, many experts believe that Berlin may be faced with the need for a more “self-oriented” policy, at least in the economic sphere.

Meanwhile, considering EU membership criteria, the majority of the eurozone member countries are in no position to take  any significant steps  in the event of a genuinely unfavorable turn in the global economic situation. The presence of the euro and the “unprecedentedly” high degree of independence of the ECB with its extensive powers put severe restrictions on the possibility of influencing the economy of individual states. In accordance with the current requirements of the eurozone, governments have to either increase taxes or reduce government spending – even if it harms the national economy. Formally, there is a monetary mechanism to counter economic upheavals in a particular eurozone country to minimize their consequences for other participants. From the point of view of abstract macroeconomic indicators, this mechanism has been functioning well up to now. But, judging by what we witnessed in Spain, and then in Greece and Italy, its socio-economic and political costs are extremely high.

Also, the ECB itself is pretty hard-up at the moment. In the spring, it extended the program of preferential lending to the banking sector. However, inflation is steadily below the 2 percent target, and interest rates, as mentioned above, are fluctuating around zero. The government bond retirement program, especially in the case of Germany, is already approaching the limit established by the current legislation. Given the situation, economists fear that in the event of a new economic shock, there may simply be “no room left” for monetary policy measures. According to pessimists, “Europe has already reached this point.” Thus, for the first time in the past decade, we can talk about the need to use fiscal stimuli. And it is completely unclear whether the decisions, which are likely to be the result of numerous political and bureaucratic compromises, will prove effective. Thus, the recently announced plans in the fiscal sphere of individual countries indicate, according to economists, the high probability of an increase in the eurozone budget deficit – up to 0.8 percent of its total GDP in 2019, The Economist reports. While the budget deficit keeps growing in Italy and France, Germany does not lose hope for a small economic growth in annual terms. In the absence of a common eurozone budget, “general” fiscal measures can again turn out to be only the arithmetic average of the diverse decisions taken at the national level. Optimists expect fiscal stimuli to add 0.2-0.3 percent to eurozone GDP growth by the end of this year. Yet again, much depends on Germany with its extremely significant “space for maneuver”.

However, Berlin is still in two minds about it, probably, because in the case of fiscal stimulus measures, consensus is important, along with a good coordination of actions of the governments of different countries. Only in this case could fears of stagnation disperse. Finally, the scope of necessary incentive measures requires a high degree of political credibility. Therefore, it cannot be ruled out that an economic recession in Germany could introduce substantial changes to the plans or dates of the transit of the supreme power scheduled for 2021. For Germany it took more than for other European countries to stop resisting the idea of fiscal stimulus for the economy. Now, observers argue whether the German authorities could go too far. In any case, they have yet to agree on such key parameters of the general budget of the eurozone as its size and permissible applications. Meanwhile, as pressure on the European economy keeps growing, a collapse of the eurozone can no longer be ruled out.

At present, there are still chances for Germany to avoid a recession, if not in the technical, then in the practical sense of the word. And even if it starts, the Federal Republic of Germany will enter it with one of the lowest unemployment rates among all countries of the world. By their nature, most factors that push the German economy “down” can be considered temporary. Nevertheless, more and more experts come to the conclusion that the economy of Germany “is balancing on the brink of recession.” The banking sector of Germany is busy struggling to maintain business amid zero or negative yield on assets, just like most banks in other countries of the euro area. Every day, it becomes clear that, in order to save the eurozone, the participating countries will have to make the difficult choice between delegating some part of fiscal sovereignty in favor of the hypothetical “common” supranational “finance ministry”, on the one hand,  and on the other, going on with their attempts, which are increasingly costly, if not utterly useless in the current conditions, to withstand cyclical fluctuations in the economy with the help of the ECB monetary measures alone. 

From our partner International Affairs

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Economy

The Economy Against the Tide

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The world evidently grappled with the effects of the Covid pandemic in 2020 and continues to wedge forward against the odds to survive and stay afloat. The major economies contracted as the global boards pinned records after records in economic depreciation, monetary devaluation and corporate deterioration. However, whilst the pandemic pushed the metaphorical brake over the developed and developing economies alike, and simultaneously nudged the least developed into desperation, China posted surprisingly positive growth figures as it bid adios to the yesteryear. While anything remotely lucrative seems like a farce nowadays and although the relatively booming Chinese economy seems superficial at the first glance, a detailed analysis dissects the tenets of the trade that have set the People’s Republic apart from the struggling world.

China stands as the figurative ‘Ground Zero’ of the Coronavirus pandemic; reporting the earliest emergence of the virus in the ultimate month of 2019.  China later went on to have a gloomy start to the new year; struggling to deal with the strange occurrences, rising death toll and having no answer to the surging uncertainty. The new year celebrations were cancelled, holidays extended and even corporate giants like Toyota and Apple were resorted to immediate closure across the Mainland. The year expected to be of expansion turned polar as the world started to isolate the country to contain the virus; turning exports to the lowest levels over decades of preceding economic flourish.

However, while many global experts predicted the downfall of China; extrapolated by the dismal figures of the first few months of 2020, China quickly recovered and surpassed expectations in both containing the virus within the country and stabilising the tattering economy. The main contender and outright rival of China, however, faced the music in the most ironic way possible. Whilst the United States pillared on the trade war between the two since before the Covid pandemic, Mr. Trump left no stones unturned in maligning China for spreading the virus around the globe; deliberately and in an attempt to exponentiate its accession to power over US. The US economy faced the brunt of the pandemic rather expectantly since the time was wasted on hurling accusations instead of proactively adopting protective measures beforehand. While US is currently the worst affected country around the globe, its economy is no different than the mounding death toll on charts each day.

The US economy contracted on record levels and even itsworld-renowned indexes like DJI and S&P500 posted negative rallies; first since the Great Depression of 1929. Although the economic damage to the US has been cushioned, now twice, by heavily strategized monitory polices of the FED and colossal fiscal stimulus, the world superpower is showing signs of weakness as it deals with over 250,000 fresh cases each day yet can’t function to facilitate the 14 million and counting Americans facing unemployment for months and seeking benefits, taking the national bill to unprecedented heights.

Even compared to the regional counterparts, China stands out in much more than just the economic stability. Europe currently deals with a detrimental surge of the virus-variants while simultaneously accommodating the challenging deals across the borders in the wake of Brexit. The United Kingdom faces contradictions over new trade policies and procedures; not just with EU but with its very own states like Northern Ireland. The monetary rates now touch zero with a possibility of further plunge into the negative territory as London shivers with fatal blows of the highly infectious variant of Covid and the nation facing the second country-wide lockdown as hospitals run at full capacity.

Meanwhile, EU falters with the economic fiasco even under the improving financial conditions and finally grabbing an agreement on the year-in-year-out negotiations of the Silk Road Initiative. The distinction, however, is clear as while Germany, Europe’s most powerful economy, wrestles with a catastrophic recession, China completely avoided recession throughout the year 2020. While Germany looms into negative growth rates, China posted a steep 6.5% growth in the last quarter (Oct-Dec); a cumulative growth of 2.3% in 2020. A stark opposite of the slump caused by Covid restrictions that initially pulled China’s economy down by 6.8% in the first quarter compared to 2019.

While China has been gauged as “The only major economy to quickly recover from the pandemic and find the normal course of business operation”, the recovery has been uneven over multiple sectors of the domestic industry. The boom in the economy has been celebrated and attributed to the growing optimism of Chinese investors in the relentless recovery of the economy. The Shanghai stock market was recently pulled up by 1% even under the rippling conditions of the global economy. However, while the consumer electronics sector has enjoyed the waves pushed by the ‘stay at home’ mottos under the lockdown, service businesses like hotels and restaurants have faced a crunch which has eventually carried forward to the blue-collar workers in China. While the factories in the Mainland have turned into an overdrive to fill in the boom of exports since many countries face a manufacturing break, the exporters to the poor countries are dealing with the devastation alike to their clients. While magnates like Jack Ma have made a fortune, the recent graduates are struggling to find new jobs.

Now, with the resurgence of the virus, the fear in lacing the country again. The recent tally has jumped up to 769 new cases whilst reporting first death in over six months. However, the health officials have deemed the sporadic spread as ‘very, very small’. Ultimately, China came about to be a tough nut to crack, analytically due to its effective centralised strategies in dealing with the pandemic followed by aggressive policy making; focusing on the advanced manufacturing industries to stay proximate to core competencies whilst simultaneously maintaining a free market structure in other areas of the economy, setting a path for a predicted average 5.7% growth until 2025. Thus, paving China’s way to attain the coveted title of ‘World Superpower’ and surpassing US by 2028.

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Indian Farmers Protest Against the Parliament’s Encroaching Bills

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The new agricultural reforms in India aim to permit farmers to offer their produce to private purchasers beyond a state-run discount or wholesale markets, where farmers are guaranteed a minimum cost for their yields.

However, the farmers state that the laws would undermine their livelihoods and will solely be profitable to large companies, leaving producers helpless under the heel of a free market. Such patters can be gauged from the Modi government’s corporation-oriented policies. For instance, the current corporate tax rate – 30 percent – has been considerably reduced: 22 percent for existing companies and 15 percent for those established after 1st October, 2019. 

Farmers regard these bills with suspicion, for they feel threatened by the corporatization of their agricultural domain and the dismissal of the MSP regime. Introduced in 1966-67, the MSP regime promises the sale of specific crops at a fixed price thus assuring the farmers of a regular income in spite of escalating input costs and unstable prices.

Primary leaders of farmers’ associations have called for protests, even willing to observe fasts during the protest in order to challenge the new farmer laws. With almost 250 million protesters, to protest is being called the largest protest in human history

This is the second time in the previous two weeks that the farmers have called for country-wide protests, requesting all the people to organize sit-ins outside the district organizations across the state. The protests are being led by a large number of farmers sitting outside the capital, New Delhi, obstructing main highways heading towards the city.

Chief Minister of Delhi, Arvind Kejriwal, and his party ‘Aam Aadmi Party’ have supported the sit-ins by fasting with them. Kejriwal encouraged his party workers and members to join the campaign and asked Modi’s Bharatiya Janta Party to set aside arrogance and fulfill the demands of the farmers.

The agriculture sector contributes almost fifteen percent to India’s $2.9 trillion economy and enrolls the greater part of the nation’s 1.4 billion individuals. In recent years, this sector has been facing setbacks and driving a huge number of indebted farmers to take their lives.

Modi said the enactment was required to support the agricultural sector, and that the new laws would profit the farmers and “free” them from the oppression of middlemen. Farmers, generally from Haryana and Punjab and considered the “grain bowl” of India, have denounced the laws as “hostile to farmers”.

The farmers have demanded revocation of the new laws and assurance of the Minimum Support Price for their yields.“It’s been months now since the farmers began protesting. We have sent a few written messages to the Prime Minister, Agricultural Minister is demonstrating our hatred to the hostile laws but the BJP government is careless on this issue,” said the farmers’ leader.

One elderly woman, aged 75, said that “unless and until Narendra Modi withdraws these laws, we will not go back. This government should know about the strength and determination of the Punjabi people.”

The Indian Supreme Court has received many petitions regarding a ban on the protest, but the top court has declined such calls and ordered the government and unions to form a committee in which the experts would mediate between the concerned parties.

On the birth anniversary of Sikh leader, Guru Nanak, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a Zoom meeting that Canada would always defend the right of peaceful protest.

Federal Minister Fawad Chaudhry termed Indian behavior with farmers as “shameful”. He stated that the Indian government’s policies were the biggest threat to regional peace. United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres called on the Indian government to allow protests, asserting the right to raise a voice and show opposition to the government.

The vociferous calls have certainly proven to be a feather in the farmers’ cap, as India’s Supreme Court has recently ordered for the suspension of these farming bills.

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U.S. Trade Deficits Increase from Covid

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America’s trade deficit (excess of imports minus exports) reached its minimum in February 2020, and since then has increased 84% from February’s -3708, up to November’s -6812. America has one of the world’s highest rates of coronavirus-19, or Covid-19, infection, and therefore is less productive and more needy than most countries are, during the coronavirus crisis, and is consequently importing more and producing less. The reverse has generally been the case for the countries that have had good policy-responses to the virus — those countries’ economies have either been virtually unharmed by, or else have actually boomed from, this pandemic.

China’s mere month-long trade deficit from coronavirus was an enormous -62.05 in February, but by March China popped back up to+19.93 and has remained above +36 since that time, and it reached its high of +75.43 in November. China has one of the world’s lowest rates of coronavirus-19 infection, and is therefore exporting more as it fulfills the needs of countries (such as America) that are producing less because of the coronavirus crisis. 

A major study by Jungle Scout, “Global Imports Report 2020”, says that:

Those countries that were able to recover from the impact of early 2020 economic events are the countries faring better later in 2020. For example, China had the most drastic year-over-year reduction in U.S. imports among the top 20 countries in February and March, second only to Hong Kong. But in April, China bounced back significantly, achieving approximately 40% year-over-year growth in U.S. imports. The countries that were able to recover early are the countries faring better later in 2020.

On December 17th, Matthew C. Klein at Barrons headlined “China’s Pandemic Recovery Accelerates While the U.S. Economy Rolls Over” and he reported that, “Soaring consumer spending, rapid manufacturing growth, and robust exports are pushing up the speed of China’s recovery from the pandemic even as the third wave of the viral outbreak and the withdrawal of federal government income support are causing the U.S. economy to turn over.”

One of the very few countries that were hit about as little as China by this pandemic is Vietnam, whose northern border is China. Vietnam has perhaps the world’s most vigorous and well-planned policies to restrain this virus. The country’s only two months of trade deficit were during April, at -12.20, and popped back up to +12.33 in May, then peaked at +49.86 in August, and declined sharply down to +6.00 in November, and then down to -10.00 in December. Although Vietnam’s worst month of the infection was August, after which the numbers of new daily cases returned quickly to the extraordinarily low numbers of the preceding months, Vietnam was hit hard by retaliation (such as complaints and investigations) from the U.S. regime in October, which caused an especially hard drop from 29.39 in October down to November’s +6.00, and then December’s -10.00. China wasn’t hit so hard by the U.S., mainly because Trump had already turned the screws against them earlier, and China had thus already reoriented its exports toward other countries. Yet, still, China has, steadily, each year, during the past five years, produced almost exactly 40% of all imports by the U.S. The impact of America’s policies against China has been much bigger in boosting America’s imports from China’s competitors than it has been in reducing America’s imports from China. America has been increasing its imports mainly from Vietnam, Germany, and Taiwan. So, those have been the chief beneficiaries of Trump’s anti-Chinese policies.

Another of the very few countries that have been hit by this coronavirus even less hard than China has been is Taiwan, which is almost unique in its enjoying a positive balance of trade throughout the year, and so Taiwan has produced record-breaking trade surpluses ever since May. This is largely because Taiwan is selling more to all of the desperate countries, such as the United States (which regime is especially happy to increase its purchases from Taiwan so as to decrease its purchases from China and from Vietnam). Taiwan is perhaps the world’s top gainer as a consequence of this pandemic.

Unlike China, Vietnam, and Taiwan, Germany has been somewhat poor in its coronavirus policies, and has 24,493 cases per million inhabitants, versus 16 in Vietnam, 36 in Taiwan, and 61 in China. America, by comparison, has 73,795. So, whereas America is over 3 times worse than Germany, it’s 4,612 times worse than Vietnam, 2,950 times worse than Taiwan, and 1,210 times worse than China. Germany is benefitting not because its coronavirus policies have been good but because the American regime wants to crush China and for some products this means buying from Germany instead.

The people who were saying that the aggressive types of measures that countries such as China, Vietnam, and Taiwan, were imposing against this virus would hurt instead of help those nations’ economies were not only wrong but they had their understanding exactly upside-down. They were exactly and precisely and extremely wrong. And if the United States (and perhaps some of its allies) had not been retaliating against the countries (other than Taiwan) that are the most successful against this virus, then the countries that have been doing an outstanding job of protecting their populations from this virus would be economically benefitting even more than they have been economically benefitting from their success against this virus. The result for the well-performing countries is not only lower rates of disease and lower rates of deaths, but higher rates of economic production and GDP. 

Coronavirus has thus been redirecting global leadership away from the United States. One might anticipate that America will respond by relying increasingly upon its military in order to impose its will — no longer as any sort of role-model to inspire its ‘allies’. For example, on Christmas Day, December 25th of 2020, at the very same time that the nation’s austerity hawks were blocking passage of a covid-19 relief bill in the U.S. Congress, and millions of Americans were terrified at the resulting prospects of soon becoming made homeless, CNN headlined “US Army prototype cannon blasts target from 43 miles away”, and presented video of a successful test of a tank’s cannon firing a small guided missile against a military vehicle that was located 43 miles away, which video CNN accompanied with martial music in celebration of the huge explosion and fireball-annihilation of that targeted vehicle. America would then be selling its threats more, and its benefits less, and CNN was already a liberal cheerleader for this change to a more ‘assertive’ style of propaganda. But if this is liberal propaganda, then what is conservative propaganda; or: How will CNN now distinguish itself from, say, Fox?

Trump’s replacement, Biden, has appointed, to his Administration’s international affairs posts, individuals who are just as intensely neoconservative (or “hawkish” or “war-loving”) as Trump did; and, therefore, the incentive for America’s trading-partners to become less economically dependent upon America is likely to decrease little, if at all, and America’s balance-of-trade numbers will probably improve little, if at all, during his Presidency. America seems set on being an aggressive declining power, economically, no matter how much it will be spending militarily in order to prop-up its power. America’s billionaires have been thriving while America has been spending around half of the entire world’s military expenditures, and, so, this type of U.S. Government is unlikely to change in the near future.

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