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Germany’s current account surplus – causes and consequences.
German Current Account Causes
- Germany’s labour costs have been approximately 20-30% lower that its Eurozone competitors and the German real exchange rate is strongly undervalued relative to the rest of the eurozone. This makes its goods artificially cheap, crowding out those of other eurozone countries from both eurozone and world markets. If Germany still had the D-Mark, it is almost certain that the increased competitiveness of German exports would have caused an appreciation in the German currency. This appreciation would have rebalanced demand – increasing the price of exports and reducing the price of imports. A flexible exchange rate would have moderated the rise in the German current account surplus.
- German manufacturing has been very competitive in recent years with improvements in productivity, and high-tech German exports have weathered the global downturn, better than many other countries. Germany had less exposure to financial services and has a very competitive manufacturing sector.
- Germany’s jobless rate is at a very low 4.7%. This should be stimulating demand but the German regulatory and tax structure is geared in favor of output and exports, and against consumption and investment. Furthermore, the German government are running budget surpluses which takes money out of the circular flow. This is when its infrastructure is looking very tired – canals, the rail network and autobahns need upgrading. Investment has fallen from 23% to 17% of GDP since the early 1990’s. Net public investment has been negative for 12 years.
German Current Account Consequences
- The large current account surplus and undervaluation of currency was good for Germany, but it was holding back exports in other countries. Greater German domestic consumption and targeting higher inflation would provide a boost to global demand and help to stimulate growth in terms of export demand especially in southern Europe. Surpluses steal demand from elsewhere and they export unemployment to other countries. This matters in an era of “secular stagnation” and excess global savings.
- Given the imbalances in the Eurozone, southern European economies face a long period of deflation as they slowly seek to restore competitiveness against their northern competitors. However, given European wide austerity, this period of deflation is proving very costly in terms of lost GDP and high unemployment.