Trump and the German current account surplus
In 2016 Germany recorded the world’s largest current account surplus of €297bn (approx US$315bn) overtaking that of China again to become the world’s largest. The country with the biggest deficit is the USA and head of the National Trade Council Peter Navarro (see earlier blog post) has accused Germany of currency manipulation by having a weaker Euro as compared to the stronger Deutschmark, its previous currency.
As you already maybe aware a weaker currency makes a country’s exports more competitive and imports more expensive. Therefore German cars, tools etc are very competitive on world markets. Trump has indicated that he may put a 35% tariff on imported BMW’s but for America to say that Germany is manipulating its currency is not a winning argument for the following reasons:
1. The Euro is weak as it is more an indication on the Eurozone economy which includes countries which have poor economic conditions – yes if Germany had the Deutschmark again it would be stronger
2. The US is embarking on a policy of expansionary fiscal policy with tax cuts and increased government spending on infrastructure. This will boost jobs but will also increase domestic interest rates which makes the US dollar stronger and thereby reducing export competitiveness of US goods and services but makes imports a lot cheaper.
3. The European Central Bank has cut interest rates to virtually zero and is implemented a policy of quantitative easing (buying back bonds) in order to stimulate the weaker economies in the eurozone.
4. With virtually zero interest rates, German savers are being punished as are German life insurers.
5. Does Navaroo’s allegation hold any creditability when the US is running massive deficits.
The German Problem
In order for German industry to remain competitive employers and trade unions agreed to restrain wage growth – this led to a weakening of the euro. To overcome this imbalances in economies wages should be increasing in Germany as it is a stronger economy and weakening in the poorer countries like Greece and Spain. This means that the latter has a competitive advantage and should attract investment.
Also a ageing population tend not to be big spenders and with the current demographics in Germany, firms are looking abroad to sell their products instead of at home. Ultimately this leads to excess savings which is capital sent abroad
With a current account surplus of 9% GDP the only way this can be reduced is with extreme measures such as:
– Lowering VAT (value-added tax)
– Increasing wages
– Government to increase its spending and run budget deficits
However the surplus is a sign of German’s export prowess and as one German politician said ‘America needs to make better cars”. Only when the German savings are turned into cash will surpluses turn into deficits.
Source: The Economist – Feb 11th 2017