Blog Post

The German trade surplus may widen with the euro-area recovery

An increased demand for German exports may well lead to an increased overall German trade surplus, unless German domestic demand increases significantly.

By: Date: November 7, 2013 Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance

The German current account surplus has given rise to much controversy following the recent US Treasury report, which criticised Germany for its persistent surplus (see yesterday’s Bruegel Economic Blogs Review). Let me contribute to the debate by showing two charts on German and Spanish trade developments, which suggest that the German trade surplus may widen further when the euro area’s cyclical position improves.

Bilateral current account balances between countries are generally not available, but bilateral trade balances of goods are, which account for a significant portion of the current account balance in Germany and Spain. Here is the geographical composition of the trade balances of Germany and Spain:

Chart 1: German and Spanish trade balances with different regions (% GDP), 1999Q1-2013Q2

Sources: Monthly seasonally adjusted trade balances of goods: Eurostat (“Member States (EU27) trade by BEC product group since 1999 [ext_st_27msbec]”). GDP: Annual current price GDP: AMECO.

Note: We converted monthly trade balances and annual GDP figures to the quarterly frequency. Before calculating the trade balance/GDP ratio, we filtered the GDP series with the Hodrick-Prescott filter (with smoothing parameter 1). Thereby, short-term fluctuations in GDP do not impact the trade balance/GDP ratio we report. In a post last year I showed an earlier version of this chart using annual data up to 2011.

By 2013, Germany’s trade surplus and Spain’s trade deficit with the rest of the euro-area have been eliminated (Spain has a small surplus with the euro area now). At the same time, Germany could increase her surplus with non-EU countries, which helped to keep the overall trade surplus at a high level. The big question is the cause of this increased surplus with non-EU countries: was this just the result of a substitution away from the euro area to the rest of the world at a time when demand in the euro area plummeted? Or has weak German domestic demand played a major role?

A well specified macroeconomic model could help to answer this question, yet we can get an intuition by plotting German export and import data.

Chart 2: German exports to, and imports from, different regions (% GDP), 1999Q1-2013Q2

Source: see at the previous chart.

With respects to euro-area partners, both German exports and imports have declined significantly during the past three years, reflecting the falling demand in the euro area. With respect to the ten EU countries outside the euro area, there was a small decline in both exports and imports during the past three years, yet it is remarkable that the German trade balance as a percent of GDP has not much changed during the past 5 years, as indicated by the first chart. The economic situation in these ten countries was diverse (e.g. compare the UK and Poland), but on average was somewhat weak, though not as much as in the euro area.

The most interesting panel is the third one, which shows that German exports to countries outside the EU have increased rapidly, but German imports from these countries have fallen recently. This suggests that weak German demand should have played a role.

Going forward, there is a risk that the German trade surplus may widen further. As highlighted by Wolfgang Münchau in the FT, the IMF concluded in its recent World Economic Outlook (see Box 1.3) that cyclical factors explain a significant share of the current account reversals in vulnerable euro-area members and their “current account deficits could widen again significantly when cyclical conditions, including unemployment, improve, unless competitiveness improves further.” The three Baltic countries may provide examples: these countries went through a much faster economic contraction (accompanied by a rapid move from double-digit current account deficits to current account surpluses), but as they started to recover, their current account surpluses turned to (small) deficits. A re-emergence of current account deficits in southern euro-area members, which would be reflected in their worsened trade balances, should be filled with foreign supply of goods and services. Germany is of course a major candidate to fill such a gap, due to geographical closeness and trade links. An increased demand for German exports may well lead to an increased overall German trade surplus, unless German domestic demand increases significantly.


Republishing and referencing

Bruegel considers itself a public good and takes no institutional standpoint. Anyone is free to republish and/or quote this post without prior consent. Please provide a full reference, clearly stating Bruegel and the relevant author as the source, and include a prominent hyperlink to the original post.


Warning: Invalid argument supplied for foreach() in /home/bruegelo/public_html/wp-content/themes/bruegel/content.php on line 449
View comments
Read article More on this topic More by this author

Blog Post

The Meseberg declaration and euro-zone reform

The recent Franco-German Meseberg declaration will set the scene for next week’s summit. We review opinions on this important agreement.

By: Silvia Merler Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: June 25, 2018
Read about event More on this topic

Upcoming Event

Jun
27
12:30

Euro tragedy: a drama in nine acts

This event will feature a presentation by Ashoka Mody of his new book, which argues that the Euro is at the root of the problems the European Union faces today.

Speakers: Maria Demertzis, Ashoka Mody and Guntram B. Wolff Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Location: Bruegel, Rue de la Charité 33, 1210 Brussels
Read about event More on this topic

Past Event

Past Event

For a stronger and more integrated Europe

This event will feature the presentation of the Economic Survey of the European Union 2018 and Economic Survey of the Euro Area 2018.

Speakers: Angel Gurría, Zsolt Darvas, Pierre Beynet and Aida Caldera-Sanchez Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Location: Bruegel, Rue de la Charité 33, 1210 Brussels Date: June 19, 2018
Read article More on this topic

Blog Post

Understanding (the lack of) German public investment

An array of data suggests that there is a general lack of investment by all branches of the German government, despite running budget surpluses for several years. This blog post plots the progression of the public investment problem, and explores which regions, which sectors, and which levels of government have been most affected.

By: Alexander Roth and Guntram B. Wolff Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: June 19, 2018
Read about event More on this topic

Upcoming Event

Jul
2
12:00

Assessing the EU’s fiscal architecture: a presentation by the European Fiscal Board

This event will discuss the 2019 Fiscal Stance, which assesses the current macroeconomic situation and offers advice for the future.

Speakers: Niels Thygesen, Agnès Bénassy-Quéré and Guntram B. Wolff Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Location: Bruegel, Rue de la Charité 33, 1210 Brussels
Read about event More on this topic

Upcoming Event

Jul
11
09:30

Understanding Italy: challenges and perspectives in the European context

This is an invitation-only workshop to discuss Italy’s economic and political challenges and what lies ahead

Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Location: Bruegel, Rue de la Charité 33, 1210 Brussels
Read article Download PDF More on this topic

Policy Contribution

Is the European Semester effective and useful?

The authors study whether and to what extent EU countries implement recommendations on macroeconomic imbalances given by the EU in the so-called European Semester. Overall implementation of recommendations by EU countries has worsened in the last few years, in particular when it comes to recommendations addressed to countries with excessive macroeconomic imbalances.

By: Konstantinos Efstathiou and Guntram B. Wolff Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: June 13, 2018
Read article More on this topic More by this author

Opinion

« Mieux vaudrait laisser les gouvernements libres de tenter les politiques de leur choix »

Les peuples ont le droit de faire des erreurs: Selon l’économiste Jean Pisani-Ferry, l’Union européenne doit accepter les aspirations légitimes à des politiques disparates, tout se prémunissant contre la contagion de leur corollaire : la possibilité d’une faillite souveraine.

By: Jean Pisani-Ferry Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: June 12, 2018
Read article More on this topic

Blog Post

Is the ECB collateral framework compromising the safe-asset status of euro-area sovereign bonds?

Central banks’ collateral frameworks play an important role in defining what is considered as a safe asset. However, the ECB’s framework is unsatisfactory because it is overly reliant on pro-cyclical ratings from credit rating agencies, and because the differences in haircuts between the different ECB credit quality steps are not sufficiently gradual. In this note, the authors propose how the ECB could solve these problems and improve its collateral framework to protect its balance sheet without putting at risk the safe status of sovereign bonds of the euro area.

By: Grégory Claeys and Inês Goncalves Raposo Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: June 8, 2018
Read article More on this topic More by this author

Opinion

Trägt Deutschland eine Mitschuld an Italiens Krise?

Italiens Regierung will riesige neue Schulden machen – die nächste Bewährungsprobe für die Eurozone. Deutschland muss sich aktiv an der Lösung beteiligen.

By: Guntram B. Wolff Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: June 6, 2018
Read about event More on this topic

Past Event

Past Event

News from the South. Proposal to strengthen the European Monetary Union: Combining fiscal discipline with risk sharing

On 4 June Bruegel, as in previous years, will host the presentation of the Euro Yearbook, a collection of experts’ insights on the construction of the European Monetary Union through 2017.

Speakers: Cristina Cabrera, Maria Demertzis, Fernando Fernandez, Massimo Giuliodori, Javier Méndez Llera and Guntram B. Wolff Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Location: Bruegel, Rue de la Charité 33, 1210 Brussels Date: June 4, 2018
Read article More on this topic More by this author

Blog Post

The Italian Crisis

While Italy has been through one of the gravest institutional crises in its history, we review recent opinions on the topic.

By: Silvia Merler Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: June 4, 2018
Load more posts