Germany Readying Stimulus Plan as Contingency for Deep Recession

Birgit Jennen
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Germany Readying Stimulus Plan as Contingency for Deep Recession

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The German government is getting ready to act to shore up Europe’s largest economy, preparing fiscal stimulus measures that could be triggered by a deep recession, according to two people with direct knowledge of the matter.

The program would be designed to bolster the domestic economy and consumer spending to prevent large-scale unemployment, said the people who asked not to be identified because the discussions are private. Similar to bonuses granted in the 2009 crisis to prod Germans to buy new cars, the government is studying incentives to improve energy efficiency of homes, promote short-term hiring and boost income through social welfare, the people said.

Bunds extended declines while the euro briefly rose as much as 0.2% to $1.1114 before slipping back.

Signs are mounting that Germany’s rigid adherence to its balanced-budget policy is softening. On Sunday, Finance Minister Olaf Scholz suggested the government would aim to muster 50 billion euros ($55 billion) of extra spending in case of an economic crisis. Last week, Chancellor Angela Merkel said the economy is “heading into a difficult phase” and that her government will react “depending on the situation.”

Germany’s central bank warned on Monday that the economy could be about to slip into recession, adding to the pressure on policy makers to ramp up support.

With Europe’s largest economy slowing sharply and Merkel’s coalition becoming increasingly unpopular, pressure has increased at home and abroad for the famously frugal Germans to open the purse strings. Sticking to a balanced-budget policy for roughly a decade has allowed Germany to slash public debt to 60% of gross domestic product from 83% over the past decade.

“Considering that industrial weakness has now persisted for one and a half years, it is remarkable how slowly the debate has moved so far,” Greg Fuzesi, an economist at JPMorgan Chase, said in a note. “This is partly because the desire to cut government debt is deeply held by all mainstream parties and because the economic slowdown has felt “strange” so far, with spillovers to the labour market only beginning to emerge now, and in modest scale.”

The hurdles for a stimulus program remain high. The government requires the lower house of parliament to declare a crisis so it can issue debt beyond the normal guidelines allowed during a recession. Without a sense of wide-spread malaise that approval could be difficult to justify, and Germany is still officially predicting an economic recovery before the end of the year.

What Bloomberg’s Economists Say...

“By the end of the year we estimate the German economy might be about 1% smaller than it could have been if the slowdown had been avoided. It could take spending of between 30 billion and 110 billion euros to reverse that damage.”--Jamie Rush.Read his GERMANY INSIGHT

Even with German output contracting in the second quarter, officials in Merkel’s administration are wary that a knee-jerk spending spree would fuel imports and savings rather than bolster industrial output and protect jobs, said the people.

Industrial capacity utilization would have to drop significantly for fiscal stimulus to have a meaningful impact, they said. Currently, spending in the amount of 1% of gross domestic product would boost growth by less than 0.5 percentage points, a ratio they consider insufficient.

(Adds charts, quotes throughout.)

--With assistance from Carolynn Look and Jana Randow.

To contact the reporter on this story: Birgit Jennen in Berlin at bjennen1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Ben Sills at bsills@bloomberg.net, Raymond Colitt, Chris Reiter

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