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Flush Germany balances budget early

The German Finance Ministry said on Monday it expects to reach a balanced budget this year, two years earlier than expected.

Flush Germany balances budget early
Photo: DPA

Under eurozone rules enshrined in the European Union’s Maastricht Treaty, member countries are not allowed to run up deficits in excess of 3.0 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) and must balance their budgets in the medium term.

Only a few months ago, Berlin had been projecting a deficit ratio of about 0.5 percent for 2012, compared with 0.8 percent for 2011. And the overall state or public budget was expected to be balanced by 2014.

But “on the basis of our updated medium-term projections, Germany will achieve a balanced budget as early as 2012,” the Finance Ministry said in a statement.

A ministry spokesman attributed the improvement to higher tax revenues and lower financing costs as a result of low interest rates.

“Based on current assumptions, the overall Maastricht deficit will be brought down completely to zero this year,” the statement said.

The German economy, Europe’s biggest, has managed to hold up fairly well so far, shrugging off the worst of the debt crisis that has pushed many of its neighbours into recession. Unemployment is also close to historic low levels meaning tax revenues are strong and jobless payouts low.

And while borrowing costs for debt-wracked countries are high, Germany has benefited from ultra-low borrowing costs as a result of its safe-haven status.

The public budget is even expected to move into a modest surplus of 0.5 percent in both 2013 and 2014 before coming back to zero in 2015 and 2016, according to the ministry’s medium-term projections.

The country’s overall debt levels are therefore also falling with the debt-to-GDP ratio projected to stand at 81.5 percent this year, two percentage points lower than forecast back in the summer, the ministry said. In 2011, the debt ratio stood at 80.5 percent.

And it could even drop as low as 73 percent by 2016, the ministry predicted.

EU rules put a ceiling of 60 percent on a member country’s debt-to-GDP ratio.

AFP/mry

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ECONOMY

German consumer prices set to rise steeply amid war in Ukraine

Russia's war in Ukraine is slowing down the economy and accelerating inflation in Germany, the Ifo Institute has claimed.

German consumer prices set to rise steeply amid war in Ukraine

According to the Munich-based economics institute, inflation is expected to rise from 5.1 to 6.1 percent in March. This would be the steepest rise in consumer prices since 1982.

Over the past few months, consumers in Germany have already had to battle with huge hikes in energy costs, fuel prices and increases in the price of other everyday commodities.

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With Russia and Ukraine representing major suppliers of wheat and grain, further price rises in the food market are also expected, putting an additional strain on tight incomes. 

At the same time, the ongoing conflict is set to put a dampener on the country’s annual growth forecasts. 

“We only expect growth of between 2.2 and 3.1 percent this year,” Ifo’s head of economic research Timo Wollmershäuser said on Wednesday. 

Due to the increase in the cost of living, consumers in Germany could lose around €6 billion in purchasing power by the end of March alone.

With public life in Germany returning to normal and manufacturers’ order books filling up, a significant rebound in the economy was expected this year. 

But the war “is dampening the economy through significantly higher commodity prices, sanctions, increasing supply bottlenecks for raw materials and intermediate products as well as increased economic uncertainty”, Wollmershäuser said.

Because of the current uncertainly, the Ifo Institute calculated two separate forecasts for the upcoming year.

In the optimistic scenario, the price of oil falls gradually from the current €101 per barrel to €82 by the end of the year, and the price of natural gas falls in parallel.

In the pessimistic scenario, the oil price rises to €140 per barrel by May and only then falls to €122 by the end of the year.

Energy costs have a particularly strong impact on private consumer spending.

They could rise between 3.7 and 5 percent, depending on the developments in Ukraine, sanctions on Russia and the German government’s ability to source its energy. 

On Wednesday, German media reported that the government was in the process of thrashing out an additional set of measures designed to support consumers with their rising energy costs.

The hotly debated measures are expected to be finalised on Wednesday evening and could include increased subsidies, a mobility allowance, a fuel rebate and a child bonus for families. 

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS: Germany’s proposals for future energy price relief

In one piece of positive news, the number of unemployed people in Germany should fall to below 2.3 million, according to the Ifo Institute.

However, short-time work, known as Kurzarbeit in German, is likely to increase significantly in the pessimistic scenario.

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