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BUSINESS

German public finances in black for second year

The German economy clocked up a small surplus in its public finances in 2013, as growth picked up at the end of the year, official data showed on Tuesday.

German public finances in black for second year
German government finances were in the black for the second year in a row. Photo: DPA

"The federal state's financing surplus amounted to €0.3 billion in 2013," the federal statistics office Destatis said in a statement. "It is the second year in a row that a small financing surplus has been achieved."

At the same time, Destatis confirmed that gross domestic product (GDP) grew by 0.4 percent in the fourth quarter of 2013, fractionally faster than growth of 0.3 percent in the preceding quarter.
 
EU countries are obliged, under membership rules, to limit their public deficits to no more than three percent of GDP and to achieve balanced budgets or even surpluses in the longer term.
 
Germany, which has weathered the financial and economic crisis much better than most of its EU neighbours, already managed to run up a small surplus equivalent to 0.1 percent of GDP in 2012.
 
The financing surplus is the difference between the state's revenues and spending, which amounted to €1.2334 trillion and €1.2331 trillion respectively in 2013, the statement added.
 
 
Turning to the fourth-quarter growth data, Destatis confirmed its preliminary estimate released earlier this month that "Germany continued along its path of moderate growth at the year-end."
 
As previously calculated, GDP expanded by 0.4 percent in the period from October to December compared with 0.3 percent in the preceding three months.
 
Growth was driven primarily by foreign trade, with exports rising by 2.6 percent in the three-month period, while imports were up just 0.6 percent, the statisticians calculated.
 
"There were mixed signals from domestic demand," Destatis said.
 
"Investment in both equipment and in construction was up strongly over the third quarter. And the same time, there was a sharp reduction of inventories, which braked the growth momentum," the statement said.
 
"And there was little change in consumption, with state spending stagnating at the level of the previous quarter, while consumer spending slipped slightly by 0.1 percent," Destatis said.
 
Over 2013 as a whole, the German economy expanded by 0.4 percent, Destatis calculated.
 

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BUSINESS

Is Germany’s Volkswagen becoming ‘the new Tesla’ as it ramps up e-vehicle production?

When Volkswagen chief executive Herbert Diess joined Twitter in January, he used his first tweet to warn pioneering electric car maker Elon Musk that he was coming after him.

Is Germany's Volkswagen becoming 'the new Tesla' as it ramps up e-vehicle production?
ID.3 cars in the Zwickau, Saxony production plant in March. Photo: DPA

The bold proclamation raised some eyebrows, coming from a carmaker better known for its 2015 “dieselgate” emissions cheating scandal than its green credentials.

But all that has changed since the German group announced an offensive to dominate the electric car market globally by 2025, vowing to set up six battery factories in Europe by the end of the decade.

“Volkswagen is the new Tesla,” declared the Financial Times, referring to the now dominant Californian e-car group founded by billionaire maverick entrepreneur Musk in 2003.

“Our transformation will be fast, unprecedented and on a scale not seen in the automobile industry in a century,” Diess said at VW’s inaugural “Power Day” last Monday, where he fired off a flurry of announcements.

READ ALSO: Volkswagen to spend 60 billion to transition to electric cars

Industry watchers say it’s a credible bet. Bloomberg Intelligence auto analyst Tatsuo Yoshida said Volkswagen “has (the) potential to overtake Tesla’s number one position… in a few years”.

Karl Brauer, an analyst with CarExpert.com, said VW’s “combination of financial resources and manufacturing capacity make it a prime challenger for Tesla’s dominance” — even if catching up with its US rival is “not going to be easy”.

‘Saving face’

Diess, who has headed the 12-brand VW group since 2018, has never hidden his admiration for Musk, whose brash and unconventional ways have a habit of disrupting markets.

The two men have a friendly relationship and regularly exchange emails, according to an insider.

If the aim of Diess’s carefully choreographed “Power Day” was to capture some of the enthusiasm of a Battery Day Tesla held late last year, particularly in the United States, it appears to have worked.
Diess’s announcements saw US investors flock into Volkswagen shares, including many small traders using online platforms.

In just a week, the Wolfsburg-based car giant gained 15 percent on Frankfurt’s blue-chip stock exchange, giving the group a market capitalisation of more than 130 billion.

The rise puts Diess’s 200-billion-euro target within reach but he has a way to go before matching Tesla’s $619 billion valuation.

VW’s “forced transition” towards more environmentally friendly cars has now been “recognised by the market”, said Eric Kirstetter, an auto sector expert at the Roland Berger consulting firm.

VW ironically owes its change of course to the dieselgate scandal, which forced the group into “a face-saving dive into an all-in electro-mobility strategy”, said Germany-based industry analyst Matthias Schmidt.

The Volkswagen E-Golf in production in Saxony in March 2018. Photo: DPA

Industry watchers note especially its decision to focus on developing a single platform for all its brands which could well be the game changer for the German giant.

The platform was used for the first time on the ID.3 model which launched late last year. UBS analyst Patrick Hummel called it “the most significant bet on electric vehicles made by any legacy carmaker to date” as VW’s competitors are using mostly mixed platforms and a combination of technologies.

READ ALSO: Volkswagen to slash up to 5,000 jobs to fund electric vehicle drive

Not Apple but Samsung

VW’s move is aimed at achieving economies of scale for its 12 brands.

“Tesla is learning what is takes to move into high volume, whereas companies like Volkswagen already have volumes and it’s just a matter of switching volumes from one platform to another which they have done routinely in the past,” said Subodh Mhaisalkar, executive director of the Energy Research Institute at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University.

But VW’s size also comes with its own disadvantages — consensus has to be found for each major decision not only with the powerful head of the workers’ committee but also with managements of the group’s various brands.

Beyond the core electric technology, Volkswagen is also playing catch up with Tesla on the just as important software.

Ben Kallo, an analyst at US investment bank Baird, believes Tesla will remain the market leader on electric cars because of its advances in battery cell production and autonomous driving.

“VW might not be the Apple but the Samsung of the electric vehicles world,”UBS said in a report.

On Twitter, Diess is still 49 million followers short of Musk.

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