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Germany slips into recession with negative first quarter

AFP
AFP - [email protected]
Germany slips into recession with negative first quarter
People shopping in Düsseldorf city centre. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Henning Kaiser

Germany fell into a recession around the turn of the year, official figures published Thursday showed, as Europe's largest economy contracted by 0.3 percent over the first three months of 2023.

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The negative growth figure was revised down by the federal statistics agency from an initial estimate of zero percent.

The poor performance was the second consecutive quarter of negative growth, following a 0.5-percent contraction in the last three months of 2022, as Germany battled an energy crisis unleashed by Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

The slump came as Germany battled a surge in energy prices in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which has weighed on households and businesses.

But the government shrugged off fears of a prolonged recession.

"We continue to expect a significant improvement over the course of the year," an economy ministry spokesman told AFP.

READ ALSO: Why inflation in Germany could slow down despite soaring food prices

'Danger zone'

The increased cost of energy has driven inflation, which sat at 7.2 percent in Germany in April, down only slightly from its peak towards the end of 2022.

"The persistence of high price increases continued to be a burden on the German economy at the start of the year," Destatis said in a statement.

The impact was felt particularly by consumers who reined in their spending on items such as food and clothing.

Germany, which had long been heavily reliant on Russian energy imports, was left particularly exposed following the Russian invasion in February last year.

Groceries in German supermarket

A woman buys groceries in a German supermarket. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Hauke-Christian Dittrich

The curtailment of gas supplies in particular left Berlin scrambling to find new sources of energy and fill reserves ahead of what was anticipated to be a harsh winter at the end of 2022

The slump was "not the worst-case scenario of a severe recession" predicted by some following the Russian invasion, said Carsten Brzeski, head of macro at the ING bank.

But mild temperatures, a rebound in key market China and the easing of supply chain problems following the coronavirus pandemic were "not enough to get the economy out of the recessionary danger zone", Brzeski said.

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"A drop in purchasing power, thinned-out industrial order books as well as the impact of the most aggressive monetary policy tightening in decades" were likely to drag on the economy further, he said, referring to the European Central Bank's interest rate hikes against inflation.

An anticipated slowdown in the US economy and the continuation of the war in Ukraine would also weigh on output, he said.

'Consumer spending rebound?'

The weak growth figures contrast the optimism showed by policymakers in Berlin who in April raised their forecast for economic growth in 2023 to 0.4 percent.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz had previously signalled confidence that Germany had done enough to fend off a painful economic contraction.

The negative revision to the growth figure was no surprise following a string of weak economic indicators, LBBW bank analyst Jens-Oliver Niklasch said.

"The early indicators suggest that things will continue to be similarly weak in the second quarter" of 2023, Niklasch said.

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Industrial orders, which give a foretaste of factory output, plummeted in March when compared with the same month last year.

By contrast, consumer confidence in Germany had continued its upward trend "amid all the negative news", Citi bank analyst Christian Schulz noted.

A rebound in consumer spending could fuel an economic recovery later in the year, Schulz said.

Germany's last recession came as the coronavirus pandemic swept through Europe at the start of 2020, prompting governments to effectively shut down large swathes of the economy.

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