Has The German Manufacturing Juggernaut "Lost Its Mojo?"

Earlier today, we highlighted the noticeable weakness in European PMIs which largely missed expectations on - what else? - sluggish global demand and generally anemic economic growth.

Specifically, Germany’s PMI fell for the second month in a row in February, declining to 53.8 from 54.5 the previous month. Worryingly, the manufacturing PMI slumped 50.2, missing estimates by a wide margin and hitting its lowest level in 15 months.

Services looked ok, but as anyone who follows global macro knows, it’s all about manufacturing for the world’s fourth largest economy. The health of Germany’s manufacturing sector serves as a useful barometer not only for the health of the European economy for the pace of global growth and trade in general. Indeed, that’s one of the reasons why the Volkswagen emissions scandal was (and still is) so troubling. It has the potential to dent Germany’s manufacturing juggernaut.

In the wake of Monday’s data, Goldman is out asking if perhaps German manufacturing “has lost its mojo.”

“German real GDP grew a moderate 0.3%qoq in the fourth quarter of last year, and by 1.5% for the whole of 2015,” Goldman writes, adding that “part of the relative disappointment can be located in the manufacturing sector, which has shown a sub-par performance since 2011.”

What’s to blame, you ask? Why sluggish global growth of course:

The relative sluggishness of German manufacturing can be partly explained by slower global growth, which has resulted in weaker German export growth (Exhibit 2). In real terms, German exports have grown on average by only 3.5%pa over the past four years, compared with 8.8% in the four years prior to the financial crisis.

 

Using a model that explains German exports using global demand and Germany’s trade-weighted exchange rate, we find that German exports over the past two years have developed broadly as the model would have predicted. This suggest that it is indeed weaker global demand and not other, more fundamental changes in German manufacturing performance – such as a loss of international competitiveness – that lies behind weaker German exports.

 

 

Yes, "it is indeed" weaker global demand, a fact which underscores one of the key themes when it comes to assessing the state of the global economy. Depressed aggregate demand, anemic growth, and sluggish trade have become endemic. It's now a structural rather than a cyclical problem

But everyone knows that by now (or at least they should). What puzzles Goldman is that manufacturing employment is on the rise and capacity utilization doesn't all that bad either. 

So what gives? When in doubt, just say the numbers are wrong. "Together with the relative strength of the employment figures we see a possibility that the price-adjusted figures under-report the strength of the German manufacturing sector," Goldman posits.

Perhaps. But if the problem is subpar global growth, then analyzing the sub-components is futile. Either aggregate demand and trade pick up or the German economy sinks with everyone else. "Barring any sharp slowdown of the global economy, we would expect a continuation of the solid, though not spectacular, growth of the German economy," Goldman concludes.

About that whole "barring any sharp slowdown of the global economy" thing...

...note the red arrows...