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Posts Tagged ‘Germany’

Trump and the German balance of payments

One of President Trump’s main policy slogans has been ‘America first’. As Trump sees it, a manifestation of a country’s economic strength is its current account balance. He would love the USA to have a current account surplus. As it is, it has the largest current account deficit in the world (in absolute terms) of $481 billion in 2016 or 2.6% of GDP. This compares with the UK’s $115bn or 4.4% of GDP. Germany, by contrast, had a surplus in 2016 of $294bn or 8.5% of GDP.

However, he looks at other countries’ current account surpluses suspiciously – they may be a sign, he suspects, of ‘unfair play’. Germany’s surplus of over $50bn with the USA is particularly in his sights. Back in January, as President-elect, he threatened to put a 35% tariff on imports of German cars.

In practice, Germany is governed by eurozone rules, which prevent it from subsidising exports. And it does not have its own currency to manipulate. What is more, it is relatively open to imports from the USA. The EU imposes an average tariff of just 3% on US imports and importers also have to add VAT (19% in the case of Germany) to make them comparably priced with goods produced within the EU.

So why does Germany have such a large current account surplus? The article below explores the question and dismisses the claim that it’s the result of currency manipulation or discrimination against imports. The article states that the reason for the German surplus is that:

… it saves more than it invests. The correspondence of savings minus investment with exports minus imports is not an economic theory; it’s an accounting identity. Germans collectively spend less than they produce, and the difference necessarily shows up as net exports.

But why do the Germans save so much? The answer given is that, with an aging population, Germans are sensibly saving now to support themselves in old age. If Germany were to reduce its current account surplus, this would entail either the government reducing its budget surplus, or people reducing the amount they save, or some combination of the two. This is because a current account surplus, which consists of exports and other incomes from abroad (X) minus imports and any other income flowing abroad (M), must equal the surplus of saving (S) plus taxation (T) over investment (I) plus government expenditure (G). In terms of withdrawals and injections, given that:

I + G + X = S + T + M

then, rearranging the terms,

XM = (S + T) – (I + G).

If German people are reluctant to reduce the amount they save, then an alternative is for the German government to reduce taxation or increase government expenditure. In the run-up to the forthcoming election on 24 September, Chancellor Merkel’s centre-right CDU party advocates cutting taxes, while the main opposition party, the SPD, advocates increasing government expenditure, especially on infrastructure. The article considers the arguments for these two approaches.

Article
The German economy is unbalanced – but Trump has the wrong answer The Guardian, Barry Eichengreen (12/5/17)

Data
German economic data (in English) Statistisches Bundesamt (Federal Statistical Office)
World Economic Outlook Databases IMF

Questions

  1. Why does Germany have such a large current account surplus?
  2. What are the costs and benefits to Germany of having a large current account surplus?
  3. What is meant by ‘mercantilism’? Why is its justification fallacious?
  4. If Germany had its own currency, would it be a good idea for it to let that currency appreciate?
  5. What are meant by ‘resource crowding out’ and ‘financial crowding out’? Why might the policies of tax cuts advocated by the CDU result in crowding out? What form would it take and why?
  6. Compare the relative benefits of the policies advocated by the CDU and SPD to reduce Germany’s budget surplus.
  7. Would other countries, such as the USA, benefit from a reduction in Germany’s current account surplus?
  8. Is what ways would the USA gain and lose from restricting imports from Germany? Would it be a net gain or loss? Explain.
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The need for fiscal integration in the eurozone

In a speech in Dublin on 28 January 2015, titled ‘Fortune favours the bold‘, Mark Carney, the Governor of the Bank of England, compared the UK economy to that of the 19-nation eurozone. While he welcomed the ECB’s recently announced quantitative easing programme, he argued that the current construction of the eurozone is unfinished and still has two fundamental weaknesses that have not been addressed.

The first is the fragmented nature of banking:

With limited cross-border banking in the euro area, savings don’t flow to potential investments. Euro-area corporates’ cash balances have risen to the tune of €420 billion, or 3% of GDP, since the crisis, for example. Modest cross-border equity flows mean inadequate risk sharing.

The second is the lack of an integrated fiscal policy.

For complete solutions to both current and potential future problems, the sharing of fiscal risks is required.

It is no coincidence that effective currency unions tend to have centralised fiscal authorities whose spending is a sizeable share of GDP – averaging over a quarter of GDP for advanced countries outside the euro area.

… If the eurozone were a country, fiscal policy would be substantially more supportive. However, it is tighter than in the UK, even though Europe still lacks other effective risk sharing mechanisms and is relatively inflexible. A more constructive fiscal policy would help recycle surplus private savings and mitigate the tail risk of stagnation. It would also bridge the drag from structural reforms on nominal spending and would be consistent with the longer term direction of travel towards greater integration.

But fiscal integration requires a political will to transfer fiscal surpluses from the stronger countries, such as Germany, to the weaker countries, such as those in southern Europe.

Overall, the financial and fiscal position in the eurozone is strong:

Gross general government debt in the euro area is roughly the same as in the UK and below the average of advanced economies. The weighted average yield on 10-year euro area sovereign debt is around 1%, compared to 1½% in the UK. And yet, the euro area’s fiscal deficit is half that in the UK. Its structural deficit, according to the IMF, is less than one third as large.

But, unlike the UK, where, despite the rhetoric of austerity, automatic fiscal stabilisers have been allowed to work and the government has accepted a much slower than planned reduction in the deficit, in the eurozone fiscal policy remains tight. Yet unemployment, at 11½%, is twice the rate in the UK and economic growth, at around 0.7% is only one-quarter of that in the UK.

Without a eurozone-wide fiscal policy the problem of slow growth is likely to persist for some time. Monetary policy in the form of QE will help and structural reforms will help to stimulate potential output and long-term growth, but these policies could be much more effective if backed up by fiscal policy.

Whether they will be any time soon is a political question.

Speech
Fortune favours the bold Bank of England. Mark Carney (29/1/15)

Articles
Bank of England’s Carney urges Europe to take plunge on fiscal union Reuters, Padraic Halpin (28/1/15)
Bank Of England’s Mark Carney Attacks ‘Timid’ Eurozone Recovery Attempts Huffington Post, Jack Sommers (29/1/15)
BoE’s Mark Carney calls for common eurozone fiscal policies Financial Times, Ferdinando Giugliano (28/1/15)
Carney attacks German austerity BBC News, Robert Peston (28/1/15)
Bank of England governor attacks eurozone austerity The Guardian, Larry Elliott (28/1/15)

Questions

  1. Compare the financial and fiscal positions of the UK and the eurozone.
  2. In what way is there a ‘debt trap’ in the eurozone?
  3. What did Mark Carney mean when he said, ‘Cross-border risk-sharing through the financial system has slid backwards.’?
  4. What options are there for the eurozone sharing fiscal risks?
  5. What would a ‘more constructive’ fiscal policy, as advocated by Mark Carney, look like?
  6. How do the fiscal policies of other currency unions, such as the UK (union of the four nations of the UK) or the USA (union of the 50 states) or Canada (union of the 10 provinces and three territories), differ from that of the eurozone?
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Eurozone deflation risk

The eurozone is made up of 18 countries (19 in January) and, besides sharing a common currency, they also seem to be sharing the trait of weak economic performance. The key macroeconomic variables across the eurozone nations have all seemingly been moving in the wrong direction and this is causing a lot of concern for policy-makers.

Some of the biggest players in the eurozone have seen economic growth on the down-turn, unemployment rising and consumer and business confidence falling once again. Germany’s economic growth has been revised down and in Italy, unemployment rose to a record of 13.2% in September and around 25% of the workforce remains out of work in Spain and Greece. A significant consequence of the sluggish growth across this 18-nation bloc of countries is the growing risk of deflation.

Whilst low and stable inflation is a macroeconomic objective across nations, there is such a thing as inflation that is too low. When inflation approaches 0%, the spectre of deflation looms large (see the blog post Deflation danger). The problem of deflation is that when people expect prices to fall, they stop spending. As such, consumption falls and this puts downward pressure on aggregate demand. After all, if you think prices will be lower next week, then you are likely to wait until next week. This decision by consumers will cause aggregate demand to shift to the left, thus pushing national income down, creating higher unemployment. If this expectation continues, then so will the inward shifts in AD. This is the problem facing the eurozone. In November, the inflation rate fell to 0.3%. One of the key causes is falling energy prices – normally good news, but not if inflation is already too low.

Jonathan Loynes, Chief European Economist at Capital Economics said:

“[the inflation and jobless data] gives the ECB yet another nudge to take urgent further action to revive the recovery and tackle the threat of deflation…We now expect the headline inflation rate to drop below zero at least briefly over the next six months and there is a clear danger of a more prolonged bout of falling prices.”

Some may see the lower prices as a positive change, with less household income being needed to buy the same basket of goods. However, the key question will be whether such low prices are seen as a temporary change or an indication of a longer-term trend. The answer to the question will have a significant effect on business decisions about investment and on the next steps to be taken by the ECB. It also has big consequences for other countries, in particular the UK. The data over the coming months across a range of macroeconomic variables may tell us a lot about what is to come throughout 2015. The following articles consider the eurozone data.

Euro area annual inflation down to 0.3% EuroStat News Release (28/11/14)
Eurozone inflation weakens again, adding pressure on ECB Nasdaq, Brian Blackstone (28/11/14)
Eurozone inflation rate falls in October BBC News (28/11/14)
Eurozone recovery fears weigh on UK plc, says report Financial Times, Alison Smith (30/11/14)
€300bn Jean-Claude Juncker Eurozone kickstarter sounds too good to be true The Guardian, Larry Elliott (26/11/14)
Eurozone area may be in ‘persistent stagnation trap’ says OECD BBC News (25/11/14)
Euro area ‘major risk to world growth’: OECD CNBC, Katy Barnato (25/11/14)
OECD sees gradual world recovery, urges ECB to do more Reuters, Ingrid Melander (25/11/14)

Questions

  1. What is deflation and why is it such a concern?
  2. Illustrate the impact of falling consumer demand in an AD/AS diagram.
  3. What policies are available to the ECB to tackle the problem of deflation? How successful are they likely to be and which factors will determine this?
  4. To what extent is the economic stagnation in the Eurozone a cause for concern to countries such as the UK and US? Explain your answer.
  5. How effective would quantitative easing be in combating the problem of deflation?
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German confidence down again

In the Blog, A VW recession for the eurozone, as German growth revised down?, we discussed the pessimistic outlook for the eurozone, in part driven by the problems facing the engine of Europe: Germany. While the German government noted that the weak growth figures are due to external factors, it appears as though these external factors are now sending waves through the domestic economy.

Over the past 6 months, German confidence has fallen continuously and now stands at almost its lowest level in 2 years. Think tank data from a survey of 7000 firms in Germany fell from 104.7 to 103.2 for October – the weakest reading since December 2012. Confidence is always a key factor in the strength of an economy, as it affects consumers and businesses. Without consumer and business confidence, two key components of aggregate demand are weak and this downward pressure on total spending in the economy depresses economic growth. An economist from Ifo, the think-tank that produced this business climate index, said that firms felt ‘downbeat about both their current situation and the future.’

As confidence continues to decline in Germany, the economic situation is unlikely to improve. Unfortunately, it is something of a vicious circle in that without economic growth confidence won’t return and without confidence, economic growth won’t improve. The industrial sector is crucial to Germany and the data is concerning, according to Chief economist at Commerzbank, Joerg Kraemer:

The latest numbers from the industrial sector are very worrisome…The third quarter was probably worse than expected, the economy may have stagnated at best.

Numerous factors continue to depress the German economy and while negative growth is not expected, estimates for quarterly growth from July to September remain at around 0.3%. As Europe’s largest economy, such low growth rates will be of concern to the rest of the Eurozone and may also bring worry to other countries, such as the US and UK. With growing interdependence between nations, the success of countries such as Germany and Europe as a whole influences the economic situation abroad. Commentators will be looking for any signal that Germany is strengthening in the coming months and an improvement in business confidence will be essential for any prolonged recovery.

German business confidence falters again in October Wall Street Journal, Todd Buell (27/10/14)
German business morale weakens to lowest level in almost two years Reuters, Michelle Martin (27/10/14)
Zero growth best hope for Germany as confidence disappears The Telegraph, Szu Ping Chan (27/10/14)
German Ifo business confidence drops for sixth month Bloomberg, Stefan Riecher (27/10/14)
German business confidence plunges again as analysts urge fiscal stimulus International Business Times, Finnbarr Bermingham (27/10/14)
German business confidence falls again, Ifo says BBC News (27/10/14)
German business confidence tumbles The Guardian, Philip Inman (24/9/14)
The German way of stagnating BBC News, Robert Peston (11/11/14)

Questions

  1. Why is consumer and business confidence such an important element in explaining the state of an economy?
  2. Use an AD/AS diagram to illustrate the impact on national output of a decline business confidence. What are the other consequences for the macroeconomic objectives?
  3. What actions can a government take to boost confidence in an economy?
  4. If economic growth is weak and confidence is low, is there any point in cutting interest rates as a means of stimulating investment?
  5. If the eurozone did move back into recession, what could be the possible consequences for countries such as the UK and US?
  6. How useful are indices that measure business confidence?
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A VW recession for the eurozone, as German growth revised down?

Europe’s largest economy is Germany and the prospects and growth figures of this country are crucial to the growth of the Eurozone as a whole. The EU is a key trading partner for the UK and hence the growth data of Germany and in turn of the Eurozone is also essential in creating buoyant economic conditions within our borders. The bad news is that the economic growth forecast for Germany has been cut by the German government.

The German government had previously estimated that the growth rate for this year would be 1.8%, but the estimate has now been revised down to 1.2% and next year’s growth rate has also been revised downwards from 2% to 1.3%. Clearly the expectation is that low growth is set to continue.

Whenever there are changes in macroeconomic variables, a key question is always about the cause of such change, for example is inflation caused by demand-pull or cost-push factors. The German government has been quick to state that the lower growth rates are not due to internal factors, but have been affected by external factors, in particular the state of the global economy. As such, there are no plans to make significant changes to domestic policy, as the domestic economy remains in a strong position. The economy Minister said:

“The German economy finds itself in difficult external waters … Domestic economic forces remain intact, with the robust labour market forming the foundation … As soon as the international environment improves, the competitiveness of German companies will bear fruit and the German economy will return to a path of solid growth … [for this reason there is] no reason to abandon or change our economic or fiscal policy.”

The global picture remains relatively weak and while some economies, including the UK, have seen growth pick up and unemployment fall, there are concerns that the economic recovery is beginning to slow. With an increasingly interdependent world, the slowing down of one economy can have a significant impact on the growth rate of others. If country A begins to slow, demand for imports will fall and this means a fall in the demand for exports of country B. For countries that are dependent on exports, such as Germany and China, a fall in the demand for exports can mean a big decline in aggregate demand and in August, Germany saw a 5.8% drop in exports.

Adding to the gloom is data on inflation, suggesting that some other key economies have seen falls in the rate of inflation, including China. The possibility of a triple-dip recession for the Eurozone has now been suggested and with its largest economy beginning to struggle, this suggestion may become more real. The following articles consider the macroeconomic picture.

Articles
Germany cuts growth forecasts amid recession fears, as Ireland unveils budget The Guardian, Graeme Wearden (14/10/14)
As cracks in its economy widen, is Germany’s miracle about to fade? The Observer, Philip Oltermann (19/10/14)
Why the German economy is in a rut The Economist (21/10/14)
Germany’s flagging economy: Build some bridges and roads, Mrs Merkel The Economist (18/10/14)
Germany cuts 2014 growth forecast from 1.8% to 1.2% BBC News (14/10/14)
IMF to cut growth forecast for Germany – der Spiegel Reuters (5/10/14)
Fears of triple-dip eurozone recession, as Germany cuts growth forecast The Guardian, Phillip Inman (15/10/14)
Germany slashes its economic forecasts Financial Times, Stefan Wagstyl (14/10/14)
Merkel vows austerity even as growth projection cut Bloomberg, Brian Parkin, Rainer Buergin and Patrick Donahue (14/10/14)
Is Europe’s economic motor finally stalling? BBC News, Damien McGuinness (17/10/14)
Why Germany won’t fight deflation BBC News, Robert Peston (16/10/14)

Data
World Economic Outlook Database IMF (15/10/14)
World Economic Outlook IMF (October 2014)

Questions

  1. How do we measure economic growth and is it a good indicator of the state of an economy?
  2. What are the key external factors identified by the Germany government as the reasons behind the decline in economic growth?
  3. Angela Merkel has said that austerity measures will continue to balance the budget. Is this a sensible strategy given the revised growth figures?
  4. Why is low inflation in other economies further bad news for those countries that have seen a decline or a slowdown in their growth figures?
  5. Why is interdependence between nations both a good and a bad thing?
  6. Using AS and AD analysis, illustrate the reasons behind the decline German growth. Based on your analysis, what might be expected to happen to some of the other key macroeconomic variables in Germany and in other Eurozone economies?
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The Global Economy

The latest growth data for the UK is somewhat difficult to interpret. It’s positive, but not that positive. The Conservatives say it shows that the economy is moving in the right direction. Labour suggests it is evidence that the Coalition’s policies are not working. With a return to positive growth, the UK has avoided the triple dip recession and here we take a closer look at the economic performance of other key nations.

In the final quarter of 2012, the US economy grew at 0.4%, but in the 3 months to March 2013, economic growth in America picked up to 2.5%. Consumer spending significantly increased, growing at an annualized rate of 3.2%, according to the Commerce Department. This figure helped boost the growth rate of the US economy, as consumer spending accounts for around two thirds of economic activity.

However, the growth figure was lower than expected, in part due to lower government spending. Furthermore, there are suggestions that the positive consumer spending figures are merely a positive blip and spending will fall as the US economy moves through 2013.

If this does prove to be the case in the USA, it will do little to further boost UK economic growth, which was recorded at 0.3% for the first 3 months of 2013. The Chancellor has said that the growth figures are encouraging and are evidence that the government’s policies are working.

Today’s figures are an encouraging sign the economy is healing … Despite a tough economic backdrop, we are making progress. We all know there are no easy answers to problems built up over many years, and I can’t promise the road ahead will always be smooth, but by continuing to confront our problems head on, Britain is recovering and we are building an economy fit for the future.

While the USA and UK have recorded positive growth, expectations of growth throughout Europe remain uncertain. Spain has revised its forecasts downwards for 2013, expecting the economy to shrink by over 1%. Even after 2013, growth is expected to remain very weak, forecast to be 0.5% in 2014 and 0.9% in 2015. To make matters worse, Spain’s unemployment continues to move in the wrong direction, with data for the first 3 months of 2013, recording an unemployment rate of 27.2% – the highest on record.

However, it’s not just Spanish unemployment that is on the rise. Figures for March show that in France, 3.2 million people were out of work, a 1.2 % rise compared to February. In the UK, 2.56 million people were recorded as unemployed, representing just under 8% of the working population. The German economy continues to outperform its European partners, but eurozone growth continues to look weak for the rest of 2013.

Despite much bad news in Europe, growth in other parts of the world remains buoyant. South Korea has recorded economic growth that is at its highest level in 2 years. Economic growth was just under 1%, but construction and investment both increased, perhaps a sign of an economy starting its recovery.

The Chinese economy has seemed relatively unaffected by the economic downturn, yet its economic growth has slowed. Averaging over 10% per annum for the last decade, the growth for January – March 2013 was only 7.7%. This is a decline on the previous 3 months and is lower than expected. If the Chinese economy does begin to slow (relatively speaking), this could present the global economic recovery with an unwelcome obstacle.

Many Western economies are reliant on exports to boost their growth figures and with such high demand in China, this is a key export market for many countries. If the Chinese economy continues to slow, consumer spending may even fall and this could mean a reduction in Chinese imports: that is, a reduction in other countries’ exports to China. However, for China’s competitors, the news is better, as with China’s move from a low to middle-income country, other countries will now see an opportunity to grasp a competitive advantage in the production of cheaper products. David Rees from Capital Economics said:

Trade data show that Chinese imports of commodities, and industrial metals in particular, have been falling in recent months … That is bad news for those emerging markets in Latin America, the Middle East, and Africa that predominately export commodities to China. It is not all bad news … To the extent that China’s structural slowdown reflects its transition from low to middle-income status, opportunities will present themselves for other EMs as China moves up the value chain. We are particularly upbeat on the manufacturing-based economies of South East Asia, along with Mexico, Poland, and Turkey.

News is better in Japan, where growth forecasts have been raised to 2.9% over the same period and the economy is expected to grow by 1.5% throughout both 2013 and 2014. Furthermore, suggestions that inflation may also reach 0.7% have boosted confidence. This might be the end of Japan’s troubles with deflation.

So, we have something of a mixed picture across the world, although the IMF predicts a global rate of growth of 3.5% for 2013, which would be an improvement on 2012 figures. The following articles consider the global situation.

Spain slashes economic growth forecast Sky News (26/4/13)
UK avoids triple-dip recession with better than expected 0.3% GDP growth The Guardian, Heather Stewart (26/4/13)
US economy grows 2.5% on buoyant consumer spending BBC News (26/4/13)
Poor French and Spanish jobs data but UK economy returns to growth – as it happened The Guardian, Graeme Wearden and Nick Fletcher (25/4/13)
UK economy avoids tiple-dip recession with 0.3pc GDP growth The Telegraph, Szu Ping Chan (25/4/13)
South Korea economic growth hits two year high BBC News (25/4/13)
S. Korea economy grows at the fastest pace in two years Bloomberg, Eunkyung Seo (25/4/13)
Spain revises down its economic forecast BBC News (26/4/13)
US economy sees broad growth Financial Times, Robin Harding (25/4/13)
Germany’s private sector shrinks as Eurozone decline continues – as it happened The Guardian, Graeme Wearden and Nick Fletcher (23/4/13)
China economic growth lower than forecast BBC News (15/4/13)
China’s slowing economy: what you need to know Bloomberg Business Week, Dexter Roberts (25/4/13)
Modest Growth Pickup in 2013, Projects IMF International Monetary Fund (23/1/13)

Questions

  1. How is economic growth measured?
  2. What is meant by a triple-dip recession?
  3. What has caused the small increase in growth in the UK? Do you think this signifies the start of the economic recovery?
  4. In the USA, what has caused the growth rate to reach 2.5% and why is it lower than expected?
  5. Why are growth rates in countries across the world relevant for UK forecasts of economic growth?
  6. Which factors have allowed the Chinese economy to achieve average growth rates above 10% for the past decade?
  7. Using an AD/AS diagram, illustrate the desired impact of the Coalition’s policies to boost economic growth.
  8. With unemployment rising in countries like Spain and France, how might Eurozone growth be affected in the coming months?
  9. Japanese growth is looking positive and inflation is expected to reach about 0.7%. Why is it that Japan has suffered from deflation for so many years and why is this a problem?
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Taxing fatty products

The problem of obesity and healthy eating is a growing problem in many countries and governments have long been looking into designing policy to tackle this issue.

Some have gone for healthy eating campaigns and policies to encourage pregnant women to eat better, but one government took it a step further and introduced a Fat Tax. In October 2011, the Danish government introduced a tax on foods that are high in saturated fat in a bid to reduce consumption of these goods. However, this policy is now to be abolished.

The Fat Tax introduced by the government imposed a surcharge on foods that contained more than 2.3% saturated fat. Numerous products were affected, including meats, dairy and as expected – processed foods. The policy was criticised by scientists who said that saturated fat was the wrong target and perhaps they were proved right, but the government’s u-turn, which will now see the tax being abolished. The tax had gradually increased food prices throughout the country and authorities said that it had even put Danish jobs at risk.

With food prices much higher in Denmark with the tax, consumers switched from buying domestically produced goods to crossing the border into Germany and purchasing their cheaper food. This undoubtedly had an adverse effect on the Danish economy, as it represented a cut in consumer expenditure. Perhaps it also helps to explain Germany’s strong economy – it was feeding 2 nations! The Danish tax ministry said:

‘The fat tax and the extension of the chocolate tax — the so-called sugar tax — has been criticised for increasing prices for consumers, increasing companies’ administrative costs and putting Danish jobs at risk … At the same time it is believed that the fat tax has, to a lesser extent, contributed to Danes travelling across the border to make purchases … Against this background, the government and the (far-left) Red Green Party have agreed to abolish the fat tax and cancel the planned sugar tax’

Once the tax is abolished, other policies will need implementing to tackle the problem of obesity and encourage healthy eating, as it continues to be a big problem in this and many other countries. The following articles consider this problem.

Denmark to scrap world’s first fat tax Associated Press (10/11/12)
Denmark to abolish tax on high-fat foods BBC News (10/11/12)
Fat tax repealed The Copenhagen Post (10/11/12)
Businesses call fat tax a failure on all fronts The Copenhagen Post, Ray Weaver (10/11/12)

Questions

  1. Illustrate the effect of a tax being imposed on a diagram. What happens to equilibrium price and quantity?
  2. According to Danish authorities, consumers didn’t change their consumption habits with the tax. What does this suggest about the PED of these products?
  3. How does the amount of tax revenue generated vary with the price elasticity of demand and supply?
  4. What other policies could be implemented to encourage healthy eating?
  5. Why did this fat tax lead to higher food prices?
  6. Explain the way in which such a tax could adversely affect the Danish economy. Does this justify its removal?
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Pumping up the price: fuel cartels in Germany

Fuel prices at German petrol stations fluctuate wildly – by up to €0.14 per day. They are also often changed several times per day. In morning rush hours, when demand is less elastic, prices may shoot up, only to drop again once people are at work.

But is this a sign of healthy competition? Critics claim the opposite: that it’s a sign of the oligopoly power of the oil companies. More than two-thirds of Germany’s petrol stations are franchises of five big oil companies: BP/Aral, Esso, Jet, Shell and Total. These five companies directly control the prices at the pumps. According to the Der Spiegel article below, oil companies:

have sophisticated computer systems that allow them to precisely control, right down to the minute, when they increase their prices nationwide, and by how many cents. The prices are not set by the individual franchise holders. Instead, they are centrally controlled – for example, in the town of Bochum, at the headquarters of Aral, a BP subsidiary that is the market leader in Germany.

The price manager merely presses a button and price signs immediately change at all 2,391 Aral service stations in Germany. All filling stations are electronically linked with Bochum via a dedicated network called Rosi. After each price increase, they watch closely to see how the competition reacts and whether they follow suit.

… If the competitor’s prices are significantly cheaper, the Aral franchise holder can, with the help of Rosi, apply for permission to reduce the prices again.

Not only do the oil companies control the prices at the pumps, but they observe closely, via their franchise holders, the actions of their rivals, and then respond in ways which critics claim is collusive rather than competitive. The problem has become worse with the introduction of incentives to the franchise owners of additional commission if they exceed the price of their competitors within the local area. This has the effect of ratcheting prices up.

The sophisticated pricing strategies, with prices adjusted frequently according to price elasticity of demand, are making it very hard for independent operators to compete.

In response, the German Cartel Office has launched an investigation into the oil companies and in particular into the issues of collusion and frequent price changes and how these impact on independent operators.

German anti-trust authority probes alleged fuel cartel Deutsche Welle (4/4/12)
German antitrust watchdog to probe oil majors-paper Reuters, Ludwig Burger (3/4/12)
Oil giants probed over claims they rigged petrol prices in Germany The Telegraph, Nathalie Thomas (4/4/12)
BP, Exxon, Esso, Jet, Shell and Total in Germany Price Fix Probe International Business Times (9/4/12)
German cartel office probes petrol company pricing MarketWatch (4/4/12)
Kartellverfahren gegen fünf Mineralölkonzerne (in German) Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Helmut Bünder and Manfred Schäfers (4/4/12)
Crazy gas prices driving German consumers mad msnbc, Andy Eckardt (3/4/12)
Big Oil’s Strategy for Jacking Up Gas Prices Der Spiegel, Alexander Jung and Alexander Neubacher (5/4/12)

Questions

  1. What the features of the German road fuel oligopoly?
  2. Why does the price elasticity of demand for petrol and diesel vary with the time of day? Is it likely to vary from one week to another and, if so, why?
  3. In what ways have the actions of the big five oil companies been against the interests of the independent petrol station operators?
  4. Consider the alternatives open to the German Federal Cartel Office for making the market more competitive.
  5. Would it be a good idea for the big five German companies to be forced to adopt the Western Australian system of price changes?
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German exports reach $1 trillion

Germany is the world’s fourth largest economy and Europe’s largest. Part of its strength has come from its exports, which last year increased by 11.4% to $1.3 trillion – the first time it had ever exceed the $1 trillion mark. Germany, however, is by no means the country with the largest export sector – that mantle was taken from them by China, whose exports rose 20.3% last year to reach $1.9 trillion.

At the same time as exports have been rising from Germany, imports have also increased, showing a recovery in domestic demand as well. Despite this, Germany’s foreign trade surplus increased slightly to €158.1 billion (from €154.9 billion).

However, in the last month of 2011, its export growth did slow – the fastest drop in nearly 3 years – and that is expected to signal the trend for 2012. As the eurozone debt crisis continues to cause problems, German exports have been forecast to grow by only 2% this year, with economic growth expected to be as low as 0.7%. This is a marked change from last year, where the Germany economy grew by some 3%. Help for the eurozone is unlikely to come form Europe’s second largest economy, France, where growth in the first 3 months of 2012 is expected to be zero and figures have shown a widening trade deficit, with issues of competitiveness at the forefront. The following articles look at Germany’s prowess in the export market and the likely developments over the coming year.

German exports drop is steepest in nearly 3 years Reuters (8/2/12)
German exports set record of a trillion euros in 2011 BBC News (8/2/12)
German exports broke euro1 trillion mark in 2011 The Associated Press (8/2/12)
Surprise drop in German industrial output Telegraph, Angela Monaghan (7/2/12)
French trade deficit hits high, competitiveness at issue Reuters (7/2/12)
French trade deficit casts shadow on campaign Financial Times, Hugh Carnegy (7/2/12)
German exports fall at fastest rate in three years, sparks fears over Europe’s bulwark economy Telegraph, Louise Armitstead (8/2/12)

Questions

  1. What is meant by a trade surplus?
  2. Briefly examine some of the factors that may have contributed to Germany’s rising exports throughout 2011.
  3. How has the eurozone debt crisis impacted the Germany economy and in particular the export sector?
  4. The articles that look at France refer to a growing trade deficit, with competitiveness being a key issue. What is meant by competitiveness and why is the French economy suffering from a lack of it?
  5. Does France’s membership of a single currency reduce its ability to tackle its competitiveness issues?
  6. Why is German growth expected to remain sluggish throughout 2012? Given that Germany is a member of the eurozone, what government policies are open to the government to boost economic growth?
  7. China has overtaken Germany as the largest exporter, with growth of 20.3% in 2011. What factors have allowed Chinese exports to grow so quickly?
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China to the rescue?

The two biggest world exporters have signed trade deals worth $15bn (£9bn). The Chinese Premier and German Chancellor were targeting an increase in bilateral trade to £178bn over the next five years. Premier Wen has also offered support to some of the European countries struggling with their debt. Despite this offer of support, there is something in it for the Chinese economy. China’s foreign exchange reserves are at a record high, but about 25% are invested in euro-denominated assets, hence China has a very strong interest in preventing the collapse of the euro. Furthermore, it is also interested in diversifying its export market to reduce its reliance on US markets. This is particularly important given the growth in protectionism in the US economy. Mr. Innes-ker said:

“China’s dependence and exposure to the US dollar creates issues for its own economy to the extent that it’s a hostage to US monetary policy.”

China’s interest in the European economies may provide an opportunity for the UK economy, as it is a country with ideal investment conditions and is already one of China’s most important trading partners. David Cameron, in a meeting with Wen, has said he wants bilateral trade to increase to £62bn by 2015. The amount is nothing in comparison to the trade deal between China and Germany, but still a significant potential sum for the UK economy. The following articles consider the Chinese economy and its role in the global environment.

Self-interest in China’s helping hand Asia Times Online, Jian Junbo (30/6/11)
China and Germany ink $15bn trade deals as leaders meet BBC News (29/6/11)
Chinese leader’s visit to Germany ends with large trade deals The New York Times, Judy Dempsey (28/6/11)
China offers helping hand to Eurozone Guardian, Helen Pidd (28/6/11)
Rights, trade to dominate Germany-China talks Associated Press, Deborah Cole (28/6/11)
China promises EU ‘helping hand’ with debt crisis Reuters, James Pomfret and Stephen Brown (28/6/11)
We still don’t grasp how little we matter to China Independent, Hamish McRae (29/6/11)

Questions

  1. What are the benefits of trade?
  2. Why is it important for the Chinese economy to diversify its export market?
  3. What does it mean by the statement that China is hostage to US monetary policy?
  4. Why are China’s foreign exchange reserves at a record high?
  5. What are the reasons behind China’s interest in Europe? Is it more of a ‘helping hand’ or more to do with furthering China’s own ambitions?
  6. What might the trade deal between China and Germany mean for trade between China and other nations? Is the deal to the benefit of everyone?
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