GfK Projects Worsened Consumer Climate in Germany in February
Germany’s GfK survey for consumer climate fell sharply to -29.7 in February from -25.4 in January. This sharp deterioration reversed this two months of improvement in the index. This is the eighth sharpest month-to-month drop in the index headline and it is sharper than any drop experienced before May 2020. The GfK climate metric was last weaker in March 2023, nearly a year ago. Taking the current estimate, positioning it between its highest and lowest historic readings puts it at the 24.3 percentile mark, in the lower quartile of its historic high-low range. However, if we alternatively rank the observation in an ordered queue of data on the same timeline back to 2022, the February percentile standing drops to 3%. That tells us that the GfK index has been this weak or weaker only 3% of the time since 2002. The index is extremely weak, and it is dropping fast- a very bad combination.
German weakness amid global hope The graphic shows how the coming of COVID completely destroyed German confidence/climate that fell sharply and has been hovering around extremely weak readings ever since COVID occurred. And then, of course, in the wake up COVID, there was the Russian invasion of Ukraine. At the same time, the ECB has been relentlessly pursuing inflation which kicked up during this period. Among these three events, the German economy has simply been reeling. And German consumers are facing some of the worst conditions they've seen in the last two decades. Not surprisingly, Germany also faces political leadership questions. While some recent reports have showed that global conditions seem to be bottoming out and beginning to show some positive outlook, the GfK survey stands in marked contrast to this result.
Survey details – the news does not get better The details of the survey lagged by one month; they are for January 2024. German economic and income expectations fell sharply in January compared to December; economic expectations were last weaker in December 2022; income expectations were last weaker in March 2023. The propensity to buy also fell sharply in January, but it was last this weak only a couple of months ago in November 2023. The percentile account standings of these metrics show economic expectations in the lower 25.5 percentile of their ordered queue; for income expectations the standing is even weaker than that in the lower 7.2 percentile; the propensity to buy is the lower 22.1 percentile of its range. All of these are weak. And all of them have gotten significantly weaker in just the last month or two. In fact, the month-to-month drop in economic expectations has been worse only 21% of the time, and the monthly drop in income expectations has been worse only 4% of the time -Yikes!
Other Europe Confidence metrics for other-Europe are sampled from Italy, France, and the United Kingdom. The U.K. and France have readings that lag by a month behind the German reading while Italy’s reading lags by two months. The most recent observation for each one of these three countries shows an improvement compared to the month before. All three countries are on a multi-month improving trends for their confidence readings as well. None of them have confidence readings as deeply negative as Germany's. The U.K. confidence reading has a 34-percentile standing, the French reading has a 38-percentile standing, and Italy has a 74.7 percentile standing that is well above its median and seems to indicate a good deal of contentment.
GfK was worse than expected Germany’s GfK consumer climate index is a slice of unexpected bad news and at a time that other global metrics and other countries have been experiencing some improvement in their numbers and in their trends. For example, the S&P PMI indexes have showed some improvement and a bottoming out even though those indicators lag. There have been diminishing signs in the S&P survey of conditions of getting worse globally – some stability or even improvement seems in-train. The U.K., France, and Italy each show some improving trends in their confidence metrics. The United States not only did see its S&P PMI gauges improve, but the 2023-Q4 GDP report for the U.S. registered a very solid 3.3% growth after a strong third quarter, much better than private economists, or the Fed or even the administration, were looking for. At the same time, U.S. inflation data are amid an improving streak that left the core PCE deflator in the GDP report registering a 2% advance in terms of annualized quarter-to-quarter growth rates for both the third and fourth quarters. Year-over-year inflation on any measure is still well above the Fed’s and other central banks’ 2% target, but these recent releases for the U.S. are quite tantalizing and put the U.S. in a very different situation than any other country that has recently been reporting economic data.
The U.S. is important because it's the largest economy in the world, its currency is the global reserve unit, and because its monetary policy tends to be mimicked throughout the world. If the U.S. has gotten to a point where its inflation is being controlled and the Federal Reserve decides to cut interest rates, there's a good chance that that move will spread globally. We are already beginning to see some indication that inflation is being tamed globally (see Table below). Of course, it's far too early to say that we've won the war on inflation, as geopolitical risks linger, and labor markets remain tight. But there is some indication that central banks are winning some battles and that they have the enemy on the run. However, these things can change; it's important not to declare victory prematurely. Still, it looks for the first time in quite a while like there is a strong case to be made for the possibility that inflation is calming down even into its target range; it’s doing so much sooner than expected. That's an event of extremely important global consequences. If it is true and has staying power, we can expect consumer metrics to respond positively to the development.
Robert BruscaAuthorMore in Author Profile »
Robert A. Brusca is Chief Economist of Fact and Opinion Economics, a consulting firm he founded in Manhattan. He has been an economist on Wall Street for over 25 years. He has visited central banking and large institutional clients in over 30 countries in his career as an economist. Mr. Brusca was a Divisional Research Chief at the Federal Reserve Bank of NY (Chief of the International Financial markets Division), a Fed Watcher at Irving Trust and Chief Economist at Nikko Securities International. He is widely quoted and appears in various media. Mr. Brusca holds an MA and Ph.D. in economics from Michigan State University and a BA in Economics from the University of Michigan. His research pursues his strong interests in non aligned policy economics as well as international economics. FAO Economics’ research targets investors to assist them in making better investment decisions in stocks, bonds and in a variety of international assets. The company does not manage money and has no conflicts in giving economic advice.