Cablegate: The Word From Germany's Industrial Heartland: Impact of U.S.
RR RUEHAG RUEHAST RUEHBW RUEHDA RUEHFL RUEHIK RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHLN
RUEHLZ RUEHPOD RUEHROV RUEHSR RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHDF #0022/01 1141416
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 231416Z APR 08
FM AMCONSUL DUSSELDORF
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0137
INFO RUEATRS/DEPT OF TREASURY WASHINGTON DC
RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
RUEHDF/AMCONSUL DUSSELDORF 0153
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TAGS: EFIN ECON PREL PGOV EU GM
SUBJECT: THE WORD FROM GERMANY'S INDUSTRIAL HEARTLAND: IMPACT OF U.S.
ECONOMIC SLOWDOWN ON GERMANY STILL TO COME
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Sensitive but Unclassified -- Not for Internet Distribution
1. (SBU) Summary: Senior interlocutors in North-Rhine
Westphalia (NRW) told EMIN April 16-17 that the international
financial crisis and the weakening U.S. economy have had a
limited impact on the real economy. There would, however be
"indirect impacts" as growth in Asian and other developing
economies, now major export destinations of German goods, also
slows. Of greatest concern were the loss of consumer spending
as a result of stagnation in real wages and pending EU
legislation regulating car emissions. We heard a sense of
satisfaction that industry in the Rhine-Ruhr area has thus far
ridden out the surging Euro and subprime crisis rather
successfully, but also a concern about when the next shoe will
drop. End Summary.
2. (U) In a series of meetings in Duesseldorf, Bochum, and
Cologne on April 16-17, Embassy Economic Minister-Counselor
joined Duesseldorf CG and Pol/Econ Officer in discussing issues
ranging from the health of the German economy and export sector
to the environment and labor costs with senior representatives
at the Cologne based Institute of German Economy (IW), one of
Germany's five leading national economic think-tanks, the Opel
AG automobile assembly plant in Bochum, and the Duesseldorf
Chamber of Commerce (IHK). The conversations took place just as
the main German economic institutes released their quarterly
forecasts, predicting positive growth domestically but a less
positive outlook for the U.S. economy.
Germany: Indirectly Affected by U.S. Slowdown
3. (SBU) Our interlocutors expressed satisfaction that Germany
had weathered the dual storm of the strong euro and weaker
demand in the still very important U.S. export market, but
remain concerned about the future. IW economists described the
close relationship between the German and U.S. economies, but
stressed that the U.S. market has become relatively less
important over time because of the fast growth of German exports
to central and eastern Europe, Russia, China and elsewhere. As
German exports to the U.S. currently comprise 7-8 percent of its
total, the impact of U.S. developments on the German economy are
indirect (i.e. as U.S. demand for Chinese products decreases, so
may Chinese demand for German goods). Germany will suffer, they
said, but not as badly as in the past because Schroeder-era
economic reforms set the stage for a sounder economy, including
a more flexible labor market, and exporters have adapted to the
global economy. The economists predicted that the slowdown in
the U.S. would not have a great impact on German exports to the
U.S. because a large percentage of this trade is in premium
products (e.g. luxury cars) for which demand is relatively
inelastic. The senior Duesseldorf Chamber of Commerce official
largely agreed, but said he feared "adverse affects in the near
future" if the worldwide slowdown accelerates.
The Revival of the Old Economy
4. (SBU) The IW economists expressed surprise at the depth and
breadth of the German recovery, which in NRW in particular
reflected the revival -- and strength -- of its traditional
industrial and manufacturing based economy. The reliance on
these important sectors, however, left Germany "vulnerable"
because a global slowdown would hit its economy more than
countries that are less dependent on exports and more
service-intensive. This was all the more true because Germany's
exports as a proportion of the national economy have doubled to
45 percent since 1990.
Growth Predictions for Germany and the U.S.
5. (SBU) IW economists expect 1.8 percent and 1.4 percent GDP
growth for Germany in 2008 and 2009, respectively. They stated
that the U.S. is heading for a recession and called the
underlying problems "structural" -- reflecting more than just
the normal business cycle. In their view, the U.S. recovery
will be drawn out over the next few years, with 1 percent GDP
growth in 2008 and 1.2 percent in 2009.
Energy & Environment: Consumers will React
6. (SBU) A senior executive at the Opel (GM) assembly plant in
Bochum expressed exasperation with German society's fixation on
the environment. Opel AG has invested enormous resources in
addressing environmental concerns, but hesitated to reveal the
added costs of meeting new emissions targets, lest it appear
indifferent to climate change. Instead, Opel lobbies hard to
sensitize lawmakers and government to the real price of
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environmental regulation but, like other German automobile
manufacturers, does so quietly and privately, he stated.
7. (SBU) With regard to emissions standards and their potential
cost to consumers, a senior IW economist said the institute
believes that Germany will eventually reach the point where
environmental policies will be "too financially painful to
endure." This is less likely so long as the economy is robustly
growing, but should it turn downward, environment-related costs
will become an issue, he predicted.
8. (SBU) IW analysts downplayed Germany's problem with the
credit crunch growing out of the subprime crisis, pointing to
the relative strength of its banks. The IHK worried about
lingering uncertainty in the financial sector and its potential
impact on its members, mostly "Mittelstand" (SME) companies.
The real estate market has remained largely flat over the past
10-15 years, but commercial real estate, we heard from multiple
sources, is booming.
9. (SBU) The senior Opel executive lamented declining consumer
confidence even among his 4,000-plus employees, which made it
more difficult to sell cars. The Schroeder-era had witnessed
major wage rollbacks that had hit workers in the pocketbook.
Several years ago, for instance, Opel workers agreed to limit
pay increases to save the factory, but with inflation, their
real buying power had fallen. The union, however, "gets it,"
which keeps pressure for wage increases down. With 70 percent
of costs being labor (including fringe benefits), the plant has
nonetheless laid off some 3,000 employees since 2005 and does
not pay overtime on Saturday and Sunday.
10. (SBU) Environmental concerns and uncertainty over future
emissions regulations had also negatively affected demand for
cars, our Opel interlocutor said. The focus on CO2 emissions
had prompted many Germans not to buy cars until they see how
government emission regulations affect prices. This is having a
significant affect on the bottom line, he observed.
Transatlantic Economic Cooperation
11. (SBU) The senior IHK official said the Duesseldorf business
community has expressed concern about the 100 percent screening
requirement for containers entering the United States, observing
that it risks becoming an informal trade barrier. Small and
medium enterprises consider the time, paperwork, and cost of
such efforts to combat terrorism "significant." EMIN responded
that it is important to keep in mind that the 100 percent
scanning law was quite flexible, and that movement in this
direction was inevitable, not just in the U.S. but in Europe as
12. (SBU) The IHK official did not favor restrictions on
sovereign investments funds in Germany. The Chamber has not
found evidence that these funds will use their investments for
negative purposes, such as to steal technology or dominate
certain sectors of the economy. The IHK opposes prohibitions
although it believes that Germany should seek more transparency.
What is also needed is more public discussion to address
underlying fears about these funds. The Duesseldorf region has
attracted 200-300 Chinese companies to set up representative
offices in recent years. The IHK experience with Indian firms
has been largely positive, as many have bought German companies
that might otherwise have closed in order to complete their
13. (SBU) These dispassionate assessments contrast with public
and media sentiment in NRW, which remains alarmed by the strong
euro, the U.S. subprime crisis, and the global slowdown.
Germany in their view has thus far withstood these difficulties
in large part because of Schroeder-era economic reforms, smaller
profit margins, and an increased awareness among labor and
management that globalization requires ever greater efforts to
remain competitive. No one, on the other hand, was complacent,
knowing that financial uncertainty and foreign competition could
bring new challenges to Germany's industrial heartland. End
14. (U) This message was coordinated with Embassy Berlin.