Flickers of Hope Illumine German Business Outlook

28 May 2003

May, a month unbeloved by superstitious sailors, managed nevertheless to inject a surprise note of optimism into German executives. To the surprise of many, business sentiment improved unexpectedly as the retail and wholesale sectors started to show twitches of returning vigor.

The Ifo Institute’s Western German business climate index, edged up from April’s 86.6 to 87.6 in May – thereby thumbing its nose at the entrail-rakers who had predicted a fall to 86.5. Sentiment also warmed in the manufacturing sector, although construction weakened.

As yet, however, no cause for celebration. Not only did the Ifo index fall in April but even May’s surprise lift to 87.6 compares unfavourably with the year-on-year comparison of 91.6. Nor has the strength of the euro against the dollar helped German exporters.

The nation remains technically in recession with its economy losing ground in Q4 2002 and again in Q1 2003 – giving rise to open speculation about deflation. Opined economist Joerg Kraemer of Invesco Asset Management: “There's only one explanation: In April, sentiment collapsed so much that there is a sort of technical rebound.”

Which remark triggered the memory banks of one veteran media observer who recalled Mona Lott, a lugubrious British radio comedy character from the late 1940s whose regular catchphrase convulsed the nation: “It’s being so cheerful as keeps me going!”

Data sourced from: The Wall Street Journal Online; additional content by WARC staff