East German Economy: Demand Push Stronger than Structural Deficiencies
In 2006, growth of production was surprisingly strong in Eastern Germany. The structural deficiencies there would have suggested a slower pace. In particular, linkages with national and international business cycles have been underestimated. To a large part, the reason why output grew by 3 per cent did not come from Eastern Germany itself, but from the Old Länder and from abroad. In the New Länder, the strong upward swing in investment activity stimulated the economy. However, owing to a small increase in total income of private households, their purchasing power lagged behind. The improved ability of East German firms to absorb cyclical impulses from exports and from Germany’s general investment activity proved to be a crucial factor. In particular, the endowment of workplaces with modern production facilities as well as the continued reduction in the disadvantages with respect to cost-competitiveness in the tradable goods sector were beneficial. The labour cost advantage compared to West German competitors increased further while the disadvantage compared to those from Central and Eastern Europe decreased. Benefiting from these factors, economic activity in Eastern Germany will grow faster than in the Old Länder as long as the upswing in Germany and abroad remains strong. In 2007 and 2008, investments – especially in equipment – and exports will be the driving forces again. For exports, the strongly expanding markets in Central and Eastern Europe as well as in Russia will gain in importance. As income and employment prospects improve, private consumption will support the growth in production. Registered unemployment should decrease below the 1-million threshold. Manufacturing will remain the primary force of the upswing; its advantages in production costs will not vanish as long as, even in presence of scarcity of skilled labour, salaries and wages do not increase more than in Western Germany. In the wake of robust economic growth, the New Länder will make further progress in catching up with respect to production and income. Companies will regain support from the banking industry. Yet, investment capital still stems from public funding programmes to a non-negligible extent. In the medium run, access to credit will ease as a result of further improvements in the firms’ net worth position. However, dependency on internal funds remains high and exposes companies to comparatively strong cyclical risks. In an economic downturn, the structural deficiencies of the East German economy will impair economic expansion.