Frankfurt In the past weeks there have been repeated attempts to recover the course, on some days one could believe that the corona pandemic has already been overcome. But on Friday, disillusionment returned – the collapsed ifo business climate index made the whole dilemma clear.
The course of the mood barometer looks like a “Highway to Hell”, was the analysis of the VP Bank. The index is now significantly below the values of the crisis year 2009. The simple message for the future was: “Massive income losses are imminent. We will all get poorer. This applies not only to Germany, but to all economies. ”Sometimes it is better to hear the unvarnished truth.
Other analysts and experts are also skeptical about the weekly outlook. Cautious savings by consumers and companies create a completely different economic and inflation environment than one knows from the post-war period, the analysts at MFS Investment Management believe.
They expect the earnings recovery to be weaker than the market and point to the possible dilution of earnings through capital increases. They particularly highlight 2008 as a comparison.
“When the extreme risk of the international financial crisis subsided, companies were no longer concerned with distributions, but with recapitalization. To this end, new shares were issued – at the expense of existing shareholders, whose capital was heavily diluted, ”said the investment professionals. The new wave of recapitalization has probably just started. In the past few weeks, leisure companies and service providers in the United States and Europe have already offered new shares.
Warning to bargain hunters
The BLI – Banque de Luxembourg Investments is also cautious. “The financial markets are currently giving the impression that they are underestimating the extent of the economic damage and are counting on a rapid recovery as soon as the containment measures are reversed,” is the BLI’s assessment.
Many investors are conditioned to view any decline as an opportunity to buy. However, the analysts recall that while the fall in share prices in February / March was dramatic, the valuations were also very high. As a result, the markets today are anything but cheap, especially after the recent price recovery.
Quality companies with a very solid balance sheet, one or more sustainable competitive advantages and the ability to self-finance should be preferred. The main factor that will continue to speak for stocks remains the low interest rate level and thus the lack of alternatives. At the same time, gold will become an “indispensable part of a balanced portfolio because of the inflation risks.”
After the significant recovery since mid-March, the European stock market has recently lost some momentum, the Weberbank experts believe. In addition, the balance sheet season that is already underway shows significant impacts on corporate balance sheets due to the global “lockdowns”.
Correspondingly, the analysts have also significantly lowered their profit expectations for industrial companies, but also for the banking and energy sectors. Due to the economic slump, banks faced increased write-downs on their credit books and the massive drop in yields clouded interest income. Most recently, they also negatively impacted the rating agency Standard & Poor’s (S&P).
The Deutsche Bank and the Commerzbank were therefore particularly under pressure on Friday “We continue to distance ourselves from these sectors and prefer creditworthy pharmaceuticals or companies from the non-cyclical consumption. In addition, titles from the technology sector are promising in our eyes, ”said the Weberbank experts.
Central banks meet worldwide
If the economic situation continues to be poor, the states and central banks will have to take further support measures. Robert Greil, chief strategist at Merck Finck Privatbankiers, sees an opportunity for this next week because the European Central Bank, the US Federal Reserve and the Bank of Japan are meeting.
“As a result of the unprecedented economic downturn caused by the Covid 19 consequences, all central banks will reaffirm their willingness to support,” says Greil. The economic downturn left neither governments nor central banks a choice but to take further measures to support and recover the economy.
The gross domestic product for the first quarter of 2020 will be published in the euro area on Thursday, and new growth figures will come in the US on Wednesday. Further important economic data in Germany are the preliminary inflation figures and the labor market report for April.
According to DZ Bank, the next quarter should bring an improvement in the economy, but there does not have to be a “V” or “I” recovery. This is not ignored on the stock market, many stocks are up to 80 percent down.
Frankfurt The Commerzbank is holding a virtual general meeting for the first time this year because of the corona crisis. But even without protests from small shareholders on site, there will be no shortage of critical topics at the event on May 13.
Added to this is the criticism of Commerzbank’s remuneration system. The influential voting rights advisor Glass Lewis and his German subsidiary Ivox recommend that shareholders reject the slightly modified remuneration system for members of the Management Board in March 2020. This emerges from the recommendations of both companies for the Annual General Meeting, which are available to the Handelsblatt.
“From our point of view, there is great potential for improvement in the company’s remuneration policy,” says the Glass Lewis study. The goals on which the variable remuneration of the Board of Directors depends are too vague and too focused on the bank’s performance in the past.
Anglo-Saxon investors in particular often follow the advice of proxy advisors such as Glass Lewis and ISS at general meetings. If the Commerzbank shareholders did not endorse the remuneration system, the Supervisory Board would have to deal with it again. Germany’s second largest private bank did not want to comment on this.
Criticism of the number of positions
In his study, Ivox also speaks out against the planned election of Jutta Dönges to the Commerzbank Supervisory Board. The co-boss of the finance agency is to be elected as the new representative of the federal government to the control committee in May – together with Frank Czichowski from the KfW development bank.
Dönges and Czichowski are to replace State Secretary Markus Kerber and Anja Mikus, who heads the State Fund for Nuclear Waste Management. After Commerzbank’s rescue from the crisis, the federal government still has a good 15 percent stake in the bank – and anything but satisfied with the development of the money house in recent years. In Berlin, some have hopes that Dönges and Czichowski can give new impetus to the supervisory board.
But at least Ivox has reservations about the Dönges personnel. There are no doubts about the manager’s qualifications, according to the study based on guidelines of the BVI fund association. “However, there are concerns about the number of mandates.”
Dönges is already a member of the supervisory bodies of the FMS Wertmanagement and the Deutsche Pfandbriefbank. In addition, there is her job as managing director of the finance agency, which Ivox rates as an “executive position” like two mandates.
According to this method of counting, your work on the Commerzbank Supervisory Board would be your fifth mandate. And that would be two more mandates than Ivox recommends for people in an “executive position”. “Therefore, this election should be viewed very critically,” said the voting rights advisor.
The finance agency did not want to comment on Ivox’s criticism. However, a spokeswoman pointed out that Dönges had resigned from the supervisory board of Eurex Clearing in order to avoid conflicts of interest.
In contrast to Ivox, the parent company Glass Lewis has no objection to the choice of Dönges. Other persons familiar with the personnel also consider the appointment to be sensible, after all the financial agency manages the federal government’s participation in Commerzbank and is in close contact with the institute anyway.
Dönges is also highly valued in Berlin because it closely monitored the Commerzbank strategy review. Some also believe that Dönges’ work at FMS Wertmanagement cannot be viewed as a full supervisory mandate.
More concrete goals for 2020
The core remuneration system for Commerzbank board members has existed for several years. In March it was slightly adjusted to take account of the new requirements of the second Shareholder Rights Directive (ARUG II) and the new version of the German Corporate Governance Code. The most important innovation is that a maximum remuneration for each member of the Board of Management of six million euros per fiscal year has now been fixed.
The variable remuneration of the Management Board depends 70 percent on the achievement of the Group’s goals and 30 percent on the development of the department for which the respective Management Board member is responsible. In addition, individual goals have an impact on the amount of bonus payments.
When calculating the variable remuneration for 2019, the development of the bank and the respective department in 2017, 2018 and 2019 is taken into account. Glass Lewis criticizes this approach as backward and advocates “forward-looking” goals. However, this would have the consequence that Commerzbank could not set the bonus payments for 2019 until 2021 – and that the actual payment to the Management Board would then be postponed even further.
Voting rights advisers also take a critical view of the fact that the expectations of the Management Board are not described clearly enough. The performance goals are “only presented in a descriptive manner, but not clearly disclosed,” complains Ivox. As a result, it is not understandable for shareholders whether the goals for the Management Board are ambitious enough, emphasizes Glass Lewis.
Strictly speaking, these comments do not refer to the remuneration system, but to the remuneration report, which the Annual General Meeting does not vote on this year. Nevertheless, there are employees within Commerzbank who find this criticism justified. According to financial circles, the goals for the Executive Board in the 2020 financial year have therefore already been formulated more specifically.
It is of course another matter whether there will be any significant bonus payments in view of the Corona crisis 2020. In addition, the payment of Commerzbank management is generally rather below average compared to other institutions. In the past year, the total remuneration of the Management Board amounted to EUR 12.1 million. At the neighbourhouse Deutsche Bank the executive committee received almost three times as much despite a loss of billions.
Assistance: Jakob Blume
More: Bank President Zielke: “Must review Corona business model”
Frankfurt The series historically poor economic datathat investors currently have to digest does not stop. That is also a burden for the German Leading index Dax. The stock market barometer closed on Friday 1.7 percent lower at 10,336 points.
“This drug had recently made a significant leap on the stock markets,” said Thomas Altmann, portfolio manager at QC Partners. “Therefore, this announcement is a clear warning to all euphoric investors.”
The puzzle is only slowly completing, how badly the corona pandemic is paralyzing the global economy. It was announced on Friday that the UK retail collapsed by more than four percent in March compared to the same period in the previous year – a decline that was not achieved even in the 2008 financial crisis.
Also in Japan the retail sector is idle: Merchants in the capital city of Tokyo reported a drop in sales of almost 35 percent in March. A similar decline to this extent is not to be found in the Bloomberg financial services time series.
There were also bad numbers from industry on Friday: The European commercial vehicle market fell almost half in March due to the coronavirus pandemic. With 105,196 vehicles, 47.3 percent fewer were registered than in the same month last year, the responsible industry association Acea announced on Friday in Brussels.
The number of registrations had already declined in January and February, but the decline in March was again considerably greater. The falls were most pronounced in the countries particularly hard hit by the Covid 19 pandemic: Italy (minus 66.1 percent), Spain (minus 64.4 percent) and France (minus 63.1 percent).
The managers surveyed by the Ifo Institute also assessed their situation as worse and are also more skeptical about the future. The published on Friday Ifo business climate index for April fell more clearly than expected: from 85.9 points in March to 74.3 points. That’s the lowest value ever measured. Economists interviewed by the Reuters news agency had expected a drop to 80.0 points. “The mood among German companies is catastrophic,” said Ifo President Clemens Fuest.
On Thursday, the GfK consumption barometer in Germany and the purchasing manager indices for the European service sector signaled that Germany and Europe were heading for a severe recession. The European Union is steering because of the corona crisis, according to EU Industry Commissioner Thierry Breton towards a drop in economic output of five to ten percent.
In addition, investors are also looking at the Federal Chancellor. Angela Merkel consults with representatives of business and trade unions on the corona crisis. This could also involve possible further easing and economic policy measures.
Look at the individual values
Deutsche Bank and Commerzbank: The rating agency Standard & Poor’s (S&P) has given it a thumbs-up because of the economic impact of the corona crisis at Commerzbank, Deutsche Bank and other German financial institutions. In the Commerzbank S&P downgraded the credit rating by one grade to “BBB +”, the outlook remains “negative”, as the credit rating officers announced on Thursday.
At Deutsche Bank, S&P confirmed the rating of the creditworthiness with “BBB +”, but lowered the outlook to “negative” from “stable”. While the creditworthiness guards doubt that Commerzbank can implement its new strategy “Commerzbank 5.0”, including the planned sale of the Polish subsidiary M-Bank, as planned, they see the restructuring of Deutsche Bank basically on track. The shares of the two largest German financial institutions fell by 6.8 percent (Deutsche Bank) and 4.1 percent (Commerzbank) and were among the biggest losers on the stock market on Friday.
Lufthansa: Down eight percentit went for the papers from Germany’s largest airline. So that leads Lufthansa the Dax’s list of losers. At € 7.20, the shares cost less than they had since the Sars pandemic 17 years ago. According to insiders, the airline plans to put together a government aid package of up to ten billion euros early next week. The loss increased to EUR 1.2 billion in the first quarter. Due to the pandemic, air traffic in Germany is almost completely stopped.
Nestlé: The Swiss food giant, on the other hand, is doing very well. Nestle accelerated its growth in the starting quarter 2020. Organic sales growth in the first three months was 4.3 percent, as Nestle announced on Friday. The share rose 1.8 percent. As the full impact of the Covid 19 pandemic could not yet be assessed, Nestle is tentatively sticking to the original outlook for 2020 as a whole. The Group expects organic sales growth and the underlying operating profit margin to improve.
Sanofi: The French pharmaceutical companybenefits from the strong demand for painkillers and antipyretic due to the spread of the coronavirus. In the first quarter, currency-adjusted profit rose by 16.1 percent to 2.04 billion euros Sanofi announced. Sales climbed 6.6 percent to EUR 8.97 billion. Around half of the profit and sales growth is due to the corona pandemic. The corona effect will subside in the course of the second quarter. Sanofi confirmed the forecast for 2020. The group has set itself a five percent increase in earnings per share. The papers climbed 1.9 percent.
Eni: The Italian oil companythe corona pandemic and collapsing oil prices drove a billion dollar loss in the first quarter. The net loss was 2.9 billion euros, as the Italian company announced on Friday in Rome. Had in the previous year Eni earned just under 1.1 billion euros. For example, Eni had to adjust the book value of its oil inventories to falling market prices, as well as depreciation on oil and gas activities. Adjusted, Eni achieved a small plus of 59 million euros, a fraction of the previous year’s profit of 992 million euros. Revenues plummeted by a quarter to around 13.9 billion euros. The stock lost 2.9 percent.
Look at other asset classes
Oil prices continued their recovery from the previous day on Friday despite the price losses in the meantime. The decisive factor on Wednesday, however, was not the easing of weakness in demand and excess supply, rather political tensions between the USA and Iran caused rising risk premiums for crude oil. In Asian trade, a barrel (159 liters) of the North Sea type Brent last cost $ 21.57, up 1.1 percent. The US WTI was traded at $ 17.09 per barrel, up 3.5 percent.
The euro exchange rate rose slightly on Friday. The European common currency was trading at $ 1.0804 in the late afternoon. The European Central Bank (ECB) set the reference rate on Friday at $ 1.0800 (Thursday: 1.0772).
Italy’s central bank Market insiders broadened their purchases of domestic government bonds on behalf of the ECB on Friday. The Banca d’Italia is buying slightly more titles on average than in the past few days, said a primary trader. A second insider said that she was more active on the market. Yields on ten-year bonds fell around ten basis points over the course of the day to 1.899 percent. They had previously climbed above the two percent mark when disappointment over the results of the EU summit on Thursday spread on the bond market.
The rating agency warns of a significant deterioration in results.
Frankfurt The rating agency Standard & Poor’s (S&P) has given it a thumbs-up because of the economic impact of the corona crisis at Commerzbank, Deutsche Bank and other German financial institutions. At Commerzbank, S&P downgraded the credit rating by one grade to “BBB +”, the outlook remains “negative”, as the credit rating officers announced on Thursday.
At Deutsche Bank, S&P confirmed the rating of the creditworthiness with “BBB +”, but lowered the outlook to “negative” from “stable”. While the creditworthiness guards doubt that Commerzbank can implement its new strategy “Commerzbank 5.0”, including the planned sale of the Polish subsidiary mBank as planned, they see the restructuring of Deutsche Bank basically on track. Commerzbank and Deutsche Bank declined to comment.
With “BBB +” the credit ratings of the two largest German private banks are still three levels above the junk level. A negative outlook means that the credit rating is in danger of being lowered.
S&P warns that even if the economy begins to recover in the third quarter, all banks will see a significant deterioration in results, credit quality and, in some cases, capital resources. The risks that the economy will recover later and the situation will worsen are considerable.
At the Sparkassen-Finanzgruppe Hessen-Thüringen, which includes Landesbank Hessen-Thüringen (Helaba), S&P confirmed the credit rating with “A”, but lowered the outlook to “negative” from “stable” due to the corona crisis.
At the leasing provider Grenke The rating with “BBB +” also remained stable, here too the outlook was reduced to “negative” from “stable”. At Deutsche Pfandbriefbank (pbb), S&P left both the credit rating “A-” and the outlook “negative”.
More: False incentives, fraud, debts – the side effects of the corona crisis.
The Chancellor is in top form in times of corona crisis. Angela Merkel explains complicated population doubling rates and reproductive numbers. But she also knows everyday things. “They have to be washed or ironed regularly, put in the oven or in the microwave,” Merkel explains how to care for respiratory masks. “Even if that sounds a bit housewife, so to speak.”
The omniscient state – embodied in the chancellor. The subjects are explained life down to the smallest detail. With this self-image, Merkel takes “measures that have never existed in our country before”. Fundamental rights are restricted, the economy is pushed to the brink and then supported with unprecedented aid.
One of Merkel’s closest confidants, Peter Altmaier, is more than enthusiastic. “An uncle who brings something is better than an aunt who plays the piano”, the Federal Minister of Economics remembers of his childhood.
And what is brought along! If you add up everything the federal government now wants to offer to combat the corona crisis, you get a gigantic sum of at least 1.2 trillion euros. No other country in the world has raised so much money in relation to its economic strength.
Germany has a full 35 percent, far more than the EU average or the USA. Federal finance minister Olaf Scholz did not understate what he promised a few weeks ago: “It is not spilled, but padding.”
The increase in importance and power is unique. Never in the history of the Federal Republic has a government intervened so quickly and deeply in public life and thus in the economy. After the financial crisis, German government debt rose by 315 billion euros in one year. The value of the federal, state and local governments will be far exceeded in this crisis. “I am worried whether we will be able to return to normal economic policy,” says Lars Feld, Germany’s top economy.
The measures to protect health are understandable. But the question increasingly arises: what side effects do the multi-billion dollar rescue programs have? The free market is disturbed, competition is distorted, prices lose their signal strength.
“As much market as possible, as much state as necessary”, the famous words of former Federal Minister of Economics Karl Schiller lose their meaning every day.
There is a risk of higher prices, inefficient companies and loss of wealth. It is significant that more and more companies are turning to the Bundeskartellamt during the corona crisis in order to be exempted from cooperating with competitors. The new spirit of state economy speaks.
Spend as much as you can. The year 2020 will be disastrous. Kristalina Georgiewa (IMF chief)
Certainly, help for companies with no fault of their own must be provided. But with the flood of support funds, the risk of misallocation is high. Capital and labor are tied up in companies with below-average productivity, less investment and innovative strength.
A few weeks ago, after a parliamentary request from the FDP for possible support from zombie companies, the Federal Ministry of Finance had to admit that “necessary market processes of creative destruction are hindered”.
The concern is justified that the state is eating itself too deeply into the economy, throwing privacy and data protection partially overboard and that the influence on the market will not be reversed after the end of the crisis.
A look at history suggests little good. The federal government is still 25 years after the IPO Deutsche Telekom still the largest single shareholder.
Fundamentally, there is a problem that is known in the economy as moral hazard: companies and citizens behave irresponsibly or carelessly due to existing false incentives. The news of fraudsters sneaking up subsidies is increasing.
“The state is a lousy entrepreneur”
The appearances of Altmaier and Scholz are characterized by superlatives. At the federal press conference, they will be presenting the rescue packages worth billions to the public with great regularity. “This is the most comprehensive and effective guarantee that there has ever been in a crisis,” said Altmaier in mid-March. “This is the bazooka, we’ll look for small arms later,” the Federal Minister of Finance said at the appearance.
The small arms that have now been added are quite large-caliber. Scholz announced a debt-financed supplementary budget of 156 billion euros. This includes an emergency fund with a volume of 50 billion euros, which is aimed at the self-employed and small businesses with up to ten employees.
The federal guarantee for the state bank KfW is increased by up to 450 billion euros. And then there is an Economic Stabilization Fund (WSF) with a volume of 600 billion euros. The majority is earmarked for government guarantees to keep companies liquid.
100 billion euros are reserved for possible investments, i.e. partial nationalization of companies. The battered Lufthansa is already holding talks about state participation.
You can still hear Altmaier’s words: “The state is a lousy entrepreneur.” The Federal Minister of Economics at least dedicated the most beautiful hall in the ministry to Ludwig Erhard. But he is currently just as far away from Erhard’s mantra as the Germans are from summer leaves in Mallorca.
Minister of Economics Peter Altmaier (standing) and Minister of Finance Olaf Scholz (front)
The father of the “German economic miracle” throbbed to measure, he remembered sentences, the state should not be a player, but an arbitrator in the economy. Now the state is preparing to take over the entire football club.
No other industrial country is helping its economy with such large sums as the Federal Republic. This shows a new evaluation by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). He does not criticize Germany, on the contrary. “Spend as much as you can,” advises IMF chief Kristalina Georgiewa. The economic situation is too depressing.
The Council of Experts is now assuming that the economy will decline by more than 5.5 percent this year. This is the case that was previously treated as a worst-case scenario. The economic downturn would be worse than in the global financial crisis. 725,000 companies have registered financial difficulties and short-time work.
Including: hospitals. Health Minister Jens Spahn ordered them at the beginning of March to postpone all planned operations. For the hospital operator, this means severe revenue losses. More than a third of the intensive care beds are not occupied. With the Hospital Relief Act, the federal government created a regulation to compensate the clinics for the failures. But that’s far from enough.
This is the bazooka, we’ll look at small arms later. Olaf Scholz (Federal Minister of Finance)
Some private organizations have registered short-time work, including the Schön-Klinik group. The head of the German Hospital Society, Gerald Gaß, sees the time for a “careful, gradual resumption of regular care”.
Spahn also said last week that clinics could “gradually return to normal”. “We do not want to keep 40 percent of the intensive care ventilation beds in Germany permanently”, said the minister.
The pressure on the companies is huge, the need for help is great. This year alone, the federal government is raising 156 billion euros in new debt. The federal states are also preparing an extensive flood of money for pumps.
According to a survey by the Handelsblatt newspaper among the 16 state finance ministries, they are currently planning 65 billion euros in new debt to fight the crisis. In addition to the federal government’s huge € 1.2 trillion rescue package, the federal states are also helping their companies and the self-employed. Bavaria alone has launched a fund with 60 billion euros.
The IMF chief not only welcomes the gigantic aid package in Germany, the monetary fund also calls for thorough control. “Keep the bills,” said Georgiewa. Transparency and accountability should not be put off in the face of the crisis. Whether Germany is world champion in this discipline, doubts are increasing.
Risk zombie company
The financial crisis shaped a saying by the former head of central bank in Europe, Mario Draghi: “What ever it takes”. In this crisis, it becomes a “Whatever, take it!” Aid is mostly spent without checking, the money cannot be distributed quickly enough.
According to an overview by the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Economics, over 26 billion euros were applied for by KfW Hilfen. Almost 13,000 of the more than 13,200 applications were approved. In other words, almost anyone who wants help gets it, most likely companies that didn’t have a working business model before the pandemic.
This easily creates zombie companies that are only alive because of generous state aid. After all: With the large sums, the KfW steering committee seems to be examining it more closely. So far, around 8.5 billion euros have been approved. So it takes a little longer for the large-volume applications.
In contrast, the self-employed and small businesses with up to ten employees are suspiciously fast. So far, according to the overview of 1.65 million applications, around 1.1 million have been approved and more than nine billion euros paid out. These are not loans, but aid that does not have to be repaid.
“Speed and thoroughness go hand in hand: it is carefully checked who receives the money,” Finance Minister Scholz promised. But is that true? North Rhine-Westphalia and Berlin were even recently forced to suspend immediate payments because large-scale fraudsters wanted to get to the pots.
There are also problems with honest entrepreneurs. In North Rhine-Westphalia, for example, the self-employed and small businesses are always granted the maximum amounts of EUR 9,000 and EUR 15,000 – regardless of need. This practice is not well understood in the Federal Ministry of Economics. Because a flat-rate payment of maximum amounts was actually not intended.
The aid should amount to up to 9,000 euros for companies with up to five employees and up to 15,000 euros for up to ten employees. The emphasis here is on the “up to”. According to the Ministry of Economic Affairs, the actual amount should be based on sales and operating expenses for the next three months. An entrepreneur with zero euros turnover and 1000 euros costs would be entitled to 3000 euros in emergency aid.
But these details were lost somewhere in the confusion between the federal states and the federal states. The up to 50 billion euros are provided by the federal government. Although federal money is at stake, it is up to the federal states how much they scrutinize companies. In Hamburg, for example, a liquidity check is required. Other countries are significantly less strict so that aid can flow as quickly as possible.
In Berlin, more than a billion euros were paid out to solo and small entrepreneurs within days. And the Berlin Senate also admits behind the scenes that surely there are also deadweight effects. Since no examination was carried out, almost everyone received 14,000 euros in a combination of federal and state funds. These include the self-employed, who normally have annual sales that are significantly lower, they say.
Some recipients are now voluntarily repaying the aid for fear of sanctions. But whether a subsequent thorough examination is possible to convince fraudsters is skeptical in financial management.
Dangerous false incentives
The economic nonsense, which is operated partly in the name of Corona, is great. Governments in the federal and state governments are increasingly creating the illusion that they can regulate everything with state trillions. And more and more, government intervention and expansion is creating false incentives in all areas of the economy, which can be revenged bitterly.
Take the housing market as an example: the Federal Minister of Justice, a woman from the SPD, wanted to protect the tenants. The result is a half-baked law that gets small landlords into trouble. The law was so badly made that solvent companies like Adidas or Deichmann used the gaps and simply suspended the rent payments. Only after a storm of indignation did Adidas row back.
Take the example of KfW loans: After the institutes hesitated to pass on the subsidized loans from the Staatsbank KfW to companies because they still had to bear ten percent of the default risk, the state assumed full liability. With the danger that house banks will now be able to provide loans to companies that have long been bankrupt.
The banks don’t care, they are released from any liability, but of course they still make good money from their business. The fool is the taxpayer who has to answer for the defaults.
Example of short-time work: Short-time work allowance is a tried and tested crisis instrument. The state replaces up to 67 percent of net wages. However, the SPD was not enough. In the coalition committee on Wednesday, she pushed for an increase to 80 percent.
It is the most comprehensive and effective guarantee that there has ever been in a crisis. Peter Altmaier (Federal Minister of Economics)
However, a general increase would have significant deadweight effects: Many companies are already increasing short-time benefits from their own resources. Apart from that, the short-time work allowance is not meant to secure the standard of living, but rather to ensure the survival of companies and thus avoid unemployment.
In other areas, the federal corona strategy is rather arbitrary. The craft complained that the vehicle registration offices were closed. There is also much discussion about opening shops up to the limit of 800 square meters. This border was communicated at least improperly and caused confusion and indignation among the shopkeepers.
Now a Hamburg administrative court has declared the 800 square meter rule to be illegal. The court could not understand why opening larger sales areas alone should attract more people to the city center. Necessary infection protection measures could be followed at least as well in larger stores as in smaller facilities.
Whimsical and impractical was initially the requirement that repair shops were allowed to remain open, but the sales rooms had to be closed. Many craftsmen wondered if they could lead the customers through the sales room into the workshop. Another detail from this series of undesirable side effects of the rescue policy.
The border closures, for example with the Czech Republic, mean that the bricklayers are missing in the construction industry and the harvest workers in agriculture from Romania. The state decides a lot, but the consequences are borne by the entrepreneurs and their employees.
The argument for the state’s rapid generosity in the crisis is: rather spend more now to prevent the economy from crashing and millions of jobs be lost than have to finance mass unemployment for a long time. This approach is absolutely correct. But it also remains true: somehow the state rescue billions have to be financed at least in the medium term if the next generations are not to be overwhelmed.
Currently this is done through the use of reserves and debts. Germany certainly has scope. The Federal Republic had just pushed the debt level to below 60 percent, thereby meeting the Maastricht criteria for the first time in many years in 2019. But that will be the last time for a long time.
As a result of the corona crisis, the federal government expects a general government deficit of 7.25 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) this year. The debt ratio as a share of all debts in GDP is estimated at 75.25 percent, as can be seen from the German Stability Program 2020.
“The projection is currently subject to very high levels of uncertainty,” says the current report. In other words, the debt level could be even higher. This mainly depends on how high the losses are that the federal government will incur from its guarantees and sureties.
Given the huge commitments, some in the grand coalition are trying to put the brakes on. “I don’t like the fact that we almost always get new suggestions every hour, what else can you do,” said Union leader Ralph Brinkhaus. “All of this must also be paid for.”
In a crisis, the state’s money is loose. Some sense their chance to finally implement long-held plans.
Dusseldorf The Chairman of the Council of Experts, Lars Feld, urges the Federal Government to take measures to fight the corona crisis. “Above all, what is currently being discussed is problematic. You get the impression that every industry wants specific support, ”Feld told the Handelsblatt.
The hospitality industry wants the reduced VAT rate that has now been decided. The auto industry is again asking for a scrappage premium, and retailing vouchers, says Feld. “You could go on almost any way – who doesn’t have one yet, who wants to do it again.”
“If you go this route, you will hardly be able to catch it afterwards in terms of fiscal policy,” warns the head of the Freiburg Walter Eucken Institute. This applies “also to social policy measures such as the increase in short-time work benefits or the extension of the duration of unemployment benefits”. “I’m more worried about whether we will be able to return to normal economic policy,” says Feld.
The economist also disapproves of the federal government’s policy on industrial policy: “If Corona is now used to quietly implement questionable industrial policy goals, I find that unacceptable.”
Specifically, it refers to the recent tightening of the Foreign Trade and Payments Act. “The goal of building a fortress Europe is definitely the wrong way to go,” said Feld. Germany in particular, as the largest economy, must speak out for openness. “We cannot leave the Dutch alone to stand up for a market economy policy,” he warns.
He expressly warns against the introduction of a property tax. “To talk about a property tax in this situation is insane. The best way to pay off the debt is with an intelligent growth strategy, ”said Feld.
Read the full interview here:
Mr. Feld, you are considered the nation’s regulatory conscience. The state experiences something of self-empowerment in corona times. What scares you more: the virus or the political measures against it? “Fear” is the wrong expression in both respects. I know the medical problems abstractly, but I don’t feel any threat. Of course, this can change quickly if I experience illnesses in my personal environment. This is often the case. As far as the state measures in the fight against the crisis are concerned, I am not afraid either, I am more concerned that we will be able to return to normal economic policy.
The state intervenes massively in contract law, it relaxes bankruptcy law, it communitises risks. In your opinion, is that all still proportionate? Overall, I think the aid package is proportionate. You can argue about individual measures, especially with tenancy law. However, one has to say that the state there has been massively interfering with freedom of contract for a long time: through the rent brake or the rent cover in Berlin, which is probably unconstitutional. I criticized that before Corona – and I’m also criticizing it now.
So you don’t see a new quality of state intervention? But, above all, what is currently being discussed is problematic. One has the impression that each branch wants specific support. The hospitality industry wants the reduced VAT rate that has now been decided. The auto industry is again asking for a scrappage premium, and retailers are demanding consumer vouchers. This could be continued almost indefinitely: Who has not yet, who wants again?
If you go this route, you will hardly be able to catch it afterwards in terms of fiscal policy. Ultimately, this also applies to social policy measures such as raising short-time working benefits or extending the duration of unemployment benefits.
The current bailout package is well over a trillion euros, i.e. more than three times the federal budget – these are sums that recently seemed unthinkable. Will the state’s calculation work, so now to save jobs, will it cost what it wants? Otherwise, the state would have to pay for the millions of unemployed anyway … Yes, the sums are big. However, many simply add up everything that is put in the shop window – loans, grants, guarantees and guarantees. You have to take into account that not everything has an impact on expenditure, loans are repaid and guarantees are not drawn. The decisive factor is whether the measures are targeted.
Where do you see the debt ratio in the medium term? By the end of 2021, we will probably be back to around 80 percent of economic output, roughly the level we had at the end of the financial crisis.
Do you think politics and science still have an overview? When was it that the state had to keep thousands of companies alive – and probably for months? I don’t think the state will be able to maintain this for months. It can mitigate the consequences, but it will not be able to save all companies and jobs. We will have bankruptcies. Ultimately, it’s about helping companies that have a viable business model over this cliff. It should not be forgotten that companies are in this situation because the state massively restricts our freedoms during the pandemic. If there were a claim for compensation from the state, the whole thing would be more expensive.
Who pays the bill in the end? There is already debate about balancing the burden … There is, of course, this debate, but it is a harmful one, with a particular focus on the ideological interests of the parties. To talk about a wealth tax in this situation is insane. The best way to pay off your debt is to use a smart growth strategy.
What do you think of the fact that the private banks are now providing KfW loans with a volume of up to 800.000 euros no longer have to assume any liability, so get a 100 percent guarantee from the state? If you bear in mind the Federal Government’s goal of mitigating corona-related defaults with liquidity aid, that makes perfect sense. Of course, it is cleaner from a regulatory perspective to take the banks at risk. But then the measure would not work. Even with a liability of only ten percent, banks are very hesitant to grant loans in this difficult situation. Of course, we cannot grant such KfW loans on a permanent basis.
We cannot leave the Dutch alone to stand up for a market economy policy.
But isn’t that a disguised bank bailout program? I would not say that. It dissolves the risk aversion of privately liable bank executives. Ultimately, credit-based liquidity support is hardly an option for many companies currently affected, provided they would become excessively in debt.
Another instrument that is often mentioned is government participation. Will it happen? I cannot imagine that we can do without state participation in certain industries – for example, with airlines. Until the Lufthansa back to pre-crisis levels, it may take a long time. The decisive factor is whether they are silent participations or whether the state wants to exercise control rights. I prefer the former because with a stock package it usually takes longer for the state to withdraw.
The bank bailouts during the financial crisis in the USA are always considered exemplary, although there were equity investments … Yes, that’s right, but the state quickly withdrew there. The following applies: If the control function, then please use the exit scenario.
They probably refer to Commerzbank, where the state is still involved after more than ten years. Yes, it would be even more serious with massive industrial holdings like we used to have.
Now there was a trend towards industrial policy even before the corona crisis. The economics minister tightened the foreign trade law – and added again during the corona crisis: are we experiencing a turnaround? Unfortunately, there is a turnaround. If Corona is now being used to quietly push through questionable industrial policy goals, I find it unacceptable.
Now this policy is being carried out by the CDU-led Ministry of Economic Affairs. Are we threatened by French conditions? The goal of building a fortress Europe is definitely the wrong way to go. Germany in particular, as the largest economy, must speak out for openness. We cannot leave the Dutch alone to stand up for a market economy policy.
Isn’t there a good reason to protect some industries – when it comes to security, for example in the case of the Chinese network supplier Huawei? Of course, the state has to look when a state investor from China is investing in critical infrastructure. But now that doesn’t just apply to China. American investors are now being looked at just as critically. A systematic foreclosure strategy threatens. What is considered “safety-relevant” must therefore be clearly defined.
The law speaks of an “expected impairment” of public order or security. There seem to be no limits to arbitrariness, right? The Ministry of Economy is now keeping everything open to prevent any takeovers. The whole thing is also enriched with a participation facility and the economic stabilization fund. It is a very unfortunate combination.
Even mouth protection and protective clothing are considered to be safety-relevant. They may be relevant to health, but they do not have to be produced in Germany. In this case, the state must create strategic reserves.
Back to the economic risks again. If the lockdown has such devastating consequences in Germany, what about countries like Spain and Italy that are already heavily indebted? There is no way around these countries pursuing an expansionary fiscal policy and driving up debt levels. There is no alternative in the face of this great crisis.
Aid programs such as those in Germany cannot be afforded by these countries, which have been hit much harder by the corona crisis … I wouldn’t say that in general. Spain and France have enough leeway with a debt ratio of 100 percent. I think 120 percent would be possible without them being in the focus of the financial markets.
Italy, which has a debt ratio of almost 140 percent, financial market players have long had their sights on them. Only thanks to the massive intervention of the ECB has interest rates dropped to a tolerable level again … Yes, Italy is the real problem. The government debt there is moving towards Greek dimensions in terms of economic performance – and this is about a G7 country.
As far as the corona pandemic is concerned, Italy is not in debt to this crisis. Regulatory policy or not: Do you understand Italy’s prime minister, who vehemently demands the solidarity of the strong countries? I differentiate between understanding and acceptance. I understand that Italy needs support given the many deaths. And I understand that the Italians are now doing everything they can to protect themselves against possible distortions in the financial markets with external help. What I cannot accept is Premier Conte’s blackmail strategy, which is unique in its sharpness.
Isn’t this attitude due to sheer misery? That may be the case, but the extortionate approach could end up being counterproductive. The government cannot credibly threaten to exit the euro because the economy would collapse completely.
But the Italians know very well that an exit from Italy would very quickly result in a collapse of the monetary union, which the rest of Europe can hardly afford … This may be. Nevertheless, Conte’s strategy is questionable because Italy would suffer much more. In Italy, therefore, there is rightly a debate as to whether the prime minister does not overdraw. Italy is well supplied with the funds that have been made available – i.e. the scarcely conditioned loans from the ESM rescue fund with the possibility for the ECB to buy unlimited government bonds (OMT).
I reject joint and several liability. That would be a fall for me.
Italy insists on corona bonds, i.e. the joint borrowing for this crisis. Wouldn’t that be an important symbolic signal for Europe’s cohesion? No, I’m completely the politician of order. I reject joint and several liability. That would be a fall for me.
But isn’t it the more honest way in the end? A communitization of risks has long been taking place through the ECB’s balance sheet, an institution that is not at all legitimized for such a redistribution policy … Again, joint and several liability between states is out of the question for me. Other forms of joint liability, such as joint liability or guarantees for debt, can be discussed.
Discussions about a fund at EU level – possibly parallel to the ESM – that is financed by bonds guaranteed by member states and from which transfers are paid – all of this is conceivable. The problem with joint and several liability: Here the creditor can pick out the most solvent country – and force it to be repaid.
The crisis could hit the emerging markets even more severely than Italy. We are obviously experiencing a crisis of a whole new dimension. Not only almost all industries are affected, but also all regions of the world – at the same time. Some already compare the economic consequences with the Great Depression in the 1930s. Do you think this is alarmist? No, I don’t think it’s alarmist. There are parallels as to the dimension of the economic downturn; but not on the job market. In addition, the reasons are completely different. The current crisis cannot be compared with the Spanish flu either. At that time after the First World War, the economies were very weak.
The fact is: A crisis as we are now experiencing it is unique. It is not only the slump in the economy as a result of the lockdown, but also the interruption of the international supply chains.
How do you explain that the markets are still reacting almost moderately? The markets are still assuming that the gigantic rescue packages will help to overcome the liquidity problems. Whether this will really be the case depends on the further development of the pandemic. I would therefore not rule out further slumps in the financial markets.
The Ifo Institute anticipates a 20 percent drop in GDP in the worst scenario. Do you think such a scenario is conceivable? I’m not that pessimistic. The 20 percent of the Ifo Institute is an annual projection, not an annualized quarter. This means that the relatively robust first quarter is included, so that the economy would not get on its feet in the third and fourth quarters.
At the moment, almost all countries except Sweden are pursuing the same corona strategy: lockdown, bans on contacts and so on. There has never been an experiment like this. Could this strategy turn out to be a global mistake in the end? Afterwards we’ll be smarter. Yes, there are voices that can be taken seriously and say that we unnecessarily stall the economy. Only: If we look at the infection curves and compare them with other flu waves, we see that the rise at Corona is much steeper. If we let it go, significantly more deaths would be unavoidable. So I think trying to flatten the curve so as not to overload the health system is the right strategy.
Finally, a personal question: It was not long ago that your colleague Peter Bofinger from Würzburg was the last Keynesian. But now conservative economists are also calling for massive government intervention. Ifo boss Clemens Fuest, for example, or IW boss Michael Hüther, who most recently spoke in favor of corona bonds. Do you sometimes feel like the last politician in the country? Do not worry. There are still a large number of economists who think in terms of regulatory policy. In addition, I am just as pragmatic as my colleagues in this unique crisis that we are currently experiencing.
Mr. Feld, thank you very much for the interview.
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M“Oil market chaos” was the title of a conference call in which Eugen Weinberg, oil specialist at Commerzbank, wanted to bring business partners from all over the world closer to the extraordinary development on the American oil market on Thursday.
Negative prices on the oil market, that was a very special situation, was his message, which traders, stock exchanges and banks all over the world would have to adjust to – and which could lead to unforeseen difficulties. Nevertheless, Weinberg believes that by the end of the year everything will have calmed down somewhat and the oil price for the North Sea Brent will be back at $ 40 a barrel (barrel of 159 liters).
“The physical market participants or hedge funds were not primarily responsible for the turmoil surrounding the American oil price on Monday,” says Weinberg, “but above all partially automatic actions of the investment products for private investors and forced liquidations”. In the past two to three weeks, there have been large inflows into exchange-traded index funds (ETF), exchange-traded commodities (ETC) and certificates on oil from private investors.
Treacherous roll losses
Many of them would probably not have understood that, unlike the stock market, such securities on oil would not automatically benefit from the so-called roll losses if the oil price rose. “Where there is oil, there is not necessarily oil in it,” said Weinberg.
Oil on the futures market is traded with contracts that regulate the purchase of oil at a time. Securities for investors build on this. These contracts expire at some point and can then no longer be terminated. At least for the American West Texas Intermediate (WTI) grade, the contracts cannot then be paid out in cash, but the beneficiary must physically receive the oil.
Since the storage capacities in America are scarce and therefore expensive, nobody wanted that, and the price for the May contract continued to fall. The providers of investor securities on oil, in turn, “roll” these contracts, that is, they sell the expiring ones and buy the new ones. If oil is now much more expensive to trade in June than in May, as was the case at the beginning of the week, the providers of the securities will receive fewer new contracts for the proceeds from the old contracts – so the investor will not benefit, even though the oil price is recovering optically.
“The fact that the oil price has become negative for the first time has huge effects – even if you should not expect that in future, if you need money, you can simply drive to the petrol station instead of the ATM and get money for refueling there too,” said Weinberg.
Brent price also wobbles
He stated that the Brent price could also slide into the negative. “I think that is less likely for the futures market on Brent because, unlike WTI, contracts can also be paid out in cash,” said Weinberg: “But for the market for physical oil, it is quite possible that the physical prices sometimes become negative if the producer offers a large discount to the Brent oil price. ”Saudi Arabia, for example, offers its European customers a discount of more than $ 10 a barrel for May deliveries. Oil suppliers who have high transport costs are already paying part of the price.
“I expect the oil market to recover in the second half of the year,” said Weinberg. However, it is easier to predict what will happen in six months than what will happen in six minutes. He expects the Brent price to recover to $ 40 by the end of the year, but nothing more. “The price war could continue, and the large stocks are also well filled. “If production surpluses stop this year, around a billion barrels of oil in warehouses and oil tankers are likely to be brought back on the market.”