General economic situation
Weaker development of the global economy
Growth in the global economy in 2015 was, at 3.1%, somewhat lower than in 2014, according to an estimate of the IMF. This was mainly driven by a further slackening of growth in the emerging economies and a recovery in the industrialized nations that proved slower than expected. Many industrialized nations continued to struggle with the effects of the financial crisis and the sharp rise in debt in the public and, to some extent, the private sector. Decreases in the prices of raw materials, lower investments and a depreciation of local currencies led to a difficult economic environment in most emerging and developing economies. The sluggish growth rates of emerging economies such as Brazil, Russia, India and China were especially disappointing. While the volume of world trade stood at almost an all-time high, the rate of increase slowed year on year. This development was mainly attributable to far lower import and export momentum in the emerging markets.
European economic recovery continues
According to an estimate of the IMF, growth in the European economy was in line with the forecasts at 1.5%, with Italy, Ireland and Spain outperforming expectations. France’s economic performance also improved. A weak euro boosted exports and falling oil prices resulted in higher consumer spending. Great Britain’s economic growth fell off slightly as a result of lower growth rates in the financial sector. Southern Europe benefited from increasing tourism. The German economy remained robust. The continuing upturn in the German labor market boosted private consumption, positively impacting economic growth. The weaker economy of the emerging countries exerted a drag that had an adverse effect on export-oriented German companies. However, this weakness was more than made up for by increasing exports to Eurozone countries and the USA. In Russia, the economy slid into recession on account of the protracted Ukraine conflict and sanctions imposed by the West. Against the backdrop of low inflation in the Eurozone, the European Central Bank continued with its expansionary monetary policy.
American economy remains stable
Economic growth in the USA, at 2.6%, was slightly higher than in the previous year, according to an estimate of the IMF. A stable labor market, an upswing in the real estate sector and wage and salary increases provided positive stimulus. Negative one-off effects such as a harsh winter and lower investments in the oil sector due to the drop in oil prices had a dampening impact. Moreover, economic pressure was also exerted by the significant appreciation of the U.S. dollar. Export-oriented companies primarily felt the effects of decreased competitiveness. As the year progressed, however, both consumption and private spending returned to a solid growth trajectory, with labor market numbers also improving. With a view to stability on the American labor market and to prevent inflation, the U.S. Federal Reserve decided to raise its interest rate. In Latin America, the downturn in Brazil was sharper than expected and other countries in the region also experienced more sluggish growth.
Further slowdown in Asian economic growth
In Asia, the economic slowdown continued. According to the IMF, growth in China fell to 6.8%. Slackening growth paired with stock market turbulence mid-year made consumers uneasy. In the course of the year, a number of indicators pointed to a further weakening of the Chinese economy. The Chinese central bank adopted measures to devalue the Chinese yuan in order to counter this. The Japanese economy, according to an estimate of the IMF, returned to growth with a 0.6% increase in gross domestic product. The depreciation of the Japanese yen led to a significant improvement in the competitiveness of the country’s companies, and the launch of structural reforms made a positive contribution to economic growth. Economic growth in Australia declined slightly to 2.4%, according to an estimate of the IMF. Detrimental factors such as falling commodity prices and lower investments in mining were offset in part by an easing of monetary policy and the consequent depreciation of the Australian dollar.