Tysklands økonomi krympet med 3,8 prosent i første kvartal. Tysklands økonomi har dermed krympet 6,9 prosent på ett år, og det er den kraftigste tilbakegangen som noensinne er registrert for et større industriland. Hvis fallet fortsetter i samme tempo vil Tysklands økonomi krympe 16 prosent i år. Det er uten sidestykke.

Tallene fra EU-kommisjonen sist fredag var sjokkerende. Flere land innen EU står i fare for økonomisk nedsmelting. De faktorene som bidro til å gi dem en vekst uten sidestykke, skrur dem nå ned. Det er duket for the Perfect Storm, skriver Anatole Kaletsky i the Times. Overbevisende.

Den nedgangen vi har sett i USA og Storbritannia er ingenting mot det som utspiller seg i land som Hellas, Italia, Romania, Ungarn, Østerrike og Irland.

Last Friday the European Commission published what were arguably the most catastrophic economic statistics produced by any official institution in the capitalist world since 1945. These figures showed that Germany has suffered the steepest economic collapse ever recorded in a major industrialised country; and that several of the countries in Central Europe and on the periphery of the eurozone are now in a state of economic and financial meltdown comparable with Argentina, Indonesia and Russia in the 1990s or with Iceland last year.

The 3.8 per cent decline in Germany’s first-quarter GDP reported on Friday translates into an annualised rate of 16 per cent. That was almost three times the rate of decline in the United States and Britain and steeper than most estimates of the economic collapse during the worst years of the Great Depression. And this was not just some temporary fluke or statistical exaggeration.

The German economy has now been falling at a rapid and accelerating rate for four consecutive quarters, resulting in a year-on-year decline of 6.9 per cent. The comparable figures for the US and Britain are 2.6 per cent and 4.2 per cent. More important than comparisons with other countries is the contrast between the present disaster and the recessions that Germany has suffered in the past. Before the present 6.9 per cent slump, the worst year-on-year decline that Germany had recorded was 2.7 per cent in 1975. What these statistics confirmed is that the credit crunch has been a far greater disaster for Germany and most of continental Europe than for the US and Britain. In fact, it is Europe that faces a genuinely unprecedented economic crisis, whereas the recessions in America and Britain are broadly similar in scale to the ones of the past three decades (see charts).

That continental Europe — and Germany, in particular — has suffered far worse from the credit crunch than the US or Britain should come as no surprise. I have described repeatedly the three interacting elements now hitting Europe in a «perfect storm».

«Stormen» består av tre elementer. Det ene er at Tysklands økonomi er bygget på eksport av kapitalvarer. I en nedgangstid tørker bestillingene på biler inn. Det andre elementet er lånetopptak. I land som Estland, Latvia, Romania og Ungarn har man lånt i euro og sveitserfranc. Svenske og østerrikske banker har lånt ut enorme beløp.

The second element of the perfect storm has been the reckless lending to Central Europe and the Baltic States, especially by banks based in Austria, Sweden, Greece and Italy, which in turn have been large borrowers from German investors and banks. Countries such as Latvia, Estonia, Hungary and Romania have been borrowing between 10 and 20per cent of their national incomes each year — largely in euros and Swiss francs, rather than their local currencies. As a result, their businesses and homeowners will suffer a tsunami of bankruptcies if their currencies ever fall. Eastern European governments are, therefore, desperate to avoid devaluations. But the actions they take to «protect» their currencies — for example, cutting public sector wages — only deepen their recessions and magnify the mortgage defaults.

Hvis Tyskland forsto sitt eget beste ville det gå ut og garantere for gjelden i de utsatte landene. Hvis ikke vil nedgangen i disse landene ramme Tyskland uansett.

Men regjeringer reagerer ikke alltid rasjonelt, og slett ikke i en krise.

Vi står bare ved begynnelsen til krisen.

The default risks are particularly serious for governments that are deeply embroiled in the banking crisis. In Ireland, Greece and Spain, governments have been forced to guarantee banks whose liabilities are greater than the entire state budget. In Austria, Greece and Italy, financial risks have been magnified by bank exposure to Central Europe, which in the case of Austria is equivalent to 70 per cent of GDP.

Now consider how the three elements of this perfect storm have begun to converge. The plunge in the German economy has devastated the manufacturing industries and wage remittances in Central Europe, with output in several countries falling at annualised rates of up to 40per cent, never before witnessed in any capitalist economy.

The economic collapse in Central Europe almost surely implies a tidal wave of loan defaults. These, in turn, will wreak havoc in the European banking system and could raise the possibility of sovereign defaults in Greece, Austria, Ireland and other eurozone countries. Finally, efforts by governments to maintain their credit ratings and to control deficits by slashing wages and imposing other deflationary measures will push down house prices and the ability of local borrowers to service their debts, a process that is already alarmingly visible in Ireland. The ultimate result is that the European economy will be caught in a 1930s-style deflationary spiral of deteriorating credit, deflationary government policies, falling wages and even further declines in credit.

Europe waits for Germany to come to the rescue