BERLIN – The German economy unexpectedly shrank in the fourth quarter, data showed on Monday, a sign that Europe’s largest economy may be entering a much-predicted recession, though likely a shallower one than originally feared.
Gross domestic product decreased 0.2% quarter on quarter in adjusted terms, the federal statistics office said. A Reuters poll of analysts had forecast the economy would stagnate.
In the previous quarter, the German economy grew by an upwardly revised 0.5% versus the previous three months.
A recession – commonly defined as two successive quarters of contraction – has become more likely, as many experts predict the economy will shrink in the first quarter of 2023 as well.
“The winter months are turning out to be difficult – although not quite as difficult as originally expected,” said VP Bank chief economist Thomas Gitzel.
“The severe crash of the German economy remains absent, but a slight recession is still on the cards.”
German Economy Minister Robert Habeck said last week in the government’s annual economic report that the economic crisis triggered by the Russian invasion of Ukraine was now manageable, though high energy prices and interest rate rises mean the government remains cautious.
The government has said the economic situation should improve from spring onwards, and last week revised up its GDP forecast for 2023 — predicting growth of 0.2%, up from an autumn forecast of a 0.4% decline.
As far as the European Central Bank goes, interest rate expectations are unlikely to be affected by Monday’s GDP figures as inflationary pressures remain high, said Helaba bank economist Ralf Umlauf.
The ECB has all but committed to raising its key rate by half a percentage point this week to 2.5% to curb inflation.
Monday’s figures showed falling private consumption was the primary reason for the decrease in fourth-quarter GDP.
“Consumers are not immune to an erosion of their purchasing power due to record high inflation,” said Commerzbank chief economist Joerg Kraemer.
Inflation, driven mainly by high energy prices, eased for a second month in a row in December, with EU-harmonized consumer prices rising 9.6% on the year.
However, analysts polled by Reuters predict annual EU-harmonized inflation will enter the double digits again in January with a slight rise, to 10.0%. The office will publish the preliminary inflation rate for January on Tuesday.