German stock stand to lose most in China slowdown

August 26, 2015 02:27 PM

Germany's export exposure to China, for years a source of economic strength, is fast turning into a risk that raises questions about the health of other sources of growth in Europe's largest economy.

Germany has the greatest trade exposure to China of the 28 European Union nations, largely thanks to demand for its cars and the strength of its engineering industry.

For years, its EU peers tried -- and failed -- to match Germany's export prowess in China, where German companies profited from the infrastructure and consumer spending that have helped make the Chinese economy the world's second largest. But now a slowdown in China means corporate Germany's ventures there risk turning profit streams into cost burdens. Worries about China sent global stocks tumbling on Monday before they rebounded on Tuesday when Beijing cut interest rates.

"The weaknesses of Germany's 'special relationship' with China are becoming increasingly apparent," said Hans Kundnani at the German Marshall Fund.

"I think there is a growing perception among German business people that they are too exposed to China."

Germany's economic ties to China dwarf those of its European counterparts. Led by the big carmakers, German firms moved into China faster and more aggressively than many of their rivals, and China has been a major source of growth for German exporters.

In 2007, the Chinese market accounted for just 3.1% of German exports but that figure rose to 6.6 percent last year, Federal Statistics Office data shows. By contrast, the share of exports going to France slipped slightly over the same period.

Growth in China made it Germany's fourth biggest export market in 2014, after France, accounting for 9.0% of total exports, the United States (8.5%) and Britain (7.4%).  However, this year the Chinese market is fading fast for Germany. In the first half of 2015, export growth to China was just 0.8 percent -- the same as to crisis-burdened Greece, figures from the DIHK chambers of commerce show.


German engineers' exports to China shrank by 4.9% in the first half. Their machine products lag only cars as Germany's largest sector of export goods to China.

For companies like German industrial group ThyssenKrupp, the Chinese market is important. China accounts for 16% of ThyssenKrupp Elevator's sales, or about 1 billion euros ($1.14 billion) last year.

Already some leading German brands are feeling the impact of the slowdown, which saw activity in China's factory sector shrink at its fastest pace in almost 6-1/2 years in August as domestic and export demand dwindled.

Carmaker Volkswagen last month lowered its global sales forecast and said it was braced for stagnant volumes in China, after years of double-digit growth in its biggest market.

The German government has been at pains to describe the impact of China's slowdown for Germany as "limited", and Berlin is sticking to its 1.8-%growth forecast for this year.

That throws the spotlight onto more mature markets like the United States and the EU, which Berlin says are holding up well.

The United States actually overtook France in the first half of this year to become Germany's top export market for the first time since 1961, the DIHK said. But with European economies struggling to pick up economic momentum, the United States would be a rather singular market for German exporters to depend on.

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Paul Carrel, Reuters