The third coronavirus wave has required tighter lockdowns in many places and there is still a long way to go before broad sections of the population have been immunised. At the same time, the global economy is clearly recovering. In an environment filled with contradictory signals, SMEs are putting up a good fight. Their business sentiment rose for the third consecutive month. Both sentiment components contributed to the increase. In order for the hoped-for upswing to now become a reality, new infections must be consistently contained and vaccinations ramped up further.
The share of businesses in credit negotiations continued to decline in the first quarter of 2021. Large companies’ demand has stagnated at the low level of the previous quarter. Reluctance to invest and uncertainty about the further course of the pandemic and an increased debt burden in parts of the corporate sector, as well as government guarantee programmes and subsidies are likely to curb credit demand. Banks are slightly tightening their lending policies again but only for SMEs. Large companies, especially in the manufacturing sector, are once again finding it much easier to access bank loans.
Towards the end of the year, new lending by German banks to enterprises and self-employed persons fell behind the previous year’s level by a noticeable -4.3%. Thus, unlike in the spring of 2020, the second coronavirus wave failed to trigger a significant increase in credit demand.
The restrictions imposed in autumn put renewed pressure on many businesses, but the second wave of infections has had a less severe macroeconomic impact. Government financial support combined with businesses’ adaptation measures further stabilised the liquidity position in the fourth quarter. Given the enormous uncertainty, investment financing continues to be in low demand.
We also expect a significant year-on-year decline in lending in the first half of the year. This is partly the result of a pronounced base effect created by the pandemic-driven strong lending activity in spring and summer 2020.
In March, sentiment among small and medium-sized enterprises brightened for the second consecutive month – this time very strongly. With the arrival of spring, business confidence rose three times the typical monthly variation. Expectations in particular spiked, turning slightly positive for the first time since the outbreak of the pandemic. Large enterprises are currently even more upbeat. But the strong improvements in sentiment across the overall economy are only a snapshot amid the surging third wave of infections. Yet they underscore the great potential for a rebound once the pandemic has been successfully suppressed. They can be seen as a vote of confidence in the upturn.
Focus on Economics
Around the world, government debt has grown dramatically in response to the coronavirus crisis. But how sustainable is the debt that has built up? This paper analyses the prospects for reducing government debt ratios using the examples of Germany and Italy. It focuses on longer-term developments from 2023, when both the recession and the immediate recovery phase will presumably have come to an end. On the basis of various scenarios, we demonstrate how crucial the relationship between interest rates and economic growth rates is for meeting the consolidation challenge. In the current environment of extremely low interest rates, Germany’s debt-to-GDP ratio could fall below the Maastricht threshold in the course of this decade already and even Italy could succeed in slowly reducing its debt ratio with only moderate budget surpluses. A structural increase in the interest-growth differential, on the other hand, would pose a great risk to Italy’s debt sustainability.
Focus on Economics
Residential property prices in Germany continued to rise strongly in 2020. Has a Germany-wide price bubble formed that could burst with grave consequences for the German economy? The present analysis can still give the all clear in this respect because housing loans have largely increased in line with incomes, overall economic growth and decreased interest costs. Nevertheless, evidence of speculative bubbles forming in some regions and risks of price drops have grown substantially. This is particularly true given the possibility of a shrinking population.
International trade continues to play an important role for Germany's economic model and, if we look closely at the groups of goods, is relatively well diversified despite the high importance of capital goods. The Corona crisis brought global trade and Germany's trade to its knees and quickly affected the country's important trading partners. To be sure, trade in goods is recovering faster than trade in services. But exports and imports of capital goods fell particularly sharply in the crisis, already weighed down by weak global investment activity before it hit. Investment activity will pick up when the global and German economies recover and economic uncertainty decreases. That will also provide impetus for trade in capital goods. In the longer term, digitalisation and the transition to a climate-neutral economy are important topics for international trade.
After January was spent digesting the hard lockdown, February brought a hint of spring. SME business confidence rose again noticeably by 4.2 points to -10.1 balance points. Expectations in particular improved and assessments of the current business situation also improved slightly. But the gap remains wide between the services and retail businesses, which were hit hard by the restrictions, and construction and industrial firms. Sentiment among small and medium-sized manufacturers continued to rise strongly. In retail businesses, on the other hand, it was only the hope for better times that brought a slight improvement in business confidence in February, while their situation assessments were almost as negative as during the first lockdown.
Since joining the EU, the countries of Central and Eastern Europe have seen significant growth in trade and international direct investment. German enterprises in particular have invested heavily in neighbouring Czech Republic and Poland. The increasingly evident skills shortage in the commercial-technical area in these countries, however, might hamper the cooperation. Germany’s partners have now risen to the challenge of reforming the vocational education and training system in a broad modernisation effort to make it more practice-relevant.
Continued high infection rates, the risk of more contagious virus mutations and the resulting extended restrictions will cause Germany’s economy to contract sharply in the first quarter of 2021. But with increasing progress in the rollout of vaccines and restrictions being eased first cautiously and then more broadly as the virus is successfully controlled and a third wave is avoided, a noticeable recovery will emerge in the spring and a growth spurt in the summer. Germany’s GDP is forecast to grow by 3.3% in 2021 and 3.4% in 2022. The pre-crisis level will be reached again in the fourth quarter of 2021. Driven by vigorous catch-up growth, GDP in the euro area is set to grow by 4.6% in 2021 and 4.0% in 2022. The euro area as a whole, however, will not return to the pre-crisis level yet in 2021.
Residential construction investment continued to grow in 2020, despite the coronavirus crisis, and completions are also likely to have increased. The overhang of approved but as yet unbuilt housing units has likely grown to more than 750,000, indicating a further increase in completions for 2021. The number of completed dwellings may potentially exceed 300,000 again for the first time in 20 years. New homes will be built primarily in places where population growth has driven up housing demand. But housing will nonetheless remain scarce and expensive in urban centres as the trend towards urbanisation is continuing. Excess demand in overheated housing markets can be reduced by building new dwellings and by diverting migration flows. Creating jobs outside the centres and expanding public regional transport and digital infrastructure can help divert these flows.
Sentiment in the VC market improved significantly at the end of 2020, fully offsetting the coronavirus-induced drastic confidence loss of the start of the year. In the final quarter, the business climate indicator of the early-stage segment rose by 26.7 points to 17.0 balance points. Business situation and expectations assessments improved at similar rates. The three business climate indicators thus appear to be unimpressed by the renewed lockdown and even exceed the previous pre-coronavirus level. Evidently, the experience from the spring was that the startup scene is less widely affected by the coronavirus restrictions than initially feared.
Sentiment in the German private equity market continues to recover at a sluggish pace. At -30.9 balance points, the sentiment indicator of the later-stage segment hardly improved in the fourth quarter of 2020 (+6.1). Thus, it made up for only around half of the downturn from the first quarter because the path of recovery flattened halfway out of the coronavirus slump. The coronavirus crisis thus continues to weigh heavily on sentiment and impacts on assessments of both the current business situation and expectations.
The newly designed KfW-ifo Skilled Labour Barometer describes – in the aggregate and by economic sectors and regions – to what extent businesses see their business activity hampered by skills shortages. In the first quarter of 2021, skills shortages hampered the operations of 20.6% of businesses in Germany. Despite the lockdown, that was 5.6% more than in the third quarter of 2020. In major service businesses such as architecture and engineering firms, law firms, tax consultancies and information technology services, 30 to 50% of businesses are affected. The skills shortage may turn into a serious obstacle to economic growth in the coming years as further cohorts of baby boomers begin to retire and as a result of weak labour productivity growth. From now on, the KfW-ifo Skilled Labour Barometer will be published in the spring and autumn of each year.
Economics in Brief
Most Germans are not really into continuing their education. This applies to low-skilled workers and those in the low-wage sector in particular. The trend is growing but 60% of the working population did not engage in further vocational education in 2018. Among workers with a low skill level it was 75%. This is of concern because the coronavirus crisis is threatening many jobs and the digital, demographic and ecological structural transformation is requiring workers to be much more adaptable. Further education can also address growing skills shortages. For a culture of lifelong learning it is therefore important to eliminate the deficits in education and professional development.
SME business sentiment: retail in freefall, manufacturing steady
SME business sentiment in Germany fell sharply in January as a result of the extended and tightened lockdown. Situation assessments and business expectations both fell. Factors that likely contributed to pessimism were uncertainty about the end of the lockdown and disappointment in the slow pace of the vaccine rollout. But the overall sentiment level is still nowhere near the record low of last spring.
Despite renewed restrictions on business activity, loans did not attract much interest among enterprises in the fourth quarter of 2020, the KfW-ifo Credit Constraint Indicator survey has found.
The share of enterprises that were engaged in loan negotiations with banks plummeted to a new all-time low in both size classes. Due to the high level of uncertainty about the further course of the pandemic, interest in investment financing in particular is likely to be low at present.
At the same time, companies seeking bank financing are encountering increasingly restrictive financial institutions. The KfW-ifo Credit Constraint Indicator for SMEs rose for the sixth consecutive time to now 22.1%.
In the first half of December, Germany’s SMEs were still relatively unimpressed by rising new infections and the prospects of a tougher lockdown. Their business confidence rose 1.4 points to -10.6 balance points. SMEs’ situation assessments improved noticeably, while their expectations were only slightly higher. The positive outlook for an easing of the situation in the medium term through the rollout of effective vaccines is likely to be neutralised by a dimmer view of the coming months. However, the specific closure of child daycare centres, schools and many stationary retail shops, which went into effect on 16 December until at least 10 January, was not yet specifically known when most of the responses were returned.
KfW Research has calculated that new lending to enterprises and self-employed persons lost momentum in the third quarter. Banks extended just 0.3% more corporate loans than in the same period last year. That is in sharp contrast with the strong growth rates in the first half of the year.
The difficult situation of businesses in the coronavirus crisis has weighed heavily on investment activity. Loans to finance capital expenditure are hardly in demand. At the same time, the economic recovery over the summer months and businesses’ adaptations have reduced their need for liquidity. Credit institutions are moderately tightening their lending standards.
The decline in lending momentum can be expected to continue and accelerate. It is therefore all the more important to keep access to credit open for companies that want to invest now in order to be prepared for future challenges and opportunities.
KfW Credit Market Outlook December 2020
The second wave of infections and the partial lockdown leave their mark on small and medium-sized enterprises. SME business confidence fell by 4.5 points in November – a significant decline but only moderate compared to the crashes of 18 and 25 points in March and April. Situation assessments presented themselves as relatively steady, while business expectations plunged. Service enterprises are currently the most pessimistic in both size classes. After all, this segment includes all industries that have been directly affected by the lockdown since the beginning of November. Small and medium-sized enterprises in particular are likely to represent a large share of the critical sectors. Medium-sized retailers, however, also reported a rapid deterioration in business confidence. In the large enterprise segment, the manufacturing sector managed to lift overall sentiment.
Focus on Economics
The COVID-19 pandemic has deeply affected and unsettled Germany’s enterprises. To be sure, most enterprises rest on a solid financial foundation. The current situation, however, is making it difficult for businesses to make the necessary investments to tap into growth areas in the transition to a digital and climate-neutral economy. But such investments are very important for them to grow out of debt and secure prosperity in the future. The coronavirus crisis has already thwarted the investment plans of many small and medium-sized enterprises. Companies expect to invest almost EUR 40 billion less than last year. That is why economic policy must also seize the moment to create the framework, provide incentives for investment and lead the way with start-up finance to make future growth possible in these two key areas.
In the summer months Germany and the euro area were able to offset a large part of the previous economic contraction. However, as a result of the renewed sharp rise in the number of new COVID-19 infections since the beginning of autumn and the restrictions that became necessary, the recovery will stop temporarily. A decline in economic output is to be expected for the winter half-year of 2020/2021. Based on the encouraging perspective that effective vaccines will soon be available, KfW Research forecasts that the return to public life and social activities will lead to a surge in growth from next spring. Germany is set to grow by 4.0% in 2021 and the euro area by as much as 5.1%, starting from a lower level.
The outlook for small and medium-sized enterprises is darkening amid the second wave of infections. In October the containment measures, still mild and mostly local, hardly disrupted business activity but tighter restrictions were foreseeable as new infections were rising fast. The partial lockdown in November will interrupt the economic recovery. However, the response means there is a good chance that the damage can be confined to the particularly contact-intensive sectors. But there is still a long winter ahead and the downside risks are therefore high.
VC market sentiment continued to recover from the spring coronavirus shock. In the third quarter of 2020, the sentiment indicator of the early-stage segment climbed by 4.7 points to -9.5 balance points. VC investors rated both their current business situation and their expectations better than in the previous quarter, although situation assessments improved only very marginally. In the third quarter, the development of the market environment was mixed. In the fundraising climate as a key factor, however, the rebound from the second quarter continued, with assessments even back in the green zone. VC investors’ concerns over fundraising from the coronavirus crisis thus appear to have largely disappeared.
The recovery of business confidence in the German private equity market from the coronavirus shock has stalled. The sentiment indicator of the later-stage segment stagnated at -37.5 balance points in the third quarter of 2020. Both current business situation assessments and business expectations remained nearly unchanged. The German private equity market environment has ceased to improve since the rebound in the second quarter. On the contrary, many sentiment indicators dropped again in the third quarter. Apart from the assessment of the promotional environment and tax framework, which are in the upper green band, most of the remaining indicators are deep in the red.
The coronavirus crisis has left a deep imprint on the SME sector. The KfW SME Panel 2020 shows that they continue to be severely impacted and their expectations for 2020 as a whole are at a historic low. The turnovers of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are set to drop more steeply than in the financial crisis of 2009. As a result, many enterprises fear further considerable pressure on employment. Equity ratios are also under stress. But SMEs broadly rest on a solid foundation, partly because of their renewed good performance in 2019. Employment, turnovers and investment rose again last year. SMEs were able to increase their profitability and build up their financial buffers once again, so they entered the crisis from a very good position. But the pathway out is likely to be long and hard and the impact will be felt for a long time.
The global response to the coronavirus pandemic has plunged Germany into a deep recession. Still, there is good reason to be optimistic. This becomes clear if we compare it with the unification of Germany, which brought the deepest economic slump of the post-war era so far. This discussion paper describes what we now need to do in Germany to succeed in overcoming the crisis and strengthening environmentally sound growth on a sustainable basis. Five fields of action are crucial: 1) making the economy resilient to crises; 2) advancing towards a carbon-neutral economy; 3) translating inventiveness and reduced mistrust in digitalisation into productivity increases; 4) continuing to use the advantages of international integration and avoiding a nationalisation of supply chains; and 5) strengthening Europe.
Banks’ reluctance to give loans to small and medium-sized enterprises continues to grow in the coronavirus crisis. But considering the exceptional economic situation, the criteria are still being tightened with moderation.
The KfW ifo Credit Constraint Indicator for SMEs rose slightly in the third quarter. 21.7% of enterprises reported that banks were being restrictive in loan negotiations. As a result, the gap to large enterprises has widened again slightly. In this size class, credit access improved after criteria were significantly tightened in the previous quarter.
SME service providers encounter particularly adverse conditions for accessing loans. More than one in four currently have difficulties in obtaining loans. At the same time, the situation has eased in other sectors of the economy. Credit constraint decreased across both size classes in the construction and manufacturing sectors.
A second wave of new coronavirus infections is on its way in Europe, taking on alarming proportions in some neighbouring countries and jeopardising the economic recovery. Against this backdrop, the fifth rise in the business climate indicator for German SMEs is sending out reassuring signals. Nevertheless, the resurging pandemic is becoming a growing obstacle for the economy as the cold season begins. It can still be overcome but the difficult part of the recovery has begun.
The global spread of COVID-19 and the response to the pandemic have led to a rapid rise in uncertainty. Measuring uncertainty, however, is a challenge. In order to identify as broad an uncertainty measure for Germany as possible, an index is created that captures financial market volatility, politically induced uncertainty based on media reports and the heterogeneity of business expectations. This index shows that uncertainty has increased very strongly during the coronavirus pandemic and economic activity has dropped particularly sharply. From a theoretical perspective, the primary mechanism through which reduced (planning) certainty negatively influences economic decisions is that people postpone their consumption and investment decisions and wait for uncertainty to dissipate.
The economic crisis from the coronavirus shock is unprecedented in the speed of its spread, its depth and global scale. Because of high uncertainty, a lasting recovery is particularly difficult and will depend mainly on meeting three key challenges: First, the business sector can be expected to incur higher debt, which will adversely impact investment activity. High loan losses and low earnings are putting increased pressure on banks’ equity positions, reducing credit supply. Second, the coronavirus pandemic has accelerated the implementation of short-term digitalisation and innovation projects. More long-term, in-depth projects, however, are at risk of being put off for lack of funds. Third, climate change demands structural adjustments in all areas of the economy which must be addressed quickly and decisively regardless of financial constraints.
The initially very strong sentiment improvement driven by the relaxation of coronavirus restrictions since May is weakening. In August, however, SME business confidence continued to brighten but much less than in the preceding months, remaining well below the pre-crisis level of February. For the first time in a good two and a half years, large enterprises are slightly more upbeat than SMEs. The easy part of the recovery since the historic slump in eeconomic activity in April is over and bringing it closer to what it was before the crisis this coming autumn and winter will be rather challenging by comparison.
The profound shock of the corona crisis has thrown many companies into distress. With their continuously strong lending, Germany's banks and savings banks are making an important contribution to overcoming the economic slump.
According to calculations by KfW Research, the growth of new lending to businesses and self-employed persons in Germany hardly slowed during the second quarter and remained on a high level, increasing by 6.0% year-on-year. The fact that long-term loans in particular were granted is good news for the stability of the economic recovery. Businesses have likely focused on ensuring the survival of their operations, while capital expenditure slipped into the background.
We expect economic momentum to slow in the further course of the year. The ongoing economic recovery is easing the pressure on the liquidity situation, while demand for investment loans should remain weak for some time to come.
The coronavirus pandemic has led to an economic slump of historic proportions in Germany and the euro area. The low point, however, was passed back in April. It was followed by a vigorous catch-up movement that translates into very high growth in the present quarter. However, headwinds are gathering strength.
KfW Research stands by its forecast that Germany’s gross domestic product will contract by around 6% this year, before growing again by 5% next year. Gross domestic product in the euro area is set to contract by around 8% overall in 2020. A severe second wave of infections remains the highest risk, although new restriction measures will likely end up being more targeted than in spring.
SME business sentiment rose for the third consecutive month in July. This shows that small and medium-sized enterprises were quite successful in relaunching their businesses after the containment of the first wave of infections. They started the summer quarter on a robust path of recovery. What is particularly encouraging is that situation assessments also improved. However, headwinds are building. Continuing high global infection rates are hurting export-oriented manufacturing in particular. The recent rise in new infections in Germany also poses a risk to almost all sectors.
Economics in Brief
What does the coronavirus crisis mean for Germany’s VC market? How are market participants responding and what are the consequences? In a special survey, 24 VC investors gave their views on specific aspects.
Start-ups are grappling with losses in turnover, which has also increased the risk of failure. At the same time, the crisis is impacting on their financing situation as even deals already committed to have not been closed. The main reason for this appears to be the great uncertainty caused by the coronavirus shock. However, the threat to further deals not materialising because of the coronavirus should have passed by now. Nevertheless, how long investors will now remain focused on their core business will presumably depend on how well businesses and economies get through the crisis.
Focus on Economics
German-Polish economic relations have developed extremely well. Germany’s second-largest neighbour has steadily climbed the rankings of its most important trading partners. Now, however, the coronavirus crisis is calling into question established structures of cooperation, particularly in the border regions. A more intensive dialogue is now required to jointly overcome the current challenges. The restructuring of production chains that is to be expected after the coronavirus crisis could even make German-Polish cooperation grow in importance.
Businesses are well-equipped for the crisis
In cooperation with 19 trade associations, KfW Group has conducted a business survey on banking behaviour and financing for the 19th time.
The most important results are:
- The financing situation remained good until the outbreak of the coronavirus crisis.
- The proportion of enterprises reporting difficulties in accessing credit was 13.4%.
- As before, however, small businesses are still much more likely to face difficulties in accessing credit.
- The positive development of businesses’ equity ratio and credit rating continued up until the beginning of 2020.
- Bank loans remain an important source of funding for businesses. Internal funding, however, continues to play by far the most important role in business financing.
The German VC market was unsettled by the uncertain consequences of the coronavirus crisis at the end of the first quarter of 2020 but the initial shock has passed for now. Business sentiment clearly recovered from the all-time low. In the second quarter the sentiment indicator of the early-stage sentiment rose by 50.0 to -11.1 balance points, reversing more than half of the coronavirus slump. VC investors’ assessments of both the current business situation and expectations recovered. The various sub-indicators also improved. VC investors are breathing a sigh of relief with respect to fundraising, exit opportunities, new investment and value adjustments, for example.
Confidence has returned to the German private equity market after the massive coronavirus slump. In the second quarter of 2020 the sentiment indicator of the later-stage segment reversed more than half of the first-quarter losses, rising by 45.6 to -40.6 balance points. Later-stage investors are again taking a more positive view of the current business situation and have higher expectations as well. Although sentiment has risen from its low, most indicators remain negative despite the rebound. Private equity investors are still disgruntled by the fundraising climate, exit opportunities and write-down pressure.
Businesses of all size classes are finding it more difficult to access credit in the coronavirus crisis.
The KfW Ifo Credit Constraint Indicator has reached the highest level since the survey methodology was revised in 2017. More than one fifth of SMEs reported that banks were restrictive in loan negotiations in the second quarter of 2020. However, large enterprises also have to surmount growing obstacles when accessing credit.
But in view of the significantly increased loan default risks due to the deep recession, the difficulties in accessing credit are still limited. This contrasts with the global financial crisis of 2009, when more than 40% of the small and medium-sized manufacturing firms surveyed by the ifo Institute perceived banks’ lending policy as restrictive. The situation today is not just due to the greater resilience of the banking sector but also to the comprehensive economic support packages.
The coronavirus crisis has set a lot of things in motion and opened up opportunities for change. In order to set the course towards more sustainable economic management, five fields of action will be crucial: enhancing the crisis resilience of the economy, accelerating the transition towards carbon neutrality, translating digitalisation and inventiveness into productivity growth, continuing to use the advantages of international integration and strengthening Europe. This KfW Research position paper fills these five fields of action with life and details key starting points for a growth and investment programme for the post-coronavirus crisis phase.
The low number of new infections in Germany and the resulting easing of restrictions combined with strong economic-policy stimulus measures have led to a rapid surge in SME business sentiment at the beginning of summer. There is good reason for confidence to return, given the extensive stabilisation measures and success in containing the virus. However, risks remain very high as the further course of the pandemic is virtually impossible to predict.
Focus on Economics
The dark clouds of the coronavirus crisis are gradually clearing. Nevertheless, most of the small and medium-sized enterprises will feel the impact of the coronavirus crisis for a long time. That was one of the findings of the second representative supplementary survey based on the KfW SME Panel in early June 2020. Most enterprises do not expect to return to full economic activity before the spring of 2021. Around 2.3 million SMEs were affected by losses in turnover in May as well. Companies lost an average of 46% of their normally anticipated turnover. Overall, SMEs lost around EUR 88 billion in May. This is also putting pressure on their liquidity. It is true that the situation appears to have eased for some enterprises, with 25% currently reporting adequate liquidity reserves. But around one in five will run out of liquidity in four weeks at the latest unless the situation improves.
The coronavirus crisis has led to a sharp increase in lending dynamics. According to calculations by KfW Research, new lending to businesses and self-employed persons in Germany grew by 7.3% year-on-year in the first quarter. The growth rate thus nearly doubled on the final quarter of last year.
At the start of the coronavirus outbreak in March, access to short-term loans was a particularly important instrument for closing the abruptly emerging liquidity gaps. Even if the recovery has begun, German companies are still grappling with severe turnover losses in the pandemic. We therefore expect credit growth to continue increasing and reach its peak in the second quarter.
A number of economic policy measures are facilitating access to loans for businesses, making it easier for banks to expand their credit supply even amid rising risk costs. These measures also include the recently adopted economic stimulus programme.
The coronavirus pandemic has caused unprecedented sentiment volatility in the SME sector. In May, business confidence recovered very sharply from its historic nosedive the month before. But what is remarkable are the relations. The rise in confidence from the previous month was the second strongest since the beginning of the timeseries but it made up for only a good one fifth of the decreases in March and April. The stronger sentiment is being carried solely by a record rise in business expectations, which nevertheless remain very pessimistic.
Focus on Economics
Many small and medium-sized enterprises are responding creatively to the coronavirus crisis, with 43% adapting their product/service offerings, sales method or business model. When combined with businesses that still plan to do this, that percentage even rises to 57%. Companies that were hit particularly hard by the crisis and those that have previously innovated are leading the charge.
The uncertain consequences of the coronavirus pandemic have unsettled the German VC market. Business confidence has plummeted to an all-time low. In the first quarter of 2020, the business climate indicator of the early-stage segment nosedived by 72.3 points to -61.3 balance points – an unprecedented decline. VC investors’ assessments of both the current business situation and expectations have deteriorated dramatically.
The coronavirus pandemic has hit the private equity market hard. The German private equity market has experienced a massive loss of confidence. In the first quarter of 2020, the sentiment indicator of the later-stage segment plunged by 94.3 points to -86.7 balance points. Never before have later-stage investors been more pessimistic about both their current business situation and their expectations. The indicator for the current business situation dropped to -82.2 balance points, while the indicator for business expectations fell to -91.2 of -100 possible balance points. The fund-raising climate has now fallen from a record-high level in the previous quarter to just above its previous lowest level.
Economics in Brief
The short-time allowance secures millions of jobs. This contrasts with the US, where 34 million workers have filed unemployment claims. But if the lockdown lasts too long, many workers on short-time arrangements are likely to become unemployed. It therefore appears to be advisable to relax social distancing rules as much as possible and expedite development of a vaccine or treatment. The public and private sector should join forces to achieve this in a concerted approach – at international level.
The pandemic has hit Europe like a bolt of lightning. The recession is unprecedented in breadth and depth, with the German economy expected to contract by around 6% in 2020. However, in the absence of a second wave of infections, an initially strong and then faltering recovery should begin as early as the second half of the year, which will be reflected in a catch-up growth rate of 5% in 2021. Output will thus return to its pre-crisis level in autumn of 2021. Aggregate output loss will then be around EUR 300 billion.
In the euro area, the recession will likely be even deeper (2020: -7%; 2021: +6%), since the pandemic has hit the other large countries – France, Italy and Spain – particularly hard and the structural environment is unfavourable as well.
SME business sentiment continues in freefall, dropping even more sharply in April than in March. The mood is thus even more depressed than eleven years ago, at the height of the financial crisis. Both subindicators stand out with new negative records. Situation assessments have deteriorated more than ever before and business expectations have plunged to a new historic low. We are confident nonetheless that we saw sentiment bottom out in April – thanks to the comprehensive coronavirus containment strategy, the successes achieved in stopping the spread of infections and the now announced or already implemented easing of restrictions.
Focus on Economics
As anticipated, the coronavirus crisis has hit the SME sector with force. A current special survey based on the KfW SME Panel shows the magnitude of the impact. In March, more than 2.2 million SMEs suffered losses in turnover as a result of the crisis. On average, they lost slightly more than half the normally anticipated March turnover alone, or around EUR 75 billion. Still, SMEs are very resilient against crises of this nature because they have continuously improved their equity base and built up financial buffers. This is helping them to temporarily absorb losses in the current crisis and reduce pressure on liquidity. If the lockdown drags on, however, SMEs’ losses will increase and half of them will run out of liquidity reserves by the end of May.
Launched in troubled times but at the right moment:
We are pleased to announce the publication of the first edition of the KfW-ifo Credit Constraint Indicator!
Right now, the new quarterly indicator series by KfW Research is a valuable instrument for monitoring and assessing the supply of credit to SMEs and large-scale enterprises during the crisis. Like the KfW-ifo SME Barometer, it is based on data from the ifo economic surveys.
The evaluation of the first quarter of 2020 shows a good starting position. Credit constraint was low across both size classes. Only 17.2% of SMEs reported difficulties in loan negotiations. That means the impact of the coronavirus on the credit market is yet to be seen.
The coronavirus crisis has hit the export-oriented German economy in what was already a difficult situation. Growing tensions in international trade relations and a worsening global economy also affected SMEs, whose international turnover grew by a mere 3.1% in 2018 to EUR 595 billion, down from 5.5% in 2017. The KfW ifo Export Expectations of the German SME sector were persistently negative in 2019, before crashing through the floor in March 2020. The approx. 800,000 internationally active SMEs have been hit particularly hard by the consequences of the coronavirus crisis in Europe, where their most important sales and procurement markets are located. Even though the trade conflict between the EU and the US is being overshadowed by the coronavirus crisis, one in three SMEs are worried about a possible escalation.
The SME business climate is experiencing an historically unique collapse in light of the corona crisis. This drop of 20 points considerably overshadows the sharpest previous decline during the financial crisis. Unlike in previous recessions, the slump is not primarily being caused by the more cyclical industrial sector. Rather, many parts of the domestic economy have been deliberately shut down. As a result, the business climate of small and medium-sized service providers, as well as that of retailers and wholesalers, is plummeting. But it still fails to capture the full extent of the crisis. During the survey period, while it became apparent that the pandemic would escalate and the resulting restrictions would be intensified, most of them were not yet in force in Germany. The full impact is not likely to be mapped until April.
Coronavirus and credit: an important building block to limit the economic fallout
The economy is in the stranglehold of the pandemic. Around the world, drastic restrictions to public life are necessary to protect human life and health. The consequences will be severe because they affect the entire German economy.
The credit market plays an important role in this situation because abrupt turnover losses lead to liquidity shortages in a large number of enterprises. That means German financial institutions have to join forces to get the real economy through the epidemic unharmed. The regulator’s move to loosen equity requirements, the measures of the ECB and expanded promotional programmes from KfW combine to form a convincing package that will bolster the credit market.
The German VC business climate has weakened again but remains good. The business climate indicator of the later stage segment fell by 8.0 points to 10.1 balance points in the fourth quarter of 2019. VC investors rated their current business situation significantly poorer than in the previous quarter, while business expectations remained relatively stable. The indicator for the current business situation decreased to 13.2 balance points (-14.3), while the indicator for business expectations stabilised at 7.0 balance points (-1.7)
The business climate in the German private equity market hardly changed on the preceding quarter. In the fourth quarter of 2019, the business climate index for the later stage segment remained unchanged at 6.3 balance points. Later stage investors gave their current business situation and expectations nearly the same rating as before. The indicator for the current business situation was 11.1 balance points (-1.9), while the indicator for business expectations was 1.5 balance points (+1.9). On average for the year 2019, the business climate in the private equity market was on the upper edge of the normal range and thus remained well behind the two very good previous years.
In February, small and medium-sized enterprises in Germany did not appear to be concerned about the coronavirus outbreak, which was still concentrated in China at the time. According to the current KfW-ifo SME Barometer, SME business sentiment rose again moderately after falling in the previous month. The driver behind the improved sentiment was a rise in expectations. On the other hand, a coronavirus effect already began to appear among large enterprises, whose business confidence suffered a setback for the first time since October 2020.
The German economy lost pace in the final quarter of 2019 and will probably sit just slightly above stagnation level in the first half of 2020 as well. The outbreak of the novel coronavirus is extending what has already been a record long industrial recession into the year 2020. We predict GDP growth of 0.8% in 2020, which is 0.1 percentage points lower than previously forecast. In its initial forecast for 2021, KfW Research expects growth to accelerate to 1.3%. Downward risks predominate.
The year 2020 began with a setback for small and medium-sized enterprises. Their business climate dropped to the lowest level since August of last year. The decline in sentiment is exclusively due to the renewed drop in expectations. Large enterprises, however, showed clear signs of life. The positive trend among large enterprises reflects easing tensions in the foreign trade environment, while the hitherto reliable domestic economy lost a bit of steam. The coronavirus outbreak currently poses a new burden. All in all, economic momentum remains subdued for the time being.