Is the worst over?

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Few would look back on this year fondly.

Social unrest cropped up in various parts of the world, markets danced up and down uncomfortably to the beats of U.S.-China show of trade aggression, and political uncertainties kept everyone guessing about the state of world affairs.

For global trade of goods and services, it might have been the worst year in a decade. At an estimated 1.5 percent, trade growth is forecast at the slowest in 10 years, according to the latest report by Allianz Research. The picture is uglier in value terms. World trade is expected to have contracted by 1.7 percent in 2019 – in simple words, exporters could have lost $420 billion worldwide!

Will the going get better? Nothing to celebrate yet, but the worst does seem to be behind us, believe Allianz economists.

For the moment, anyway. 

Glancing back

Which countries suffered the most this year? Other than the two warring factions – the U.S. and China – a victim of collateral damage might have been Germany. The Americans are expected to have gained $20 billion in exports, way below the $154 billion they earned in 2018; for the Chinese, the damages translate into export losses of $67 billion. The Germans - the helpless witnesses of the big fight – are forecast to have lost $62 billion.

Among industries, the biggest loser this year was electronics, set back by a good $212 billion. Metals and energy industries rounded off the list of the top three victims, with respective losses of $186 billion and $183 billion. 

Global trade of goods and services, growth in volume and value (%, y/y)

allianz global trade report 2019

Looking ahead

Despite the general nervousness, 2020 could see global trade tick up. That said, growth is expected to still linger in the slow zone, at 1.7 percent. What’s the surprise though? A superficial “mini-deal” between the U.S. and China, a slowdown in trade in services and a busy political year in 2020 leave little room for a sizable improvement.

Things could get better for both China and the U.S. Chinese and American exporters are expected to see trade gains of $90 billion and $87 billion, respectively – roughly half of the 2018 numbers but recovering some of the loss estimated for this year. The winds are not blowing in the favor of Germany and the UK. Next year could be more troublesome if the U.S. slaps higher tariffs on their cars.

Among industries, the better-offs will be software and information technology services, agrifoods and chemicals with export gains of $62 billion, $41 billion and $37 billion, respectively. The sufferings of electronics, metals and machinery and equipment won’t end. They are expected to take a hit of $47 billion, $42 billion and $27 billion, respectively. 

Export gains by country 2019-2020

allianz global trade report 2019

A busy 2020

The U.S. and China have called a trade truce. For the markets, the relief is temporary. At the moment, it’s a trade feud playing out between the two, which is likely to persist and axe 0.5 percentage points from global economic growth and 2 percentage points from trade growth in 2019 and 2020.

“If the worst-case scenario of trade war manifests, then a global recession is imminent. There is a 10 percent chance of that happening,” said Georges Dib, co-author of the report.

Trade tensions impact scenario

allianz global trade report 2019 china US war

The U.S. elections next year may not change much on this front. Uncle Sam might pause the tariff escalation but is not expected to dial it back completely. Any major development is seen only after the elections.

However, the expectation is that the tariffs announced for December 15 – which would make popular consumer items such as smartphones and toys dearer – will not come into effect. 

Export gains by sector in 2018, 2019 and 2020

allianz global trade report 2019

EU: Slippery road

The U.S. has delayed imposing tariffs on EU car imports to 2020. If that does happen, Germany and the UK can look forward to more turbulence. If tariffs on car imports from the EU go up to 10 percent (or 25 percent in the worst-case scenario) from the current 3 percent, the EU could lose from 4 billion euros to 12.5 billion euros in annual exports. Not exactly welcome news for Germany’s auto industry, which is already in a bit of a slump.

Will it, won’t it? Only time will tell. For now, click here for a more in-depth look into the trends in global trade and the outlook for next year.  

The Allianz Group is one of the world's leading insurers and asset managers with more than 100 million retail and corporate customers in more than 70 countries. Allianz customers benefit from a broad range of personal and corporate insurance services, ranging from property, life and health insurance to assistance services to credit insurance and global business insurance. Allianz is one of the world’s largest investors, managing 766 billion euros on behalf of its insurance customers. Furthermore, our asset managers PIMCO and Allianz Global Investors manage 1.7 trillion euros of third-party assets. Thanks to our systematic integration of ecological and social criteria in our business processes and investment decisions, we hold the leading position for insurers in the Dow Jones Sustainability Index. In 2019, over 147,000 employees achieved total revenues of 142 billion euros and an operating profit of 11.9 billion euros for the group.

These assessments are, as always, subject to the disclaimer provided below.

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Lorenz Weimann
Allianz SE
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