The world economy
In the year under review, the world economy expanded at a slightly lower rate than in the two previous years, once again remaining below the long-term trend with real growth of about 2.5 %. (See graphic B.05) This was primarily the result of the ongoing slowdown and highly dissatisfactory economic developments in the emerging markets. Global financial markets continued to feature considerable interest-rate fluctuations during 2015. Prices of industrial raw materials decreased significantly compared with the previous year and were approximately 20 % lower than in 2014; the price of crude oil actually fell by nearly 50 %.
In a generally sluggish global economic environment, the economies of the industrialized countries were rather more dynamic than in the previous year. Overall, these countries’ real gross domestic product (GDP) grew by approximately 1.9 % (2014: 1.7 %). The US economy once again proved to be a stable cornerstone of the global economy. Supported by lively private consumption and solid investment by companies, the United States achieved overall economic growth of 2.4 %. In Japan, the economy revived slightly at the beginning of the year, but then reverted to a rather weaker phase. Due only to the positive start of the year, 2015 as a whole resulted in slight growth of approximately 0.5 %.
Although the Greece crisis resulted in considerable uncertainty, especially in the first half of the year, the economy of the European Monetary Union (EMU) was one of the positive surprises in 2015. Overall, the EMU seems to have achieved a growth rate of about 1.5 %. Low inflation, rising real incomes, low energy prices, a weaker euro and the very expansive monetary policy of the European Central Bank (ECB) were responsible for this positive development. It was particularly pleasing that former crisis countries such as Spain and Ireland posted some of the highest growth rates. But the German economy was also very robust with growth of 1.7 %. The British economy delivered a convincing performance, as in the previous years, with expansion of 2.2 %.
Unlike the industrialized countries, the overall economic growth of the emerging markets slowed down in the year under review. It amounted to only about 3.3 % (2014: 4.3 %), and was thus almost as low as most recently during the financial crisis in the year 2009. The main reason was the repeated drop in raw-material prices, which had a major impact above all on the economic development of the raw-material exporting countries. Some economies such as Russia and Brazil were actually in distinct recession. Another factor was substantial currency depreciation in some major emerging economies. The slowdown of growth in China to a rate of 6.9 % was roughly as expected so the country’s economic restructuring fortunately continued without a hard landing. However, the significant correction of the Chinese stock market in the middle of the year triggered considerable uncertainty in the global financial markets.
In this partially very tense global economic environment, currency exchange rates were very volatile. Against the US dollar, the euro fluctuated between $1.05 and $1.21. At the end of the year, the euro was about 10 % weaker than a year earlier at $1.09. Once again, the range of fluctuation of the euro to the Japanese yen was quite substantial, with a corridor of 126 to 146 yen to the euro. By the end of the year, the euro had fallen by 10 % also against the yen. Against the British pound, the euro ended the year with depreciation of approximately 6 %. The euro gained against some currencies such as the Turkish lira and the Canadian dollar, in some cases by double-digit percentages, with the highest gain of over 30 % against the Brazilian real. Compared with the ruble, the euro had gained nearly 12 % by the end of the year, with substantial volatility during the year of between 53 and 82 rubles to the euro.