Economic environment

The global economy grew only moderately in 2015, slowing down over the course of the year. Dampening effects came primarily from the emerging markets. Growth in the European Union was positive, yet remained at a low level. After a weak start to 2015, the U.S. economy stabilized over the course of the year. In China, however, industrial production and demand for imports both slowed considerably compared with 2014. This development also weakened momentum for China’s trading partners and weighed down raw material prices. Important countries such as Russia and Brazil found themselves in a recession. Overall, global gross domestic product grew by only 2.4%, remaining behind 2014 (+2.6%1) and our expectations for 2015 (+2.8%). The average price for a barrel of Brent blend crude oil fell to $52 per barrel (2014: $99 per barrel).

1 Figures that refer to previous years could deviate from last year’s report due to statistical revisions.


Growth in global gross domestic product


Growth in global industrial production


Growth in global chemical industry

Trends in the global economy in 2015

Growth in the global economy was marked by diverging developments in the advanced economies and the emerging markets. In the European Union and the United States, consumers benefited from low energy prices and rising real income. The result was increased demand for consumer goods, stabilizing the economy in these regions. The economic cooldown in China, however, dampened growth in Asia and South America in particular. Russia’s recession intensified on account of the low oil prices as well as the continuing trade sanctions. Furthermore, many emerging-market currencies depreciated sharply in anticipation of interest rate hikes in the United States. Although this boosted these countries’ competitiveness in terms of export prices, it also led to further capital outflow and higher inflation rates.

Gross domestic product
(Real change compared with previous year1)
Gross domestic product, Real change compared with previous year (bar chart)

1 Figures that refer to previous years could deviate from last year’s report due to statistical revisions.

Economic trends by region

  • Growth somewhat stronger in European Union
  • U.S. economy initially below expectations, picks up as year progresses
  • Economic cooldown in China weakens growth in emerging markets of Asia and South America

At 1.8%, gross domestic product in the European Union grew somewhat faster than in the previous year (2014: +1.4%). Solid growth rates were seen in northwestern Europe, particularly the United Kingdom, Sweden and Ireland. The economy in southern Europe was able to continue stabilizing – especially in Spain, which saw growth of 3.2%. France and Italy were also able to slightly expand their gross domestic product. Adjusted for number of working days, the German economy only grew moderately, by 1.4%. Major drivers here were above-average wage and salary increases, along with low inflation rates, significantly increasing the purchasing power of private households. Positive stimulus was also provided by the eurozone’s demand for exports. Demand was weaker from outside the eurozone, especially China.

The countries in central and eastern Europe developed positively in light of low energy prices, rising export demand from the eurozone, and comparatively low interest rates. In Russia (–3.7%), however, the recession intensified in an environment of low oil prices, a weak ruble and ongoing trade sanctions.

In the first quarter of 2015, growth in the United States remained considerably behind our expectations on account of unfavorable weather conditions and long-running harbor strikes that negatively impacted exports. Yet the U.S. economy was able to stabilize over the course of the year (+2.4%). Private consumption, employment, and wages and salaries all developed well while the inflation rate remained low. Low interest rates spurred growth in the construction and automotive sector.

Growth continued to weaken in the emerging markets of Asia, although it remained at a high level (+6.2%). In China, growth especially decelerated in the manufacturing industry and the construction sector. The Chinese government combated this economic cooldown with monetary and fiscal measures. The slowdown in China also dampened economic activity in neighboring Asian countries; South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and Malaysia all saw substantially lower growth rates than in the previous year.

Japan was also negatively affected by developments in China, its most important trading partner apart from the United States. Despite the depreciation of the yen against other currencies, exports to China and to Europe and the United States remained modest. Private consumption and the propensity for investment were also dampened. Gross domestic product was hardly able to grow in these conditions (+0.4%).

In South America, gross domestic product shrank by 2.1% overall in 2015. Many countries in the region suffered from China’s weaker demand for raw materials, as well as from falling raw material prices. Brazil fell into a severe recession. As a result of the 32% drop in value of the Brazilian real over the course of the year, consumers and producers were left struggling with rising prices for imported goods. Deteriorating economic conditions and a crisis of confidence in the government brought consumer sentiment and investor confidence to record lows. The Argentinian peso also depreciated by around 30% compared with the average of the previous months after exchange rates were allowed to float in December.