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Business

The curse of a weak euro

The ECB's lax monetary policy has weakened the euro and fueled exports. At the same, inflation has been picking up through more expensive imports. Both effects are intended, but dangers loom long-term.

The euro is gradually losing ground as a trading currency for German exporters. According to the National Statistics Office (Destatis), just under 62 percent of all contracts with non-EU nations were settled in the euro last year, marking a steady annual drop since 2010, when the figure was almost 67 percent. Trade has been shifting to the greenback.

Last year, more than 26 percent of all transactions with non-EU partners were handled in US dollars, up from just 23 percent in the previous year.

Euro less accepted than before

"The downward trend in euro-based transactions shows that some of our trading partners have problems in accepting the euro nowadays," Volker Treier from the Association of German Chambers of Commerce and Industry (DIHK) told DW, citing growing uncertainties over developments in Europe.

Treier said a currency can only be strong in the long haul if a strong economic area stands behind it. But Europe is at a crossroads, "because heavyweights such as France and Italy have not yet been able to start implementing genuine structural reforms."

The ECB has reacted to the eurozone's problems with a 'quantitative easing' (QE) program, while at the same time, the US has ended its own QE program and is considering raising interest rates, Treier said. "All of that is making the greenback more attractive than the euro for our trading partners, not to mention the hassle over Greece."

Container port of Hamburg, Germany

For exporters, the weaker euro is a blessing - but for how long?

Higher demand for foreign exchange transaction hedging

Gregor Wolf of the Federation of German Wholesale, Foreign Trade and Services (BGA) explained why the supply of cheap money

isn't necessarily good for exporters

.

"There's rising demand for foreign exchange transaction hedging," he said. "In the face of the recent euro slide, some small enterprises have been taken by surprise and incurred painful losses."

At the same time, Wolf sees confidence rising in emerging economies, meaning that exporters have a harder time insisting on having contracts denominated in euros.

On the upside, there's a tangible increase in goods exported to North America. Faster growth in the US and a mild cooling of markets in the BRIC nations mean that business is picking up with the dollar region, Wolf said.

Export boost benefits could be short-lived

The DIHK's Volker Treier didn't want to come across as an eternal pessimist. "Let's be clear: The German economy has profited enormously from the European currency union, and right now the weak euro is no doubt an additional pillar for our exports," he said.

But he warned exporters against resting on their laurels. "A weak euro can help boost exports, but it's an artificial boost. No product has become any better and no production process has become more efficient," he said.

Recent DIHK polls have seen respondents grow increasingly concerned about potential exchange rate risks. Doing business based on transactions in your own currency is always an advantage, Treier said.

"The euro was on a good path toward establishing itself as an alternative currency to the US dollar," BGA economist Wolf said, referring to the times before the eurozone debt crisis began.

"But when so little is done with so little resolve to get out of the eurozone crisis, nobody should be surprised that people are showing less faith in the euro."

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