英文原文：Businesses on red alert
Up to the first half of 2015, the German corporate sector faced very favourable conditions.
In 2015, economic activity held up well, as the stagnation in world trade was more than offset by buoyant domestic demand.
Both the ZEW and IFO business cycle indicators have started to decline because of a deteriorating outlook.
The sharp deterioration in the IFO expectations index highlights the risk that the slowdown could be more pronounced and longer lasting than assumed in our scenario.
The German business sector faced a relatively favourable macroeconomic environment in 2014. Production capacity utilisation fluctuated within a normal range during the entire year. Wages rose perceptibly but not excessively. In addition, prices for oil and other commodities fell sharply. In 2014, earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortisation （EBITDA） rose by 4.9% on the previous year. Moreover, business insolvencies declined for the fifth consecutive year, reaching the lowest level for more than 20 years. Data for the first half of 2015 （latest data available）, confirmed the continuation of this trend, with earnings rising by around 6% from a year earlier.
Business strength was initially driven by the rapid expansion of world trade and the weakening of the euro. Manufacturers became less negative as to the appraisal of their export orders. In 2014, exports increased by 4%. However, in the course of 2015, the fortunes of the exporting firms have clearly deteriorated. The appreciation of export orders has deteriorated while their competitive position within the eurozone has weakened. According to this week's detailed release of the national accounts, exports increased by only 0.3% in Q3 2015 and declined by 0.6% in Q4 2015 from the preceding quarter.
The weakness in external demand has been compensated by strengthening domestic demand, underpinned by a strong improvement of real disposable income, up 2.8% in 2015. Private consumption rose by almost 2%, a highest since 2000. As a result, manufacturers hardly changed their opinion on their orders and business cycle indicators such as the IFO climate index remained at a relatively elevated level. However, the ZEW economic sentiment indicator, a leading indicator based on a poll among financial market participants, started to slide in the second half of 2015. The ZEW index is much more volatile than the IFO index, but often a good harbinger of things to come. Since the beginning of 2016, the IFO index has also declined. The February index, released earlier this week, reached 105.7, 5 points below its most recent peak reached in early 2014.
The interesting thing to note is that decline in not so much due to actual business conditions, but to the outlook component of the composite index. The fall in the IFO expectations index over the past two months was quite impressive and comparable with the decline in September - October 2008, at the height of the financial crisis. This time, the deterioration in the outlook indices has been related to the growth slowdown in the emerging markets and in particular in China.
Despite the deteriorating outlook, the current business conditions component of both the ZEW and IFO indicators have remained at rather elevated levels. In February, the IFO index even signalled stronger activity on the preceding month. Nevertheless, the growing uncertainty concerning the outlook is likely to impact business activity soon, as it will affect decisions on production, stock building and capital spending. Usually, the IFO current business index reacts with a lag of about three months on the expectations index. The current conditions index may, therefore, soon signal weaker growth.
In Q1 2016, GDP growth could ease to only 0.2%, and to 1.3% for 2016 as a whole, compared with 1.4% in 2015 （corrected for calendar days）. Back in November, we still expected growth to accelerate to 1.6% in 2016. Given the sharp declines in expectations in January and February, this suggests that the slowing could be much more pronounced and long-lasting than in our current scenario.