Santa Claus Speaks German

Santa Claus was a Turkish Dervish who in the middle ages traveled through Central and Northern Europe, giving gifts to children and claiming to be the re-incarnation of Greek St. Nicholas, who preached in the fourth century. Together with the Christmas tree, Sankt Niklaus, as the Germans called the benefactor, became a central figure in German Christmas habits. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, German immigrants, the so-called Pennsylvania Dutch, carried them to the United States, from where they later spread to the rest of the world, if only as marketing icons for Coca Cola.

In 2006, Santa Claus again came from Germany with a sack full of good news about the business cycle. The Ifo business climate indicator, which had been rising since the second half of 2005, reached its highest level since Germany’s unification boom. After years of stagnant growth, the German economy has been growing at an annual rate of about 2.5% in 2006. While the value-added tax will rise by three percentage points in 2007, economic growth will remain healthy, at nearly 2%.

The Ifo business climate indicator is generated every month by asking 7,000 firms, primarily from German manufacturing industry, about their current business situation and their expectations for the next six months. It has been produced for half a century, and, according to a poll conducted by Reuters, it is Europe’s most prominent business indicator, outperforming even official EU indicators.

In early 2006, when the Ifo indicator foresaw an economic upturn while the German Federal Statistical Office reported meager quarterly GDP growth figures, some commentators scoffed. But when the Office later revised its data upward, it became clear that the Ifo indicator was right.