The granular nature of the great export collapse in german manufacturing industries, 2008/2009

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The Granular Nature of the Great Export Collapse
in German Manufacturing Industries, 2008/2009
Joachim Wagner
Leuphana University Lueneburg and IZA, Bonn

Abstract This paper uses comprehensive high-quality panel data from official
statistics for exporting enterprises to investigate the micro-structure of the recent
export collapse in manufacturing industries in Germany during the crisisof 2008/2009.
Almost all of the decline in exports was due to negative changes of exports in firms
that continue to export (i.e. at the so-called intensive margin) while the decrease of
exports due to export stoppers (at the so-called extensive margin) was tiny. It is shown
that idiosyncratic shocks to very large firms played a decisive role in shaping the
export collapse.
JEL F14, E23Keywords Exports; great trade collapse; granular economy; Germany

Correspondence Joachim Wagner, Leuphana University Lueneburg, Institute of
Economics, D-21332 Lueneburg, Germany; e-mail: .
This is a revised version of the author’s working paper Wagner (“The Microstructure
of the Great Export Collapse in German Manufacturing Industries, 2008/2009,”
2012). The author thanksparticipants at various presentations for helpful comments.
All computations were done inside the Research Data Centre of the Statistical Office of
Berlin-Brandenburg. The data used are confidential but not exclusive; see Zühlke et al.
(“The Research Data Centres of the Federal Statistical Office and the Statistical
Offices of the Länder,” 2004) for a description of how to access the data.

©Author(s) 2012. Licensed under a Creative Commons License - Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Germany




In late 2008 world trade experienced a sudden, severe and synchronized collapse
that was the sharpest in recorded history and the deepest since World War II – this is
now known as The Great Trade Collapse (Baldwin 2009, p. 1).1 German exports are
a case in point. 2009was the year with the sharpest decline in foreign trade in the
history of the Federal Republic of Germany. The value of total exports declined by 18
percent compared to 2008, and Germany lost the title of the World Export Champion
to China.2
A number of studies (including Anderton and Tewolde (2011), Asmundson et.
al. (2011), di Mauro et al. (2010), Eaton et al. (2011), OECD (2010) and Stehreret.
al. (2011), ch. 5) analyze this trade crisis from a macroeconomic point of view.
Studies that take a microeconomic perspective and that try to understand what was
going on under the veil of the macroeconomic developments by looking at firm level
data3, however, are scarce. Behrens et al. (2011) match firm-level data for firmcountry-product exports with balance sheet data for Belgium anddecompose the
trade collapse along the extensive and the intensive margins, where the extensive
margin is defined as changes in exports due to firms that stop or start to export and
the intensive margin refers to (negative or positive) changes in exports by firms that
continue to export. They find that firm exit and the dropping of products and markets
played only a small role during the tradecollapse – changes in trade volumes were
essentially driven by reduced quantities and unit prices. The intensive margin was
much more important than the extensive margin. Similarly, based on analyses of firm1

See Baldwin (2009) for facts and figures on this, a discussion of its causes and the relation to the

global economic slump that is now called The Great Recession.

See Meyer(2010) for a detailed account of German foreign trade in 2009.


See Haddad et al. (2011) for a study using product level (and not firm level) data from Brazil, the EU,

Indonesia and the United States.


level data for France Fontagné and Gaulier (2009) report that the number of
exporters has been only slightly reduced by the crisis, while the bulk of the observed
decline in...
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