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Dutch households feel poorer than German or Belgian13 September 2013, by Alexandra Gowling
Household consumption in the Netherlands has been in a sustained downturn since the start of the credit crisis five years ago, according to the Dutch statistics office CBS.
In the period 2008-2012, spending by households fell by 4,4 per cent. Putting this in perspective, over the same period consumption grew in Belgium by 3,2 per cent and in Germany by 4,3 per cent.
This difference can be explained by the levels of real disposable household income in each country. Incomes in the Netherlands fell by 3,8 per cent from 2008 to 2012, while they grew in Belgium and Germany on average 1,5 per cent.
In addition, the on-going downward trend in the Dutch housing market and dramatically reduced consumer confidence further accounts for the slump.
Although new figures showed that the recent European increase in economic sentiment was the highest in the Netherlands, that sentiment did not translate into people’s opinions about their own prospects.
While people are showing more faith in an improved economy, few believe their own situation is likely to improve soon. The mood in Germany and Belgium is more distinctly more positive than in the Netherlands.
As is usual during a time of economic doubt, consumer spending on non-essentials decreased. In recent years, the Dutch have spent less on alcohol, tobacco, home furnishings and in hotels and restaurants.
Reduced spending on alcohol and tobacco was caused by both declining incomes and substantial price increases. The average price of tobacco products in the Netherlands rose by nearly 30 per cent (partly due to higher excise duties), as opposed to around 10 per cent in Belgium and Germany.
Home sales were also dramatically down, due to much lower residential property prices. Neither Belgium nor Germany faced the same problems, and in both countries residential property prices are still rising modestly.
House prices did rise again in Amsterdam, but mostly due to foreign buyers.
These problems are reflected in the number of bankruptcies, which soared in the Netherlands in the first eight months of 2013. Up until August, 5.758 businesses and institutions were declared bankrupt, a 15 per cent increase relative to the same period in 2012.
As the number of businesses declared bankrupt in a particular month is closely related to the number of days courts are in session, the figure may vary considerably each month. CBS uses the three-month moving average as a more reliable indicator.
Thus, in August, the three-month moving average was 688, which was lower than in July, when the indicator reached the highest level since the beginning of this type of record in 1981.
While these figures relate to the period until the end of 2012, more recent figures do show small signs of Dutch economic recovery, including reduced inflation.
One last piece of good news is that exports are growing, showing a slight but definite improvement of 2,6 per cent from the previous twelve months.
Thumb photo by Flickr user BAM corp