Trade and Project Financing in Germany

A Hot Tip about Trade Finance in Germany

Last updated: 13 Mar 2011

How Do I Get Paid (Methods of Payment)

The majority of import transactions by German customers, especially those involving large German distributors, take place under seller-buyer terms, such as the common 30/60/90-day accounts, or payment against documents. The most popular payment mechanism by which German importers remit payment to their U.S. suppliers is the electronic funds transfer (EFT, equivalent to SWIFT or wire transfers), the fastest and cheapest way to transfer funds. Current technology makes online transfers reasonably secure and transparent.


The letter of credit is still used in some industry sectors, but now covers a fraction of total imports, largely due to its cost and time requirements, as well as the ease in obtaining credit ratings in Germany, which increases transparency and transactional surety. L/C’s for payments under USD 5,000 are almost unseen in Germany. U.S. exporters may also encounter Bills of Exchange (Wechsel), usually payable within two or three months, but this antiquated payment mechanism is also passing from the scene. Cash-in-advance is also rare in German import payment, although German’s economic doldrums have recently led to an increase of financially strapped firms on whom such terms are imposed.


Both private and public credit insurance are available in Germany. Euler Hermes, Coface and Atradius are among the private providers (which also offer ranking and scoring services); and the main public insurer is the Staatliche Kreditversicherung (Hermes-Buergschaften), which is administered by Euler Hermes and is used to cover German exports to countries with high political and country risk. United States exporters tend to purchase credit insurance to a much lesser extent than European exporters due to the relatively greater recourse to factoring in the United States.


Overall, German firms continue to enjoy a relatively good reputation for their payment practices and management of credit. However, the macroeconomic situation in Germany (high structural unemployment, increasing corporate bankruptcies, high public indebtedness, flat growth) has generally increased the probability of defaults by German importers. Critical industries for U.S. exporters are construction, furniture, paper and publishing. Default risk is somewhat higher for firms in unevenly performing eastern Germany. The U.S. Commercial Service Germany offers the International Company Profile as a tool to help evaluate the credit-worthiness of potential customers or partners and recommends U.S. exporters to consider normal, prudent credit practices in Germany in all transactions.


The Export-Import Bank of the United States (Ex-Im Bank) is the official export credit agency of the United States. The Ex-Im Bank's mission is to assist in financing exports of U.S. goods and services to international markets. The Ex-Im Bank enables U.S. companies -- large and small -- to turn export opportunities into real sales that help to maintain and create U.S. jobs and contribute to a stronger national economy. The Ex-Im Bank does not compete with private sector lenders, but provides export-financing products that fill gaps in trade financing. The bank assumes credit and country risks that the private sector is unable or unwilling to accept and helps to level the playing field for U.S. firms by matching the financing that other governments provide to their exporters. The Ex-Im Bank provides working capital guarantees (pre-export financing); export credit insurance; and loan guarantees and direct loans (buyer financing). Primarily focusing on developing markets worldwide, Ex-Im Bank has recently supported U.S firms supplying to one of the world's largest solar energy facilities, located in Bavaria.


How Does the Banking System Operate

Germany has a non-discriminatory, well-developed financial services infrastructure. Germany’s universal banking system allows the country’s more than 39,000 bank offices not only to take deposits and make loans to customers, but also to trade in securities. The traditional German system of cross-shareholding among banks and industry, as well as a high rate of bank borrowing relative to equity financing, allowed German banks to exert substantial influence on industry in the past. Germany’s recent tax reform, however, eliminated the capital gains tax on holdings sold by one corporation to another as of January 2002. This change is considered especially important to promote industrial restructuring, unwind Germany’s complex web of interlocking corporate ownership, and rationalize capital allocation.


Private banks control roughly 30% of the market, while publicly owned savings banks partially linked to state and local governments account for 50% of banking turnover, and cooperative banks make up the balance. All three types of banks offer a full range of services to their customers. A state-owned bank, KfW, provides special credit services, including financing homeowner mortgages, providing guarantees to small and medium-sized businesses, financing projects in disadvantaged communities.


Regions in Germany and providing export financing for projects in developing countries. Virtually all major U.S. banks are represented in the German market, principally but not exclusively in the city of Frankfurt am Main, Germany’s main financial center. A large number of German banks, including some of the partially state-owned regional banks, similarly maintain subsidiaries, branches and /or representative offices in the United States. Germany’s major private banks are Deutsche Bank, Commerzbank, HVB, and Dresdner Bank. Triggered by the international financial crisis, the German Banking sector has seen major consolidation with Commerzbank buying up Dresdner Bank and Deutsche Bank taking over Postbank.


Practices regarding finance, availability of capital and schedules of payment are comparable to those, which prevail in the United States. There are no restrictions or barriers on the movement of capital, foreign exchange earnings or dividends.


Project Financing

Germany possesses the financial framework and institutions to support the development of large infrastructure works. However, the volume of project finance operations has been relatively modest in Germany in comparison to other EU countries, particularly the U.K. or France. Although the rising indebtedness of the German federal state, and local authorities would seem to favor this type of financing, the relatively stagnant economic conditions have also limited anticipated rates of return for potential project finance developers. Other inhibiting factors are Germany’s complex juridical and federal frameworks, which make project financed works relatively harder to structure than in other countries. One area that has attracted project finance, including that involving a few U.S. developers and investors, is alternative energy production. Clean and renewable energy projects generally have gained prominence in Germany through the country’s commitment to meeting sharply reduced CO2 emission targets. The principle German institutions active in facilitating project finance deals are the state-owned KfW Bank Group (Kreditanstalt fuer Wiederaufbau), which plays a major role in virtually all industry fields, commercial banks Commerzbank and HVB, and several of the publicly-owned savings banks controlled by state and local governments (Landesbanken) located in northern Germany. The KfW Group includes KfW IPEX-Bank, which supports consortia with German members to design and finance infrastructure projects in Germany and overseas. Another group member, KfW Development Bank (Förderbank), helps municipalities finance infrastructure.


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Posted: 06 January 2010, last updated 13 March 2011

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Trade and Project Financing in Germany   By U.S. Commercial Service Germany