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European consumers do not expect rapid economic recovery

Pressmeddelande   •   Okt 16, 2012 13:21 CEST

Findings of the GfK Consumer Climate Europe and USA for the third quarter of 2012

Nuremberg, 16 October 2012 – First, the interest rates for Spanish and Italian bonds shot up. Second, it was unclear for some time whether Germany would have to leave the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) bailout fund due to a complaint before the Federal Constitutional Court. The indicator values for economic and income expectations as well as willingness to buy have fallen quite considerably in almost all countries in the survey. These are findings of the GfK Consumer Climate Europe and USA survey, which provides an overview of the development of economic and income expectations and willingness to buy among consumers in 12 European countries and the USA.

Europe has had a heated summer. The crisis in Greece has flared up again, while Spain and Italy were forced to pay ever higher interest rates for their government bonds. Ultimately, the European Central Bank (ECB) was able to reassure the markets by announcing that it would buy government bonds of unlimited volume from crisis countries. The condition attached to this is that the country must apply for a bailout from the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) and implement austerity measures and reforms prescribed by the Troika, comprising the European Commission (EC), European Central Bank (ECB) and International Monetary Fund (IMF). A further factor causing uncertainty was the complaint before the Federal Constitutional Court that Germany should no longer be involved in the financing of the ESM. All European countries breathed a sigh of relief when the Court announced its decision to reject the complaint and declared that Germany could continue to be involved in financing the ESM.

Although the general economic situation in most European countries did not really deteriorate over the summer months, there was no actual improvement either. Consumers still expect economic strength to fall further. Unemployment has also risen once again almost everywhere and the average across Europe is currently around 11 percent. Governments continue to try and bring their state deficits under control through stringent austerity measures, including tax increases. In the crisis states, this is increasingly causing the population to hold protests. Many consumers are unable to cope with further cuts and are not prepared to share the burden of their government’s measures without the certainty that it will improve their situation.

USA: Americans remain in positive mood despite sluggish economy

To date, the USA is still not back on course for growth. With economic statistics fluctuating from month to month, the greatest problem remains the high level of unemployment, which continues to run at around eight percent. This is lower than it was at the beginning of the year. However, many Americans – particularly in the older age groups – have simply given up looking for a job. Experts predict that the economy will grow next year by between 2.5 percent and 3 percent, but this is still not sufficient to inject the momentum needed into the job market. As a result, the Federal Reserve Bank, America’s central bank, has come up with a large-scale program to revive the American economy. The Bank will buy up debt securities for a value of US$ 40 billion per month for an unlimited period of time, until the situation on the job market shows sustained improvement. Beyond this, the central bank will not be increasing the headline rate of interest, now standing at virtually zero percent, until at least the middle of 2015. Originally, this had been anticipated for the end of 2014. The money which the Fed will inject into the market in this way is intended to help to provide companies and private households with affordable credit, for the purpose of stimulating the economy. However, if the USA is aiming to overcome its economic crisis in the longer term, it will be unable to escape having to make some painful structural changes to the economy.

Contrary to what might have been anticipated in light of the modest economic data, American consumers are growing increasingly confident. All three indices have been rising over the past three months. At 33 points in September, economic expectations even achieved by far their highest value since the index was first introduced in March 2011. The index rose by 11.5 points in the period from August to September alone. At 23.8 points, income expectations were around 9 points up on June. All this has benefited American consumers’ willingness to buy, which has also risen by around 9 points to its current level of -0.2 point. This positive view of the personal situation is in line with the increasingly optimistic assessment of current politics. In a survey carried out by AP and GfK, significantly more consumers than a year ago expressed the opinion that the country was moving in the right direction. While in August 2011, only 21 percent shared this opinion, the figure now is 42 percent. Whereas a year ago, 75 percent held the opposite view, only 48 percent currently do so.

Economic expectations:        33.0 points                           Average: 12.6 points
Income expectations:            23.8 points                           Average: 20.1 points
Willingness to buy:               -0.2 point                              Average: -6.3 points

Germany: a strong labor market supporting the economy

Germans are now convinced that the economic crisis affecting the whole of Europe will also increasingly impact their country in the coming months, especially as the overall global economy is no longer booming. However, this awareness seems to have hardly any effect on consumer income expectations or their buying behavior. In Germany, both indicators remain at an exceptionally high level. The main reason for this is the consistently stable labor market. This year, an average of 41.6 million people will be in gainful employment: a record number in the history of Germany. Next year, another 120,000 will be added to this number, so that by 2013, almost two million more people will be employed than in 2007. By contrast, with many assertions to the contrary, the German employment miracle is not founded on mini-jobs or the allegedly self-employed. Conversely, it is predominantly jobs subject to social security insurance which have been created in recent years. These newly created workplaces are the foundation of the German economy. Those in secure jobs spend their money on major purchases, such as furniture or real estate. Another factor is the presence of the comparatively affluent German pensioners, who for the first time in several years can again take comfort in a reasonable increase in their pensions in 2012.

Economic expectations: -17.3
Income expectations:            23.9
Willingness to buy:               33.1

Czech Republic: a difficult position

The Czech Republic continues to slide further into recession. As in many other European countries, dwindling demand in crisis-ridden Europe is resulting in a marked fall in exports. Gross domestic product (GDP) remains on a constant downward trend, with unemployment at a consistently high level and incomes falling continuously in real terms. Because of the difficult economic situation and an uncertain future, private households are tending to save. They are not spending money on items which are not absolutely necessary in an effort to make provision for a future that may potentially be even worse. The government is also sticking to its policy of saving, and has also announced an increase in the rate of VAT for 2013.

Economic expectations:        -59.8
Income expectations:            -25.3
Willingness to buy:               -38.7

Bulgaria: depressed mood despite good socio-economic figures

Bulgaria is also feeling the impact of the European financial crisis. The country is actually in quite a good position. The budget deficit is the second lowest in Europe after Germany. It is probable that the figure will be below one percent of economic output at the end of the year. Unemployment is dropping, currently running at around ten percent, and gross domestic product (GDP) may only be growing slightly, but it is on a continuous upward trend. Naturally, exports have declined steeply in the aftermath of the recession affecting the whole of the eurozone. Experts are predicting a modest rise for the coming years and the government is endeavoring to improve Bulgaria’s business climate and infrastructure, and to reform the ineffective administrative system. However, as yet, Bulgaria is only to some degree an attractive proposition for investors, so that new foreign companies are the exceptions. Added to which the extremely low wages and salaries are only around half those of the European average. This also affects consumer sentiment. Although economic expectations and income expectations were running at a very low level, they dropped back still further in September. Only the willingness to buy has recently risen. In the first instance, this may be attributable to the government’s announcement that from 2013 interest on bank savings would be liable for tax. Bulgarian consumers are apparently keener to spend their hard-earned savings, rather than pay tax on them.

Economic expectations:        -31.8
Income expectations:            -39.7
Willingness to buy:               5.2

Poland: European Football Championship has not helped economy boom

At first glance, Polish economic data looks promising. With anticipated economic growth of 2.7 percent this year, Poland is likely to pull well ahead of all the other European countries. National debt is also continually falling: from 7.8 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2010, it has dropped to below 3 percent this year. However, these figures are only superficially good. The mood among Polish consumers is gloomy. Even the European Football Championships held in Poland were unable to change the situation. Quite the reverse: they contributed to the current difficulties. The construction industry, in particular, was anticipated to be the main beneficiary of the European Cup. However, this did not actually materialize, since often only the lowest bid won the tenders and many contractors had under-calculated their costs. While they could afford to buy the building materials, in many cases they could not pay their subcontractors. As a result, hundreds of companies went bankrupt. Within one year, just under 60,000 established companies had closed down, according to official figures, and currently up to 150,000 jobs are in jeopardy. Up to now, the rate of unemployment has remained steady at around ten percent. However, a further factor is the impact of the euro crisis. Exports to EU countries are being eroded, due to dwindling demand. The EU is Poland’s major trading partner.

Economic expectations:        -33.3
Income expectations:            -29.5
Willingness to buy:               -4.5

Portugal: more time given

Portugal is also among the countries which had to call on a European bailout. The country swiftly and comprehensively implemented the reforms demanded by the EU. The effect of these measures on Portugal’s economy is now becoming apparent. Compared with the previous quarter, gross domestic product (GDP) dropped by 1.2 percent in the second quarter of the year. The government’s efforts to make savings therefore appear to have backfired. Both private households and companies have avoided major investments. This has reinforced the negative economic growth rates, causing a rise in unemployment, which is currently running at above 15 percent, with thousands of young job seekers being forced to leave the country. To restructure the budget, along with further savings measures, the government also announced its intention to increase taxes and social security contributions. But the population has been taking action against any more painful cuts which do not hold the prospect of any improvement in the situation in the medium term. Portuguese citizens have been regularly showing their displeasure over the past few weeks with widespread strikes across the board of all the major economic sectors. The Troika consisting of the EC, the ECB and the IMF said at the end of its fifth monitoring visit that overall, Portugal’s restructuring program was doing well. Exports had developed better than anticipated. The reduction of external debt was progressing quickly. However, the high rate of unemployment and the low disposable incomes were having an impact on tax revenue raised and consequently the country has been given another year in which to achieve the specified targets.

Economic expectations:        -57.1
Income expectations:            -55.4
Willingness to buy:               -45.8

Austria: low exports accounting for lower economic growth

Austria is doing relatively well in the context of the European financial crisis. Sovereign debt and unemployment are low, although the country is now also feeling the impact of the difficult situation prevailing in many other EU countries. Two thirds of Austria’s exports go to EU member states. Sales are in sharp decline, and this is mainly affecting Austrian industrial production. The result is that unemployment has risen slightly and gross domestic product (GDP) has grown more slowly. This development has not gone unnoticed by consumers, whose economic and income expectations have dropped back markedly in recent months. However, since the Austrian economy and consumers are both doing very well, willingness to buy has hardly been affected by these regressive factors and remains at a high level.

Economic expectations:        -38.7
Income expectations:            -12.2
Willingness to buy:               19.1

United Kingdom: low buying mood despite major events

The UK economy is showing signs of recovery. The government is sticking rigidly to its austerity measures and the economy did not slump as dramatically in the second quarter as was initially expected and it is even expected that slight growth will be recorded for the third quarter. Industrial production and the construction industry have seen a marginal increase in sales. However, there is still a long way to go. Unemployment remains at just over eight percent and this is not expected to improve in the short term. This situation is also reflected in consumers’ assessments. Although they clearly anticipate a slight improvement in the economy, economic expectations remain at a very low level. In line with this, income expectations also rose somewhat over the summer months, but are still undoubtedly negative. This was not noticeably improved by the number of major events this year, including the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the Olympic and Paralympic Games. The indicator is the lowest it has been since December 2011.

Economic expectations: -28.8
Income expectations:            -25.0
Willingness to buy:               -51.5

Greece: crisis flaring up again

The euro crisis has returned to where it first started two and a half years ago – Greece. Although the Greek government has been forced to considerably tighten its budget under immense pressure from creditors, the country’s debt level continues to rise as a result of the ongoing deep recession and incredibly high unemployment, which are largely nullifying any successful austerity measures. In September, the Troika, comprising the IMF, EU and ECB, examined Greece’s reform measures and identified a further requirement to save more than €11 billion – probably up to €13.5 billion. It is not yet clear how the government will structure the new austerity program, but drastic cuts are to be expected. The retirement age will be increased to 67. Unions are anticipating wage and salary reductions of between 6 percent and 20 percent. A further reduction of jobs in the public sector is also likely. In addition, the Troika is insisting on the introduction of a 6-day working week and 13-hour workday, as well as reductions in notice periods and redundancy payments. In return, Athens is asking for an extension of two years in order to reach its deficit targets, doing so in 2016 instead of 2014. However, experts continue to debate whether the austerity measures will help Greece or if they will cause further economic decline and even higher unemployment. It is not yet certain if the Troika will find the new austerity measures adequate and approve the outstanding payment from the second tranche of the rescue package to Greece. A second reduction in debt is up for discussion, which would require public creditors to waive some of their debts. The third scenario is still Greece’s exit from the euro.

Economic expectations: -45.5
Income expectations:            -57.0
Willingness to buy:               -44.4

Spain: citizens protest against government savings program

Over the summer months, Spain was caught up in an ever more powerful whirlwind of rising refinancing interest rates and subsequent government deficits. After the Spanish banking sector requested a bailout from the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) in June, there has been speculation on whether Spain also needs to seek a bailout from the ESM. So far, the country has been able to avoid this step. It is also resisting austerity and reform measures being dictated in the case of an official request from the Troika, of the EU, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund. Spain is currently particularly under pressure from the ECB, which has announced a theoretically unlimited purchasing program that would push down the high interest rates on Spanish government bonds. However, the ECB attached the condition that this is stringently and effectively linked to an appropriate reform program. The announcement to purchase unlimited bonds has at least had the positive effect of noticeably reducing interest rates for Spain and Italy on the free market. However, the population is tired of austerity measures and reforms. As in Greece, demonstrations against government measures are now commonplace.

Economic expectations: -52.0
Income expectations:            -58.4
Willingness to buy:               -33.4

Italy: major structural change to economy ahead

Italy’s economy is deep in recession. The government has considerably lowered its growth forecasts, according to which the household deficit will remain at 2.6 percent of economic growth this year and still be 1.8 percent in 2013. Previously, the government had estimated a deficit of 1.7 percent and 0.5 percent, respectively. Gross domestic product (GDP) will also fall more sharply than anticipated, dropping by 2.4 percent in 2012 and by 0.2 percent next year. In April, there was still talk of GDP falling by 1.2 percent in 2012 and 0.5 percent growth in 2013. The announcement from the ECB to purchase unlimited government bonds if need be has pushed interest back up to a tolerable level in Italy. The next Herculean task for the government is to fundamentally change the structure of the Italian economy. The country’s productivity is currently 12 percent below the level of other eurozone countries. Labor costs are rising at an above-average rate of three percent per year. This gap is pushing up the cost of production for Italian manufacturers.

Economic expectations: -33.6
Income expectations:            -65.0
Willingness to buy:               -32.2

France: economy must become more competitive

France is currently facing the threat of recession. In the first three quarters, the economy achieved zero growth. Unemployment is high at 11 percent. In August, the psychologically significant threshold of three million unemployed was crossed. The government has announced tough austerity package and tax increases for higher earners and the wealthy in order to maintain the three percent debt limit next year. Although the policy is assuming that gross domestic product (GDP) will again grow by 0.8 percent next year, neither economic experts nor French consumers are of the same opinion. The economy must undergo a major structural transformation in the coming years in order to become more competitive again. The mood among the French currently very much mirrors the situation, with all indicators falling in the summer.

Economic expectations: -40.6
Income expectations:            -46.1
Willingness to buy:               -34.2

Romania: poor mood despite acceptable economic figures

This year, the gross domestic product (GDP) in Romania is set to rise by 0.5 percent. Unemployment is low, at less than five percent. The economy and currency must both gradually stabilize. Romania is the second poorest country in the EU. Over the summer, the president and the Romanian prime minister were embroiled in a power struggle. This culminated in a referendum being held to impeach the nation's president, which was not successful because of low voter turnout. These events have clearly had an impact on the mood of the population. The already low trust in the political elite has fallen again. Confidence that politicians will stabilize the Romanian economy and steer it towards long-term growth has fallen. Overall, 73 percent of the population thinks that the economic situation is worse than it was a year ago.

Economic expectations: -20.4
Income expectations:            -14.1
Willingness to buy:               -25.2

Economic expectations: Italians expect improvement

The European financial crisis was back with a vengeance at the beginning of September. The constantly rising refinancing interest rates for Italy and Spain have caused the markets to speculate anew when one of the two countries will need to actually adopt the ESM rescue facility. The renewed escalation of the crisis has also had a strong influence on the economic expectations of European consumers. The indicator value dropped accordingly in almost all countries. In September, the lowest values were recorded in the Czech Republic (-59.8 points), Portugal (-57.1 points) and Spain (-52.0 points), while Germany (-17.3 points), Romania (-20.4 points) and the United Kingdom (-28.8 points) are in the best positions.

The recessions throughout the eurozone are causing German consumers to fear that Germany will also be affected along with other EU countries. The indicator fell by three points in June to -17.3 points in September. So far the German economy has been able to show resistance, but economic growth did slow down in the second quarter. According to the Federal Statistical Office of Germany, GDP only rose by 0.3 percent in comparison with the first quarter, after which growth of 0.5 percent was registered. The economic weakness of a number of European countries has caused a noticeable reduction in German exports within Europe. Especially the negative developments in Spain, Italy and Greece have caused exports to these countries to collapse. Although the indicator stabilized in September, a full recovery is currently not yet to be expected.

The Italian economy is battling against the consequences of the financial crisis. GDP is expected to shrink by 2.4 percent this year. Unemployment currently stands at 10.6 percent and it is predicted that this will rise to more than 12 percent over the course of this year. The high youth unemployment of more than 32 percent at present is extremely concerning. Despite the difficult situation, Italians think that there will be an improvement in the economy over the next few months. There is one reason for this – Mario Monti. The new prime minister is currently a beacon of hope not only for Italians, but also abroad. He has improved the reputation of Italian politics and helped it become more respected. By ensuring that announced reforms are implemented, he has restored trust of the financial markets in Italy. Simply his promise to follow through on intended measures is sufficient to reassure the markets. This conviction that Monti will be able to guide Italy out of the crisis is quite clearly reflected in consumers’ economic expectations. In June, the indicator value was -60.2 points and over the summer it improved by around 26 points to its current level of -33.6 points.

The economy in France is also struggling to deal with the consequences of the European financial crisis. For the third consecutive time, zero growth was recorded for the GDP. At around 11 percent, unemployment is high, even by French standards. In August, the psychologically significant mark of three million unemployed was crossed. The government is implementing different measures to boost both the economy and the spending mood of French consumers and is predicting economic growth of 0.8 percent next year. However, consumers evidently do not believe that these will succeed. The indicator for economic expectations stood at -40.6 points in September. French consumers were significantly more positive in their assessment of the situation in June, when the indicator was -8.2 points. As in many other European countries, the French also think that their economy is faced with a major structural transformation. Labor costs and export deficits must be reduced in order to make the economy more competitive again overall.

Income expectations: Spanish and Portuguese consumers struggling with high unemployment and low wages

In light of worsening economic prospects, income expectations of European consumers have also fallen quite considerably in almost all countries. Government austerity measures and tax increases are hot topics throughout Europe. The lowest hopes for rising incomes was expressed by consumers in Italy (-65 points), Spain (-58.4 points) and Greece (-57 points). The highest indicator values are in Germany (23.9 points), Austria (-12.2 points) and Romania (-14.1 points).

The financial crisis returned to Spain with a vengeance over the summer. After the country already requested a bailout for the afflicted banking sector, it was now up for debate whether Spain will potentially still need a European bailout. To date, the Spanish government has been able to avoid taking this step, but in order for this to remain the case, austerity measures and reforms must continue to be consistently implemented. Consequently, in August, the income expectations of Spanish consumers had dropped to their lowest value since the beginning of 2009. At present, the indicator is at -58.4 points. However, it seems that Spaniards have had enough of reforms, which in their view have only really caused the situation to deteriorate further thus far. Unemployment is at around 25 percent and among young people the rate is almost 50 percent. The country’s economic growth is steadily falling and for 2012 as a whole, a fall of 1.3 percent is currently predicted.

Portugal has so far been seen as the model student among the countries which had to call on a European bailout. The government has quickly implemented the required reforms and is sticking rigidly to its severe austerity program. Exports are surprisingly stable and the foreign trade deficit is being rapidly reduced. Given that the Portuguese economy remains deep in recession, the Troika comprising IMF, ECB and EC resolved to give the country a one year extension on meeting its deficit targets. The greatest difficulties at present are high unemployment, at around 15 percent, and low income. Portuguese consumers are convinced that this situation will not improve in the near future. Income expectations plummeted again over the summer, falling from -33.7 points in June to -55.4 points now. The crisis is evidently lingering for longer in Portugal than consumers had assumed mid-year.

Since mid 2011, income expectations have improved quite considerably in Romania, although there has been a slight drop again since July. The indicator currently stands at -14.1 points. The lowest value was reached in June 2010, with -72.7 points. Economic output in Romania is expected to be weak this year, with 0.5 percent growth predicted. This is a relatively positive situation when compared with many European countries which are continuing to battle recession. Unemployment is low at 4.9 percent, but wages and salaries are among the lowest in the EU. This is not likely to change much in future, as growth prospects are low even when the economy is developing well. Romanian consumers are also very much aware of this situation.

Willingness to buy: Bulgarian consumers want to shop

Over the past few months, willingness to buy also dropped quite noticeably in most countries of the survey in the wake of falling economic and income expectations. The only exceptions are Germany, Bulgaria and Poland. The lowest values were recorded in Italy (-51.5 points), Portugal (-45.8 points) and Greece (-44.4 points). The spending mood is still greatest among Germans (33.1 points), Austrians (19.1 points) and Bulgarians (5.2 points).

Willingness to buy among British consumers has once again fallen by 9.5 points overall in the last few months and is currently -51.5 points. This is the lowest value since January 2009. Overall, the assessment of consumers with regard to economic developments has never been so poor for such an extended period. Even the major events of the Olympic Games and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee were not able to have a positive impact on the mood. Unemployment is still around eight percent, with long-term unemployment, in particular, at a high level, which is very unusual for the UK. Consumers anticipate that the economy will still take some time to recover and are consequently cautious when it comes to making larger purchases. Although the government announced that it would continue to boost the economy and launch major infrastructure projects, it remains to be seen over the coming months whether these measures will work.

Bulgaria is one of the few countries in which consumers’ willingness to buy rose in September. The indicator is currently at 5.2 points, which is the third highest value of all countries in the survey. This is attributable to two factors. First, the government announced that it would pay pensioners compensation for inflation at the beginning of next year, which should counteract the reduction in purchasing power since 2009. Second, the Bulgarian government is intending to introduce a new tax at the beginning of next year as well. This tax will be on income from interest earned for bank savings from January 2013. Consumers are therefore using the time until the end of the year to invest their hard-earned money in major purchases rather than paying taxes in the New Year.

The Czech economy is set to shrink by one percent this year. The reason for this is first and foremost weak domestic demand. Although unemployment is constant at a good level of around 6.8 percent, real income is falling. Adding to this is the government’s severe savings program, which is constricting the financial freedom of consumers more and more. The economic development in the Czech Republic cannot currently keep pace with that in the neighboring countries of Germany, Austria and Slovakia. In the short to medium term, consumers are evidently not expecting an improvement in the situation and are therefore saving any disposable income rather than spending it. This is quite clearly reflected in the willingness to buy of Czech consumers. At -38.7 points in September, the indicator value reached its lowest level since 1996.

The survey

These findings are taken from the GfK Consumer Climate MAXX survey, which is based on consumer interviews conducted in all EU countries each month on behalf of the European Commission. The GfK Consumer Climate Europe provides an overview of the developments in economic and income expectations as well as willingness to buy of consumers in Austria, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain and the United Kingdom. These twelve countries account for around 80 percent of the total population of all 27 EU countries.

*GfK has also been carrying out the Consumer Climate survey in the USA since March 2011. The questions are the same as for the survey in the European Union. Given the relatively short time series available, the data cannot be standardized. Consequently, it is not possible to set a long-term average at 0.

The monthly interviews are distributed as follows among the countries observed:

Austria                                                       1,500

Bulgaria                                1,000

Czech Republic                                          1,000

France                                                       3,300

Germany                              2,000

Greece                                                       1,500

Italy                                                           2,000

Poland                                                       1,000

Portugal                               2,100

Romania                               1,000

Spain                                                         2,000

United Kingdom                                         2,000

USA                                                           1,000


Further information: Rolf Bürkl, tel. +49 911 395-3056,

The table below provides an overview of the individual indicators:


Economic expectations

This index is based on the following question   to consumers: “How do you think the general economic situation will develop   in the next 12 months?” (improve considerably – improve somewhat – remain   approximately the same – deteriorate somewhat – deteriorate considerably –   don’t know)

Income expectations

This index is based on the following question   to consumers: “How do you think the financial situation of your household   will develop in the next 12 months?” (improve considerably – improve somewhat   – remain approximately the same – deteriorate somewhat – deteriorate considerably   – don’t know)

Consumption and   buying willingness

This index is based on the following question   to consumers: “Do you think it is advisable to make major purchases at the   moment?” (Yes, it’s a good time to do so – now is neither a particularly good   nor a particularly bad time - no, it is a bad time to do so – don’t know)

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