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Javier Blas

Add German Rainfall to Investors’ Checklist of Worries

Rhine water levels are dangerously low. That’s a worry for German industry and the nation’s economic outlook.

A river runs through it. Well, usually.

A river runs through it. Well, usually.

Photographer: Sarah Pabst/Bloomberg

Investors who’ve grown accustomed to tracking Covid-19 infections in Guangdong, missile strikes in Kyiv and computer chip availability around the world can add another offbeat statistic to their list of things to worry about: the water level of the Rhine River in Germany.

Flanked by medieval castles, the Rhine is an artery for commerce across the industrial German heartland, with barges transporting cargoes ranging from diesel to steel to chemicals. Right now, waterway traffic is starting to slow because the water level has dropped to unusually low levels for this time of the year after a mild and dry winter.

Rhine barge operators fear it may drop further later this spring and into the summer, potentially repeating the crisis of 2018 when the river became too shallow for any boats to sail. The timing couldn’t be worse, as Germany needs the waterway in its effort to replace as much Russian diesel and coal as it can. 

The key statistic to monitor is the water level at Kaub, a picturesque town south of Cologne. On Monday, the gauge stood at just 95 centimeters, the first time in at least 15 years that the river depth there has dropped below the one-meter mark in March. On average, the river typically carries nearly two meters of water through the town at this time of the year.