German investor sentiment at highest since May 2010

MANNHEIM, Germany Tue Jan 22, 2013 10:55am GMT

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MANNHEIM, Germany (Reuters) - German analyst and investor morale rose to its highest level in more than 2-1/2 years in January, in a sign the euro zone crisis is no longer hitting Europe's largest economy as hard as it was late last year.

The Mannheim-based ZEW think tank said its monthly poll of economic sentiment climbed for a second month to reach its highest level since May 2010, rising to 31.5 points from 6.9 in December. It was the biggest monthly rise in a year.

The reading beat a median forecast for 12.0 points in a Reuters poll, overshooting even the highest forecast for 23.5 points, and sending the euro higher and Bund futures lower.

"Investors seem increasingly confident that the European Central Bank's safety net has averted the risk of a catastrophic euro zone break-up for good," said Christian Schulz, senior economist at Berenberg Bank.

The ECB has resorted to extraordinary measures such as buying struggling states' bonds and pumping low-cost money into the economy. In September it announced a new and potentially unlimited bond-buying programme which has yet to be tapped.

A separate gauge of current conditions rose to 7.1 this month from 5.7 in December, above the 6.0 consensus forecast.

ZEW President Wolfgang Franz said the survey suggested that companies could soon press ahead with investments that had been delayed because of market uncertainty.

"However, the economic situation of important trade partners is rightly considered to still be weak. This suggests that the German economy will further grow at a moderate level in 2013," Franz said.

Weaker investments contributed to slower growth in 2012, when Europe's economic powerhouse posted just 0.7 percent growth and contracted by 0.5 percent in the fourth quarter.

The outlook for this year is subdued, with the German government last week cutting its forecast for economic growth to 0.4 percent from 1.0 percent.

ZEW economist Michael Schroeder said solving the fiscal problems in southern Europe was the main reason for the jump in the index.

Tuesday's better-than-expected survey from the ZEW think tank followed a gloomy run of data which has shown exports, imports and industrial orders sliding.

The index was based on a survey of 272 analysts and investors conducted between January 2 and January 21, ZEW said.

(Reporting by Eva Kuehnen and Sakari Suoninen, writing by Michelle Martin in London; Editing by Noah Barkin)

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