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German economy's Covid hit may be smaller than feared

BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany may weather its pandemic-induced recession better than expected, private sector indicators suggested on Tuesday, in a hopeful sign for the economy that traditionally serves as Europe’s driver of growth.

FILE PHOTO: Containers are seen at a terminal in the port of Hamburg, Germany November 14, 2019. REUTERS/Fabian Bimmer

With much economic activity still constrained by COVID-19, Germany’s government moved swiftly to boost spending and that cash, along with another shot in the arm from the European Central Bank, appears to have cushioned the pandemic’s impact.

Gross domestic product is now only seen shrinking by 5.2% this year, the Ifo institute projected, more optimistic than its previous estimate for a 6.7% drop and the Bundesbank’s 7.1% forecast.

“The decline in the second quarter and the recovery are currently developing more favourably than we had expected,” Ifo chief economist Timo Wollmershaeuser said.

For 2021 it cut its growth forecast to 5.1% from 6.4%, but even that indicates that Germany’s economy could be close to its pre-crisis level by the end of next year. The ECB still expects the euro zone as a whole to need a further year to make up the decline.

Part of the forecast improvement is unexpectedly resilient consumption, and the HDE retail association said it expects nominal retail sales to grow by 1.5% this year, a sharp upward revision from its previous estimate for a 4% drop.

However, both it and the Ifo pointed to unusual uncertainty in their projections, with a second wave of infections and potential government restrictions seen as risk factors.

HDE said online sales and stimulus measures that have included a temporary VAT cut and cash handouts for parents, had been key factors in boosting private consumption, HDE said.

Job protection schemes were also maintaining relatively high employment levels, and keeping a lid on household income losses.

Unemployment has barely risen compared to some other major economies and the rise in the jobless rate may top out at just 5.9% this year from 5.0% last year, before dropping to 5.7% percent in 2021, Ifo said.

Reporting by Michael Nienaber; Writing by Balazs Koranyi; editing by John Stonestreet

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