BERLIN (Reuters) - German exports unexpectedly fell on the month in December after four consecutive monthly gains, a sign that the brightening global outlook does not yet mean Europe’s largest economy can rely on foreign demand to power growth.
Federal Statistics Office Data on Friday also showed Germany’s trade surplus reached a new record last year as imports fell more sharply than exports.
In December, seasonally-adjusted exports were down 0.9 percent compared with the forecast in a Reuters poll for them to inch up 0.8 percent. The reading for November was revised upwards to a 0.7 percent rise.
Figures for the full year showed shipments abroad fell 0.2 percent in 2013, weighed down by a sharp fall in demand for “Made in Germany” goods from euro zone countries struggling with recession. That was the first full-year drop in exports since 2009, when German economic growth contracted sharply.
“With these numbers, the secret hope that fourth quarter growth was actually better than suggested by the Statistic Office’s first estimates are fading away,” said Carsten Brzeski at ING.
The Office said last month the economy probably grew by around a quarter of a percentage point in the last quarter and 0.4 percent over the full year.
Hard data for December has been disappointing so far. Figures released on Thursday showed industrial orders also unexpectedly dropped.
“Looking ahead, however, I still expect exports to regain new momentum. Order books are full and inventories are low,” said Brzeski.
Imports also dropped unexpectedly in December, by 0.6 percent, missing a forecast to rise 1.2 percent. The seasonally-adjusted trade surplus narrowed to 18.5 billion euros from a revised 18.9 billion euros in November.
On the year, imports dropped 1.2 percent, resulting in a widening of the trade surplus to 198.9 billion euros, the highest on record.
Germany has come under international pressure for relying too heavily on foreign markets for growth and not fostering domestic demand which would in turn benefit struggling trade partners within the euro zone.
Berlin argues that it has more than halved its current account surplus with the euro zone as a share of gross domestic product since 2007 and is relying more on domestic demand than trade to drive growth at the moment. The Statistics Office said foreign trade subtracted from economic growth in 2013.
Christian Schulz at Berenberg Bank said Friday’s data showed trade with the euro zone was now nearly balanced, with exports to the currency bloc falling to 401.9 billion euros for 2013 while imports from it were steady at around 401.2 billion euros.
“Germany’s trade outlook for 2014 is mixed,” Schulz said. “Strengthening export markets in the developed world could be offset by weaker demand in those emerging markets currently in turbulence.”
“But the trade surplus looks set to stabilise or even shrink as stronger domestic demand should boost imports more than strengthening global demand will increase exports,” he added.
The most recent German data has been largely positive. Forward-looking indicators have shown sentiment among consumers, businesses and investors rising to multi-year highs over the past few months.
Editing by Catherine Evans