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German Exports Tumble In November

Europe's biggest economy saw its sharpest monthly drop in exports in November since the country's reunification in 1990, official estimates showed Thursday.

BERLIN (AP) -- Germany saw its sharpest monthly drop in exports in November since the country's reunification in 1990, official estimates showed Thursday, underlining the urgency of government efforts to put together a new multibillion-euro stimulus plan for Europe's biggest economy.

German exports fell 10.6 percent from October and 11.8 percent from November last year, the Federal Statistical Office said. Exported goods and services were worth euro77.1 billion ($104.7 billion) in November, or euro75.4 billion in calendar and seasonally adjusted terms.

Germany is one of the world's top exporters, and foreign trade has been a key driver of its economy over recent years.

However, the economy went into recession in last year's third quarter as the global economic crisis kicked in, and is expected to shrink further this year as demand for its products decreases both within the country and around the world.

The month-on-month decline in exports was the biggest since German reunification in 1990, said Joerg Kraemer, the chief economist at Commerzbank in Frankfurt.

The figures point to "really bad" gross domestic product figures for the fourth quarter, Kraemer said in a research note, predicting a quarter-on-quarter decline of 2 percent. For 2009 as a whole, he forecast a drop of between 2 and 3 percent.

Thursday's estimate showed that exports to other countries in the 27-nation European Union were down 14 percent on the year in November, while exports to countries outside the EU declined by 7.8 percent.

Imports were down 0.9 percent from a year earlier and 5.6 percent from the previous month.

Germany's balance of foreign trade showed a surplus of euro9.7 billion in November, down from euro19.4 billion a year earlier.

Also Thursday, the Economy Ministry reported that industrial orders saw a month-on-month decline of 6 percent in November, following a 6.3 percent fall in October.

The latest depressing data add to news on Wednesday that the crisis began to push up unemployment figures in December, and the darkening picture from Germany could strengthen the case for the European Central Bank to cut interest rates further when it meets next week.

Chancellor Angela Merkel's right-left "grand coalition" is scrambling to agree on the contents of a new economic stimulus plan worth up to euro50 billion ($70 billion) -- expected to include hefty spending on infrastructure.

Merkel's conservatives want it to include tax relief measures, among them raising the threshold under which Germans pay no income tax. Their partners, the center-left Social Democrats, say they are ready to discuss some of those ideas.

The new stimulus package, which coalition leaders hope to finalize on Monday, would add to an existing euro23 billion package of measures passed last month and widely criticized as being too cautious.

In addition, a proposal for a euro100 billion fund that would help ease companies' access to credit appears to be gaining some traction. A senior member of Merkel's Christian Democrats, Juergen Ruettgers, floated the idea last weekend.

"As long as banks' readiness to offer credit does not increase, public authorities must make it possible for business to invest by making credit available," Volker Kauder, the parliamentary leader of Merkel's conservatives, was quoted as saying Thursday in Bonn's General-Anzeiger daily.

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