German Exports Plunge In 2009

Exports fell 18.4 percent in 2009, the largest drop in 60 years and one that officially knocked Germany off its perch as world's top exporter, government data showed.

BERLIN (AP) -- German exports tumbled by nearly one-fifth last year, the biggest fall for 60 years and one that officially knocked the country off its perch as the world's top exporter, government data showed Tuesday.

However, exports from Europe's biggest economy showed their first year-on-year growth in December since the fall of 2008, the Federal Statistical Office said, and also were up healthily on the month.

Germany exported goods and services worth euro803.2 billion (nearly $1.1 trillion) last year, a fall of 18.4 percent compared with 2008, the office said. Imports totaled euro667.1 billion ($916 billion), a 17.2 percent decline.

Both exports and imports saw their biggest declines since 1950 as the global economic crisis sapped demand, the statistical office said.

The figures provided final official confirmation that China overtook Germany as the world's biggest exporter in 2009. Chinese authorities said last month their country's total exports were more than $1.2 trillion last year.

Exports to Germany's partners in the European Union were down 19.1 percent last year at euro503.5 billion, while deliveries to other countries dropped 17.1 percent to euro299.7 billion.

However, German exports have been recovering in recent months, and in December saw their first year-on-year rise since October 2008.

Exports totaled euro69 billion in December, up from euro66.7 billion ($94.7 billion) a year earlierĀ -- a 3.4 percent rise. They were up 3 percent in seasonally adjusted terms compared with November, the statistical office said.

"The trend in foreign trade is still clearly upward and contributed positively to economic growth in the fourth quarter," said Simon Junker, an economist at Commerzbank in Frankfurt. "In the coming months, exports are set to climb again, although the dynamics should slow down."

Junker estimated that gross domestic product grew by a modest 0.2 percent in the fourth quarter compared with the previous three months. That would be the third consecutive quarter of growth after Germany emerged from a sharp recession.

Official fourth-quarter growth figures are due on Friday.

Imports fell by 6.5 percent on the year in December, declining to euro55.5 billion from euro59.4 billion. They were up 4.5 percent on the month.

Germany's foreign trade balance showed a surplus of euro136.1 billion last year, down from euro178.3 billion in 2008.

Also Tuesday, government data showed that Germany's annual inflation rate was more or less steady at 0.8 percent in January, powered by year-on-year rises in oil prices.

The figure compared with an annual inflation rate of 0.9 percent in December. Inflation in Germany, Europe's biggest economy, hovered around and occasionally below zero for part of last year.

Consumer prices were down 0.6 percent on the month in January, due largely to seasonal factors, the statistical office said.

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