* Annual fall in retail sales biggest since May 2009
* Low jobless, higher wages fail to lift consumption
* Retail data is notoriously volatile, often revised
(Adds economist comment, details)
BERLIN, Jan 31 German retail sales tumbled by
their largest amount in over three years in December,
preliminary data showed on Thursday, denting hopes that private
consumption can compensate for weaker exports and lift Europe's
largest economy this year.
The notoriously volatile indicator slid by 4.7 percent
compared to a year ago, the weakest annual result since May
2009. On a monthly basis, the fall was a more modest 1.7
percent, still the biggest drop since May 2011.
"These are disappointing numbers," said Christian Schulz of
Berenberg Bank. "Consumers are not opening up their wallets."
Economists polled by Reuters had expected retail sales to
fall by 0.1 percent on the month and by 1.6 percent on the year.
German unemployment has been creeping higher for nearly a
year, but still remains close to post-reunification lows. Wages
are also on the rise thanks to Germany's strong performance
during the euro zone debt crisis.
But these factors have not yet translated into robust
increases in private consumption. Gross domestic product (GDP)
contracted by 0.5 percent in the fourth quarter of 2012,
according to an early estimate from the Statistics Office, and
the government is forecasting meagre growth of 0.4 percent this
Exports to big trading partners in Europe are slowing as the
debt crisis enters its fourth year, and Berlin now expects
foreign trade to be a drag on GDP in 2013.
According to a breakdown of the retail data, sales fell
almost across the board in December, with food, drinks and
tobacco down 4.1 percent on an annual basis in real terms, and
clothes, shoes and textiles down 6.5 percent.
Still, some economists warned against reading too much into
the data, pointing to anecdotal evidence from retailers on their
"The retailers did not report sensational Christmas sales,
but they were broadly satisfied. It's hard to reconcile this
with the strong decline we've seen here," said Alexander Koch of
(Additional reporting by Rene Wagner; Writing by Noah Barkin)