* Imports unexpectedly drop, exports also down sharply
* Industry orders fall more than expected in Nov
* Adds to signs economy contracted in Q4
* Economists see German recovery during 2013
By Sarah Marsh and Madeline Chambers
BERLIN, Jan 8 More evidence of sliding German
exports and industry orders on Tuesday compounded concerns that
the euro zone crisis may have battered the region's largest
economy into contraction at the end of last year.
German imports and exports slid in November, narrowing the
trade surplus, and industry orders fell more than expected.
Imports slid 3.7 percent, while exports fell 3.4 percent,
data from the Federal Statistics Office showed on Tuesday.
Economists polled by Reuters had expected imports to increase by
0.4 percent and shipments abroad to drop 0.5 percent.
Seasonally-adjusted industrial orders fell 1.8 percent in
November, due mainly to a sharp fall in demand from non-euro
zone countries. That was below a 1.4 percent drop forecast by a
Reuters poll of 29 economists.
Germany has served as a pillar of regional strength through
the three-year euro zone debt crisis but the economy slowed in
the third quarter of last year and economists expect it to have
contracted in the last quarter.
Although many see Germany escaping a recession and staging a
steady improvement this year, Tuesday's data prompted some
economists to predict a bumpy road.
"With a pick-up of global demand, exports could quickly
return as the reliable growth driver. However, (the) latest new
order data illustrate that the way out of contraction will not
necessarily be a straight upward-sloped line," said Carsten
Brzeski, senior economist at ING.
Germany is unlikely to join euro zone stragglers, he added,
but "could end up humming the 'things will get worse before they
get better' tune still for some time."
TRADE SURPLUS NARROWS
The seasonally-adjusted trade surplus narrowed more than
expected to 14.6 billion euros from a downwardly revised 14.9
billion in October. The consensus forecast in a Reuters poll was
for it to narrow slightly to 15.0 billion euros.
Weakness in the European Union, where Germany sells roughly
60 percent of its exported goods, is weighing on exports.
Sovereign debt crises have driven most of its partners to
raise taxes and cut spending, weakening appetite for German
goods, although demand from emerging markets has gone some way
to compensating for that.
A breakdown of the German trade data on an unadjusted basis
showed exports to the euro zone slumped 5.7 percent on the year,
even as exports to countries outside Europe rose 5.6 percent.
The drop in imports raises questions about the ability of
German consumers and companies to prop up growth during the euro
zone crisis, as many had hoped, with unemployment on the rise
and consumer morale deteriorating.
Nonetheless, unemployment is close to a 20-year low and
wages are rising for the first time in years. Purchasing
managers' reports showed the private sector expanded for the
first time in eight months in December, while the Ifo index
showed morale at German businesses rising in November and
The Economy Ministry played down the decline in
manufacturing orders given strong October figures.
"Overall, demand seems to be stabilising. The slight
improvement in sentiment indicators also points to this," said
the ministry in a statement.
Providing some reassurance about domestic demand, bookings
from within Germany increased by 1.3 percent.
However, foreign orders fell by 4.1 percent. While bookings
from the euro zone inched up 0.2 percent, contracts from
countries outside the currency union slumped by 6.5 percent
after an 8 percent rise in October.
"Demand for capital goods remains low in view of the weak
economic environment in Europe, where there is significant
overcapacity in many places," said Bernd Hartmann, head of
investment research at VP Bank.