* Exports jump 2.2 pct vs estimate of 1.4 pct
* Imports rise by more than double top forecast
* Trade surplus narrows to 17.2 bln eur
By Sarah Marsh
BERLIN, March 11 German exports and imports
surged in January at the fastest pace in nearly two years, data
showed on Tuesday, adding to signs that Europe's largest economy
started the year on a strong footing and is on track to robust
Data from the Federal Statistics Office showed
seasonally-adjusted exports up 2.2 percent in January, well
above a consensus forecast for a rise of 1.4 percent. Shipments
abroad had fallen 0.9 percent in December.
Imports jumped even more, by 4.1 percent, more than double
the highest forecast in a Reuters poll of 2.0 percent, bouncing
back from a downwardly revised fall of 1.4 percent in December.
The consensus forecast was for a rise of 1.3 percent.
This narrowed the seasonally-adjusted trade surplus to 17.2
billion euros from a revised 18.3 billion in December.
"Foreign demand is going well, this is a positive sign for
economic growth in the first quarter," said Ralph Solveen, an
economist at Commerzbank. "The economy should grow by about 0.75
percent, not least because the construction sector will have
benefited from a mild winter."
The trade data comes on the heels of upbeat figures last
week showing industrial orders and output rose in January.
Forward-looking indicators have also been positive, with the
mood among consumers, investors and businesses hitting
multi-year highs in recent months.
A breakdown of year-on-year data showed demand from European
countries beyond the euro zone contributed most to the surge, up
9.1 percent. But exports to the common currency bloc were also
up on the year, by 3.2 percent, and only shipments to countries
beyond Europe fell.
"Exporters' business with the euro zone is working better,
above all thanks to the better economic outlook in Italy and
France at the end of 2013," said Stefan Kipar at Bayern LB. "We
expect German economic growth of 1.7 percent in 2014, it might
even be slightly more."
German imports were strongest from the euro zone, in a sign
that solid German demand is helping the rest of the euro zone
recover from recession.