BERLIN (Reuters) - German exports posted their biggest fall in nearly a year in March and imports also dipped as the crisis in Ukraine and a slowdown in China weighed, narrowing the trade surplus and confirming trade was a drag on growth at the start of 2014.
Figures from the Federal Statistics Office showed seasonally-adjusted exports slipped 1.8 percent on the month, their second consecutive fall, and imports dipped 0.9 percent, pushing the trade surplus down to 14.8 billion euros.
The consensus forecast in a Reuters poll of economists had been for shipments abroad to rise by 1 percent and for imports to increase by 0.5 percent.
The seasonally adjusted trade balance compared with a surplus of 15.8 billion euros in February. Economists had expected a surplus of 16.6 billion euros in March.
"As already reflected in other industrial data, the month March saw a stronger real economic impact from the Ukrainian crisis and the Chinese slowdown than confidence indicators had suggested," said ING economist Carsten Brzeski.
"All in all, with ongoing geopolitical problems and the slowing emerging economies, it looks as if Germany's famous export engine could still be sputtering for a while," he added.
In the first two months of 2014, German exports to Russia dropped by 16 percent. Detailed data for March will not be available until later in the month.
The government expects domestic demand to drive growth this year while foreign trade, which has traditionally propelled the German economy, is expected to be a drag.
A breakdown of unadjusted data showed exports to the euro zone edging up 0.1 percent in March compared to the previous year and imports from the single currency bloc rose 2.3 percent.
Exports to European Union member states outside of the euro such as Great Britain rose 10.4 percent however and imports rose 10.8 percent.
Germany's current account balance surged in March to 19.5 billion euros from 13.8 billion euros the previous month, a development which could stoke criticism of Germany for not doing more to stoke domestic demand.
"We are ending the first quarter on a weak note," said economist Holger Sandte at Nordea. First quarter GDP figures are due next week and are expected to show the economy grew by 0.8 percent in the first quarter.
Reporting by Alexandra Hudson; Editing by Noah Barkin