German engineers with record exports in 2015, gloomy outlook this year

BERLIN (Reuters) - Exports by German engineering firms hit a record level last year, with the United States overtaking China as their main destination, but sluggish sales in recent months suggest a global slowdown is pinching Europe’s biggest economy.

Shipping terminals and containers are pictured in this file photo of the German harbour of Bremerhaven, late October 8, 2012. REUTERS/Fabian Bimmer

The mechanical engineering association VDMA said on Monday that engineers exported goods worth 155 billion euros ($171.83 billion) in 2015, up 2.6 percent from the year before.

Adjusted for inflation, this translated to a real increase of 0.9 percent for the whole year.

But exports in the last quarter of 2015 decreased by 0.3 percent in real terms, a sign that a slowdown in emerging markets is increasingly affecting Europe’s top exporter.

This trend was underlined by a 5.9 percent fall in exports to China, which had been the top purchaser of German engineering firms’ wares in 2014.

At the same time, engineering exports to the United States grew by 11.2 percent to 16.8 billion euros -- more than the 16 billion euros of goods sold to China last year.

“We re-adjusted our understanding of the relevance of specific markets,” VDMA chief economist Ralph Wiechers said.

The VDMA represents large engineering companies such as Siemens SIEGn.DE as well as thousands of medium-sized industrial goods makers.

Sales to Russia declined by a staggering 26.8 percent last year, leaving the country, the fourth-biggest buyer of German engineering goods in 2013, in a distant 10th place in 2015.

Demand from Russia has been hit by a sharp economic slowdown due to plunging oil prices and Western sanctions imposed over Moscow’s role in the Ukraine crisis.

The figures were in line with a Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) survey published n Monday that showed growth in the German manufacturing sector slowed to a near hold in February.

Many companies cited weak foreign demand and a near stagnation in export orders as reasons for the slowdown.

Last year, the United States became Germany’s top trading partner and overall exports to that country reached a record 114 billion euros ($126.38 billion).

($1 = 0.9020 euros)

Reporting by Tina Bellon; Editing by Catherine Evans