Germany lifted by demand outside Europe

HAMBURG, GERMANY - OCTOBER 03: The German flag flys in the harbour infront of the Michel church during the German Unity day celebrations in October 3, 2008 in Hamburg, Germany. (Photo by Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)
Stuart Franklin/Getty Images

BERLIN Strong demand from outside Europe pushed exports from Germany, Europe's biggest economy, to a record high last year, offsetting the effects of the economic troubles of its neighbors, official data showed Friday.

Germany exported goods and services worth euro1.097 trillion ($1.48 trillion) in 2012, up 3.4 percent on the year before, the Federal Statistical Office said. The previous record of some euro1.06 trillion was set in 2011.

Exports have been a traditional motor of growth for the German economy. Last year, they were pulled higher by an 8.8 percent increase in exports to countries outside the European Union, which totaled euro471.7 billion.

However, exports to other countries in the 27-member EU, which still account for more than half the total, were down 0.3 percent at euro625.7 billion. And there was a 2.1 percent drop in exports to Germany's partners in the 17-nation eurozone, where several countries are in recession. Those totaled euro411.9 billion last year.

Germany's overall export figures for the year's final months were less spectacular underlining expectations that the country's gross domestic product shrank significantly in the last quarter of 2012, though the economy has since shown signs of picking up.

The statistical office said that, in seasonally and calendar-adjusted terms, exports crept up 0.3 percent in December after two large declines in the previous three months. Exports were down 1.3 percent compared with November.

Germany's exporters' association, BGA, said the December figures suggested that demand in the U.S. and Asia couldn't compensate for the effects of Europe's lingering crisis at the end of the year.

Its chairman, Anton Boerner, said in a statement that "the consequences of the financial and economic crisis have yet to be mastered" and voiced concern at the possible fallout from what he termed "Japan's decision to manipulate its exchange rate for the purpose of encouraging foreign trade."

Germany has benefited from a relatively competitive euro exchange rate. The new government in Japan has indirectly pushed up the value of the single European currency in relation to the yen and other currencies by following a more aggressive economic policy.

German imports were up a more modest 0.7 percent last year at euro909.2 billion.

The country's foreign trade surplus hit its second-highest annual level since records began in 1950, the statistical office said, rising to euro188.1 billion from euro158.7 billion in 2011. The record of euro195.3 billion dates back to 2007.

Germany lost its crown as the world's biggest exporter in 2009 to China, which has powered further ahead since.