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Germany's exports rebounded at a faster-than-expected pace in December, exceeding expectations, and imports followed suit, extending some positive data for the biggest euro area economy after the recent run of weak figures that suggested a slowdown.
Exports rose a calendar and seasonally-adjusted 1.5 percent from November, when they declined 0.3 percent, figures from the Federal Statistical Office showed on Friday. Economists had expected 0.5 percent growth.
The pace of growth was the fastest since May's 1.6 percent gain.
Imports climbed 1.2 percent month-on-month, recovering from a 1.3 percent slump in November. Economists had forecast 0.4 percent growth.
"Today's trade data is a welcome sign of life, confirming our view that the assessment of the German economy currently needs less black-and-white thinking and is more nuanced," ING economist Carsten Brzeski said.
"While the temporary problems in the automotive sector will gradually be resolved...and should boost exports, the risks and uncertainties from outside the eurozone are clearly the make-it-or-break-it factor for the export sector," the economist added.
On a year-on-year basis, exports decreased 4.5 percent and imports were unchanged in December.
The non-adjusted trade surplus fell sharply to EUR 13.9 billion from EUR 20.4 billion in November. Economists were looking for a surplus of EUR 17.3 billion.
The statistical office also reported that the current account surplus fell to EUR 21 billion in December from EUR 21.6 billion in November.
For full year 2018, exports rose 3 percent and imports grew 5.7 percent, and their values exceeded their record highs. The trade surplus fell to EUR 227.8 billion from EUR 247.9 billion in 2017.
EU countries attracted 3.8 percent more German exports than a year ago, and imports from the group rose 6.3 percent. Exports to the euro area increased 4.5 percent and imports from the bloc climbed 6.9 percent.
Shipments to the non-EU countries rose 1.9 percent and imports from these countries grew 5 percent.
In 2018, the current account surplus dropped to EUR 249.1 billion from EUR 261.2 billion a year ago.
Germany likely avoided a technical recession in the fourth quarter, the economy ministry has said. Average annual growth slowed to a five-year low of 1.5 percent in 2018.
On Thursday, the European Commission slashed the German growth forecast for this year to 1.1 percent from 1.8 percent and the projection for next year was left unchanged at 1.7 percent.