April 4 - German imports fell sharply in February for the third time in the last four months and exports also declined, in a sign the euro zone's largest economy cannot be relied on to help lift the currency bloc out of recession. Ciara Sutton reports.
3.8 percent is today's daily digit in Europe - the amount German imports fell by in February - undercutting the lowest estimates, and falling for the third time in four months. Exports - expected to remain unchanged - also dropped - by 1.5 percent. It's a sign the euro zone's largest economy can't be relied on to lift the bloc out of recession, with weakness in key European partners affecting demand for goods. Germany sends nearly half of its shipments to European neighbours. Its economy, long resilient to the euro zone crisis, slowed last year with output shrinking. German growth is crucial for stimulating the whole of the euro zone. And Tobias Blathner from Daiwa Capital Markets says the outlook remains bleak. (SOUNDBITE) (English) TOBIAS BLATHNER, DAIWA CAPITAL MARKETS, SAYING: "It's very likely that we'll see very subdued industrial figures in the rest of the periphery too and also in the euro area that simply means that the euro area as a whole is likely and could actually contract for another quarter in the first quarter of this year. At best it's likely to move sideways in the first quarter. But overall the outlook is still relatively gloomy." Economists hope Germany's gloomy imports figure was a one-off, and say it was balanced out by a strong rise in January. The country is expected to skirt recession and return to weak growth in the first three months of 2013. But exports, traditionally the main driver of German growth, are not expected to bolster German GDP this year.