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German exports unexpectedly rebound in February

Despite a firmer euro and a slowdown in China, German exports rose at their fastest pace in five months in February, offering a glimmer of hope for a rebound in demand from the country's main trading partners.

Europe's biggest economy exported goods and services worth 99.5 billion euros ($113 billion) in February - about 4 percent more than in the same month a year ago and rising by 1.3 percent from the previous month of January, according to data released by the German statistics office, Destatis, on Friday.

The February rise represented the biggest gain since September 2015, Destatis said, and ended two consecutive monthly falls.

Analysts had forecast a less significant increase of just 0.5 percent for February due to the strengthening of the euro against the US dollar and slowing growth in China and other emerging economies.

German imports also beat analysts' expectations, though rising only by a modest 0.4 percent, after growing 1.3 percent in January.

The figures mean that Germany's controversial trade surplus widened again in February, increasing to 20.3 billion euros from 13.4 billion euros in January.

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Export motor stuttering

Despite the surprise gain in exports, German economists believe the upswing may not be sustained throughout the year.

ING Bank chief economist Carsten Brzeski said he had doubts that exports would quickly return as a powerful growth engine.

"Foreign orders have dropped by more than 7 percent since last summer, further reflecting a broader weakness in Germany's main trading partners," he told the news agency DPA. "Moreover, the tailwinds of the weak currency are also fading away."

Data released earlier this week also pointed to slowing demand in emerging markets for German goods, after factories produced 0.5 percent less in February.

Just last month, the government's independent panel of economic advisors trimmed its 2016 growth forecast citing growing risks to exports.

The revision from 1.6 percent national growth to 1.5 percent was "due to somewhat weaker external demand," the economists said in a statement.

They identified global economic risks including a "more pronounced economic slowdown in China, financial market turmoil and increased geopolitical conflict." Moreover, a return of the eurozone debt crisis and the prospect of Britain leaving the EU were weighing on export growth.

Germany's export sector used to be the key pillar of the nation's economic growth. But more recently increasing private consumption and a buoyant construction sector have taken over as the key driving forces behind the country's economic performance.

uhe/cjc (dpa, Reuters)

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