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German trade surplus hits three-year high on record exports

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(FRANKFURT) - Record exports pushed Germany's trade surplus to a three-year high in September, data showed on Tuesday, as Europe's biggest economy remains resilient to the eurozone debt crisis -- at least for now.

Germany exported goods worth a total 91.3 billion euros ($125 billion) in September, 0.9 percent more than in August and the highest level since unification, according to seasonally-adjusted data compiled by the national statistics office Destatis.

At the same time, imports fell by 0.8 percent to 76.1 billion euros so that the seasonally-adjusted trade surplus increased to 15.2 billion euros, the biggest number since October 2008.

Exports to Germany's fellow members in the EU and the eurozone -- which account for nearly two thirds of foreign trade -- increased by 9.5 percent on a 12-month basis, but exports to the rest of the world also rose by 10.1 percent, the statisticians calculated.

Taking the nine months to September, exports were up 13.5 percent over the year-earlier period at 791.7 billion euros, while imports grew by 15.3 percent at 672.8 billion euros, leaving a nine-month trade surplus of 118.9 billion euros.

Analysts said the figures came as positive surprise following the raft of negative data recently.

"In real terms, net exports are set to contribute about 0.2 percentage points to German gross domestic product growth in the third quarter, which we forecast at 0.5 percent," said Barclays Capital economist Thomas Harjes.

While the German economy could contract slightly in the fourth quarter, "we still expect a modest recovery in economic activity in early 2012, driven by more robust US and Asian demand," Harjes said, adding that the export data provided "some comfort."

Commerzbank economist Ulrike Rondorf also said Germany's export strength "is surprising once again."

Nevertheless, fewer orders from abroad already suggested that export growth was likely to weaken noticeably in the coming months, she said.

"A recession in the euro zone will not leave Germany completely unscathed," the analyst said.

"Germany is profiting from its competitiveness and is still gaining market shares. That said, there are no grounds for any celebrations yet. The slump in sentiment indicators and weaker order intake from abroad suggest much lower export growth in the coming months," Rondorf cautioned.

Peter Kaidusch, eurozone economist at Natixis, also pointed to the latest industrial orders and output data, which had come out weaker, and falling sentiment indicators.

"Thus, there should be a 'soft landing' in the current fourth quarter," the economist concluded.

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