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German exports rose in February, but China trade slowed on virus

BERLIN (Reuters) – German exports rose in February but trade with China slowed sharply as Europe’s largest economy felt the initial effects of the coronavirus pandemic, the Federal Statistics Office said on Thursday.

Seasonally adjusted exports increased by 1.3% % on the month while imports fell by 1.6%. The trade surplus widened to 21.6 billion euros from an upwardly revised 18.7 billion euros in the prior month, the Statistics Office said.

Economists polled by Reuters had expected exports to fall by 0.9% and saw imports down 0.7%. The trade surplus was expected to come in at 17.5 billion euros.

The Statistics Office said exports to China fell by 8.9% on the year, while imports from China dropped by 12.0% on the year.

German manufacturers depend on both demand and supply chains from China, Germany’s biggest trading partner. Economists expect the virus fallout to show up in data from February and push the economy into a sharp contraction.

Germany’s leading think tanks said on Wednesday that the economy would probably shrink by 9.8% in the second quarter, its biggest decline since records began in 1970, due to measures imposed to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

That would be more than double the drop seen in the first quarter of 2009, during the global financial crisis, the economic institutes said.

Germany has been in virtual lockdown for several weeks. Schools, shops, restaurants, sports facilities and other non-essential businesses have closed and many companies have halted production to help slow the spread of the disease.

The institutes said an unprecedented stimulus package of 750 billion euros ($814.80 billion) approved last month to mitigate the impact of the pandemic would see Germany’s debt-to-output ratio rise to 70% this year from around 60% before the crisis.

(Writing by Paul Carrel; Editing by Michelle Martin)