German unemployment edges up in December

Rise of 3,000 in jobless numbers less than expected

BERLIN (Reuters) — The number of Germans out of work rose for the ninth month running in December but held close to a post-reunification low, adding to signs Europe's largest economy remains relatively unscathed by the region's crisis.

Labour Office data showed the jobless figure rose by 3,000 in seasonally-adjusted terms to 2.942 million, much lower than the consensus forecast in a Reuters poll of 23 economists for a rise of 10,000.

The unemployment rate held steady at 6.9 per cent.

"Despite the economic dip, the labour market is not suffering a breakdown," said Stefan Schilbe at HSBC Trinkaus. "Companies are not willing to put qualified workers out of a job, also in the light of the high number of unfilled jobs. Once the economy improves in the course of the year, unemployment too is likely to fall again with a delay."

Germany's economy weathered the three-year euro zone debt crisis well until it slowed in the third quarter of last year. Economists expect it to have contracted in the fourth quarter but generally see it escaping a recession before gradually improving later in 2013.

The country's labour market, meanwhile, remains robust compared to many other European countries, thanks in part to years of wage restraint and structural reforms undertaken in the mid-2000s.

In  Spain, for example, 4.8 million people were registered as out of work last month, data from Madrid showed. Unemployment hit a record 25 per cent in the third quarter of last year in the euro zone's fourth biggest economy, where a stubborn recession is likely to put more people out of work.

In Germany, many are hoping a jobless rate that appears to have stabilized close to historically low levels will fuel private consumption and drive economic growth at home and, via imports, in the wider euro zone.

In percentage terms, December's jobless reading was just a touch above the 6.8 per cent that marked its lowest point since the country was reunified in 1990. It held at that level for 10 months from December 2011.

But signs of economic weakness are increasing, enough to impact morale among German consumers, which dropped for the fourth month running heading into January to its lowest level in more than one year.

Big German firms including Metro, Siemens AG and Deutsche Bank are slashing thousands of jobs.

Others like Opel, the German unit of United States automaker General Motors, and steelmaker ThyssenKrupp, have said they are returning to "Kurzarbeit", a government-subsidised short-time work scheme that was used widely during the global financial crisis.

German manufacturing activity shrank for the tenth consecutive month in December, according to a purchasing managers' index (PMI), but the closely-watched Ifo survey showed  business morale rose.

Economists say they do not expect the number of unemployed to rise sharply however and the labour market should improve when the economy picks up again this year.

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