By DAVID McHUGH
FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) â¿¿ The German government released mixed figures Monday about Europe's largest economy as a larger than expected increase in industrial production in February was offset by a downward revision to the previous month.
Despite the patchy signals from the key industrial sector, most economists seem to be sticking to their forecasts that Germany will avoid falling into recession in the first quarter of the year.
The Economy Ministry said industrial output rose 0.5 percent in February from the month before. Though that was more than the 0.3 percent anticipated in the markets, there was disappointment that the January number was cut from no change to show a 0.6 percent contraction.
Many economists think Germany's economy grew in the first quarter after shrinking by a quarterly rate of 0.6 percent in the last three months of 2012. Preliminary growth figures won't be published until May 15. Two straight quarters of falling output is one common definition of a recession.
Slack industrial output was one of the main reasons behind the fourth quarter drop. Germany's dip was particularly alarming because the economy of the 17-country eurozone remains in recession due to its crisis over too much government debt and needs all the growth it can get. Unemployment in the eurozone has meanwhile risen to 12.0 percent following efforts to slash government spending in places like Spain, Portugal, Ireland, and Greece.
Economist Christian Schulz at Berenberg Bank said the figures showed "some stabilization" in German industry even though the manufacturing sector "has not fully turned around yet."
Carsten Brzeski at ING said "today's data is not as positive as it looks at first glance," but added that "evidence is increasing that industrial production should soon join private consumption as an important driver of growth in 2013."