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German jobless rate falls to 4-month low

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FRANKFURT, Jan 31 AFP

January 31 2013, 10:31PM

The German labour market remains surprisingly resilient to the Eurozone debt crisis, with unemployment in Europe's top economy falling to a four-month low, data shows.

That's despite headline unemployment rising sharply in January, with the jobless rate jumping to 7.4 per cent in raw or unadjusted terms from 6.7 per cent in December, according to monthly data released on Thursday.

And the unadjusted jobless total was up by more than 298,000 to 3.138 million, its highest level since March 2011.

But the increase was solely due to seasonal factors, such as the cold winter weather, and the underlying trend was positive, Federal Labour Office chief Frank-Juergen Weise insisted.

"The unfavourable economic conditions haven't left much of a mark on the labour market. The latest rise in unemployment is purely due to seasonal factors," Weise said.

The seasonally-adjusted jobless rate - which irons out seasonal fluctuations - slipped to 6.8 per cent from 6.9 per cent.

Unemployment in Germany has never been lower than 6.8 per cent since reunification in 1990 and the rate was stable at that level for most of last year.

In concrete terms, the jobless total fell by 16,000 to 2.916 million - its lowest level in four months - on a seasonally-adjusted basis, much better than analysts' forecasts for an increase of as many as 10,000.

"The labour market is in fundamentally good shape," Weise said.

Natixis economist Constantin Wirschke said the drop in the jobless total was the first since April 2012.

But he doesn't think it will last.

"We expect unemployment to rise slightly in the next couple of months and to stabilise thereafter," Wirschke said.

ING Belgium economist Carsten Brzeski said joblessness varied from sector to sector.

In export industries unemployment has started to increase.

"At the same time, companies operating in domestic sectors, such as the construction sector and health services, still have a strong demand for labour," he said.

"Today's numbers confirm that the German job miracle has lost some of its magic. However, even without being miraculous, the labour market should remain growth-supportive," Brzeski concluded.

Heinrich Bayer at Postbank Research said "at the moment, it seems nothing can faze the German labour market, neither the sovereign debt crisis nor economic slowdown.

"But it's still too early to sound the all-clear, as the labour market is traditionally a lagging indicator," Bayer warned.

"The traditional pick-up in the labour market could come out weaker than usual."