German business confidence index up for 6th month

By David Mchugh

Associated Press

Published: Friday, April 20 2012 3:30 a.m. MDT

FILE - In this Jan. 25, 2012 file photo cranes are silhouetted against the sky while clouds of steam rise from the steel producing company in background in Orsoy, Germany. Germany's ZEW survey of investor optimism released Tuesday, April 17, 2012, unexpectedly rose in April for a fifth straight month in another upbeat sign for Europe's biggest economy despite recurring turmoil from the debt crisis hitting the 17 countries that use the euro. The survey's index rose to 23.4 from 22.3 in March, after some analysts anticipated a dip to 19.0, with some predicting a figure as low as 15.0.

Frank Augstein, File, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

FRANKFURT, Germany — German business optimism rose for a sixth straight month in April, according to a closely watched survey showing Europe's largest economy remains resilient to the continent's troubles over too much debt in some countries.

The Ifo institute business climate index published Friday edged up to 109.9 points from 109.8 the month before, beating market expectations for a slight decline.

Germany's economic prospects are looking up after the country went through a slow patch over the winter. The economy shrank 0.2 percent in the fourth quarter, but leading economic institutes this week raised their forecast for 2012 to 0.9 percent from a 0.8 percent prediction last fall.

Both parts of the index — estimates of current conditions and expectations for the next six months — were up. Sentiment rose among both indutrial firms, which are often oriented toward exports in Germany, and retailers, which depend on domestic demand. Economists say Germany's low unemployment rate of 5.7 percent is giving workers the confidence they need to spend money in stores.

"The Germany economy is showing itself to be robust," said Ifo institute head Hans-Werner Sinn.

Those conditions defy the worsening fears about the eurozone debt crisis. Spain and Italy are seeing higher costs to borrow money on bond markets and roll over their debt loads, while their economic growth is sagging.

Germany appears to be easily outpacing the eurozone as a whole, which is expected to see its economy shrink 0.3 percent this year according to the European Union's executive commission.

High borrowing costs and fears of default have already pushed Greece, Ireland and Portugal to seek bailout loans from other eurozone countries and Greece had to ask creditors to write down €107 billion in debt that it could not pay.

The Ifo survey rose despite declines in hard data such as orders received by German manufacturers, which usually weigh on the business climate, Commerzbank chief economist Joerg Kraemer wrote in a note to investors headlined "Ifo defies gravity."

He said the survey supports the view that Germany posted a slight expansion of 0.1 percent in the first quarter and thereby escaped a technical recession. Two straight quarters of shrinking output are one definition of recession. Growth figures for the first three months of the year are due out May 15.

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