April 15 (Bloomberg) -- Euro-area export growth slowed in February as declines in Italy, Spain and the Netherlands offset gains in the 17-nation currency bloc’s two largest economies, Germany and France.
Exports rose a seasonally adjusted 0.1 percent from January, when they increased 1.9 percent, the European Union’s statistics office in Luxembourg said today. Imports decreased 2.1 percent after a 2.9 percent gain in January. The trade surplus widened more than economists estimated to 12 billion euros ($15.7 billion) from 8.7 billion euros.
German exports rose 2 percent in February, while shipments from France increased 1.9 percent, today’s report showed. Exports from Italy and the Netherlands dropped 4.8 percent and 1.1 percent, respectively, while Spanish shipments fell 0.4 percent.
“Weak economic activity has extended into the early part of the year and a gradual recovery is projected for the second half of the year subject to downside risks,” European Central Bank President Mario Draghi said on April 4, after the ECB kept its benchmark interest rate at a record low of 0.75 percent.
The euro-area economy has contracted for five straight quarters and is forecast to shrink 0.1 percent in the first three months of 2013 before returning to growth, the median of 25 economists’ estimates in a Bloomberg News survey shows. The European Commission sees the economy shrinking 0.3 percent this year.
Austerity measures across the euro area, coupled with record unemployment of 12 percent, have driven down demand for imports. Consumer confidence increased less than economists forecast in March amid signs the economy is struggling to pull out of the recession.
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