Factory orders in Germany, Europe's biggest economy, picked up in March after two consecutive declines thanks to higher domestic demand — but the improvement was smaller than economists expected.

The Economy Ministry said Thursday that orders were up 0.9 percent over the previous month after declining by the same amount in February. Economists had predicted a 1.5 percent rise.

Orders from inside Germany were up 4.3 percent and those from other countries in the 19-nation eurozone rose 2.5 percent, but demand from countries outside the eurozone sagged by 4 percent. The ministry said there was an above-average number of orders for big-ticket items.

UniCredit economist Andreas Rees pointed to the U.S. economy's near-stagnation in the first quarter and a slowdown in emerging markets as reasons for lower recent foreign demand.