German jobless numbers tick up in August

The number of Germans without jobs ticked up in August amid growing signs the European financial crisis is taking its toll on the region's largest economy, the Federal Labor Agency reported Thursday.

Some 29,000 more Germans were out of work in August over July, raising the jobless total to more than 2.9 million. When adjusted for seasonal factors, the number of jobless rose by 9,000.

Both the adjusted and unadjusted unemployment rates remained unchanged at 6.8 percent, the agency said.

Germany has been counting on domestic consumption to help offset weakening exports within the eurozone, where several countries are in recession.

But the new figures raise concerns about consumer spending, said Carsten Brzeski, an economist with ING in Brussels, who noted that the rise in jobless was the highest August increase since 1993.

"The strong labor market has been one of the main drivers of German growth in the first half of the year," he said in a research note. "Looking ahead, however, it is doubtful whether private consumption can really take over the baton as main growth driver for the German economy — today's numbers provide further evidence that the labor market is gradually losing steam."

Economists have been warning that the debt crisis in the 17-country eurozone could eventually catch up with Germany. The country's economy has over the past few years done better than the currency union as a whole, which is struggling with a crisis over too much government debt and recessions in several countries.

Underlining those concerns, the Federal Statistical Office reported Thursday that German exports to the eurozone dropped 1.2 percent in the first half of 2012 to €211.6 billion ($265.5 billion). The biggest drops were reported in those countries hit worst by the financial crisis, with exports to Portugal down 14.3 percent in the first half, to Spain down 9.4 percent, to Greece down 9.2 percent and to Italy down 8.2 percent.

Still, exports to the European Union as a whole rose 0.7 percent to €319.1 billion as orders from countries outside the eurozone helped offset the drop from the euro countries.

And overall, German exports rose 4.8 percent in the first half, helped by 11.1 percent growth outside the European union — particularly from Japan, the U.S. and Russia — to €550.5 billion.

Following two years of strong economic growth, the German economy grew by only 0.3 percent in the second quarter. Still, unemployment remains low, in sharp contrast with rates of more than 20 percent in Spain and Greece, which are both in recessions.

IHS Global Insight economist Timo Klein said recent indicators suggest unemployment in Germany will "continue to nudge up during the coming months" but that "a marked deterioration to a sustained upward trend with large increases in joblessness is not expected."

"Overall, labor market conditions continue to be healthier in Germany than in most other countries in Europe," he said.