German jobless rate dips to 7.3 percent in March

Germany's unemployment rate edged down to 7.3 percent in March even though a traditional springtime upturn was limited by unusually cold weather, official data showed Thursday.

The unadjusted jobless rate was down from 7.4 percent in February, the Federal Labor Agency said. The number of people registered as unemployed was 3.098 million - 58,000 fewer than the previous month, but 70,000 more than in March 2012.

Unemployment typically declines in the spring, but harsh weather that typically weighs on industries such as construction in winter has persisted for longer than usual. The labor agency pointed to that as a reason for the small-than-usual decline.

In seasonally adjusted terms the unemployment rate was steady at 6.9 percent for the sixth consecutive month, in line with economists' forecasts, and the number of people out of work rose by 13,000.

Despite contracting in the last quarter of 2012, the German economy, Europe's biggest, has remained robust over the past few years, while several other countries in the euro area have struggled. That has bolstered the labor market; Germany's jobless rate contrasts with unemployment of more than 25 percent in Greece and Spain.

That, in turn, has bolstered consumer confidence.

Separate data released Thursday showed that retail sales were up 0.4 percent in February, in calendar- and seasonally adjusted terms, compared with the previous month - defying economists' expectations of a fall. The rise followed a 3 percent increase in January.