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Exports slide as Germany faces 'unprecedented' challenge

German exports plunged at their fastest rate since the financial crisis in 2009 in August, raising fears that Europe's largest economy could be losing more momentum.

According to data released by the German Federal Statistics Office Thursday, seasonally-adjusted exports fell 5.2 percent to 97.7 billion euros ($149.7 billion) in August, from the previous month. Imports, meanwhile, fell 3.1 percent to 78.2 billion euros. (103061388)

The data is concerning as Germany is the euro zone's primary growth driver. The 19-country region's biggest economy is largely reliant on exports.


The Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Germany
Getty Images
The Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Germany

The Germany economy has already shown somewhat sclerotic growth of late with second quarter data from Eurostat showing that German gross domestic product (GDP) expanded 0.4 percent, up from 0.3 percent in the previous quarter.

Although that growth figure was in line with the euro zone and European Union, Germany grew less than many of its European neighbors.

Still, analysts were keen to point out that the data is not as bad as it seems and investors appeared unmoved, with the German DAX index trading up 0.48 percent.

Later on Thursday Germany's Ifo institute released a report in which German economists forecast a "modest upturn" in economic growth, predicting a 1.8 percent expansion in 2015, versus 1.6 percent in 2014.

Growth would be driven by strong domestic consumption, the economists believed, although the divergence between growth in developed and emerging economies remained a concern.

"The German economy is experiencing a modest upturn, which is primarily driven by private consumption. (But) the weak world economy is a constraining factor, especially the problems in a number of emerging economies", Timo Wollmershäuser, Ifo's analysis director, said in the report.

Germany on steroids?

Carsten Brzeski, chief economist at ING, said that while the data suggest "a possible downward risk from traditional external factors," the main danger for the German economy came "from within."

"Pessimists will probably use the latest August (export) data for another Swan Song on the German economy. However, even today's disappointing export numbers are no reason to panic," Brzeski remarked in a note Thursday.

"In fact, the economy seems to go through the same vacation dip it experienced last summer. Back in August 2014, the timing of the summer vacation led to a drop of exports by more than 4 percent…In our view, the economy should rebound already in September."

Warning that "all that glitters is not gold," Brzeski said that the fact that record-low interest rates, low energy prices and the weak euro had not led to a stronger expansion showed, in ING's view," that the German economy has simply reached the end of its long positive virtuous circle of structural reforms and growth."

Read More'If this is your idea of Europe, you can keep it'

Brzeski warned that it was two domestically-driven factors that had the potential to "shake up the entire economy": the Volkswagen scandal surrounding diesel emissions and the massive influx of refugees coming to Germany, mainly from Syria in the Middle East.

Although it was too early to say what the impact of those events could be, Brzeski said these events posed an unprecedented challenge to the government and German industry.

- By CNBC's Holly Ellyatt, follow her on Twitter @HollyEllyatt. Follow us on Twitter: @CNBCWorld