The euro zone's unadjusted trade surplus rose in September despite the single currency's steady climb as annual export growth still outpaced imports despite a sharp slowdown from August, data showed on Friday.
But profit forecasts and the results of some European companies showed the euro's record strength was starting to bite.
The European Union's statistics office said the trade surplus of the 13 countries using the euro rose to 3.1 billion euros ($4.5 billion) from 2.3 billion a year earlier and an upwardly revised 1.9 billion euros in August.
It said exports grew by 4 percent year-on-year, slowing from an 11 percent expansion in August. That was above the 3 percent growth in imports, which slowed from 4 percent in August.
The euro rose 2.3 percent on a trade-weighted basis in September and was 4.6 percent stronger than 12 months earlier.
Against the U.S. dollar, the euro zone's second-biggest trade currency after the British pound, the euro gained 4.7 percent in September.
"The data indicate that relatively healthy global growth continued to support euro zone exports in September, largely countering the dampening impact of the strong euro," said Howard Archer, economist at Global Insight.
"However, it seems inevitable that euro zone exporters will find life ever more difficult over the coming months given that the euro has since risen to new highs and global growth is coming under increasing pressure from the credit crunch and record high oil prices," he said.
Real Economy Hit by Euro
French aerospace equipment maker Zodiac said on Friday the growth of its operating profit before exceptionals from the aeronautics businesses would largely depend on the average dollar exchange rate.
Swiss-based luxury goods group Richemont, whose brands include Piaget, Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels and which reports in euros, expects the recent fall of the dollar to weigh on its second-half results.
And Italian luxury car maker Lamborghini said the stronger euro had not cost it sales in the United States, but had cut into profit margins as the company had not raised pricing to reflect the weaker dollar.
Seasonally adjusted data showed the trade surplus easing to 3.9 billion euros in September from 4.5 billion in August with exports falling 0.4 percent month-on-month and imports rising 0.1 percent.
"The stronger euro has got to mean that at the end of the day euro zone exports are going to be hit and will have an untoward effect on the trade surplus down the road," said David Brown, economist at Bear Stearns.
"The trade balance is holding in quite well and that is an additional benefit for the strong euro against the dollar. The gravitational pull is going to be towards weakening export performance," he said.
A detailed breakdown for September was not yet available, but Eurostat said that in the eight months to August, on an unadjusted basis, the value of euro zone energy imports in euros fell 11 percent.
The value of exports of food, drinks, crude materials, chemicals, machinery and vehicles and other manufactured goods rose between 9 and 11 percent year-on-year.
The euro zone's trade gap with China jumped to 70 billion euros in the January-August period against 55.9 billion a year before, but the trade deficit with Russia fell to 20.1 billion from 32.6 billion.
The trade gap with Japan remained relatively unchanged at 15.4 billion euros.