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Export growth fails to spark confidence

German consumer spending remains lacklustre, so it's as well that the federal republic's exports are maintaining healthy growth. But what if foreigners start buying less and Germans fail to regain confidence?

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IT'S SATURDAY IN Berlin and the streets are thronged with people trying to pack their shopping into the half day German law allows stores to open at the weekend. But the women manning the counters in KarstadtQuelle, Germany's biggest retailer, have not been that busy recently.

Much of the consumer activity seems to be little more than window-shopping. Marina Schultz is browsing in the shop and checking prices carefully. "I need a new toaster. These are not bad, but I want to check to see if I can't find a better deal first," says the 29-year-old student.

Consumers have plenty of money and German savings rates of 10.9% of income are among the highest in Europe. The problem is that like Schultz they are not spending it.

"I'm doing OK," she says trailing through another department, "but I finish my studies next year and I am not sure what I will do then. There are no jobs for graduates."

Official unemployment just topped the 5 million mark in January, 12.1% of the population, the highest level since World War II (although much of the increase from previous figures of 4 million is the result of a reform in the way the jobless are counted).

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