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German investor morale drops unexpectedly in February

Clemens Fuest, Co-Director of the Centre for European Economic Research (ZEW) speaks during an interview with Reuters in Frankfurt February
Clemens Fuest, Co-Director of the Centre for European Economic Research (ZEW) speaks during an interview with Reuters in Frankfurt February

By Sakari Suoninen and Eva Taylor

MANNHEIM, Germany (Reuters) - German analyst and investor sentiment fell in February due to concerns that the economic upturn in the United States could lose steam and worries about emerging market economies' prospects in the medium-term, a survey showed on Tuesday.

The Mannheim-based ZEW economic think tank's monthly poll of economic sentiment dropped to 55.7 from 61.7 in January, falling well short of the consensus forecast in a Reuters poll of analysts for it to hold steady. It was the lowest reading since November.

But ZEW President Clemens Fuest said the drop "must not be overstated" given that the majority of survey participants were still upbeat and economists also warned against reading too much into the index's drop.

"Although the ZEW index has a good track record of predicting economic turning points, the latest decline does not point to a change in direction of the economic trajectory yet," said Christian Schulz, senior economist at Berenberg Bank.

"The negative factors should remain temporary. The balanced retreat of optimism across regions shows that emerging market turbulences in January hurt optimism," he added.

Reasons for the decline included uncertainty caused by recent U.S. unemployment data and concern about the prospects for China, said ZEW. Another factor was a decision by Germany's Constitutional Court to refer the European Central Bank's bond-buying program to the European Court of Justice, it said.

Investors' assessment of current conditions was, however, a bright spot in the survey, with a separate gauge measuring this increasing to 50.0 points from 41.2 in January and beating the consensus forecast in a Reuters poll for a reading of 44.0.

Other recent sentiment indicators have painted a rosy picture of the German economy, with consumers feeling their most upbeat in more than six years and business morale rising.

But some economists have warned that the German economy is not performing as well as such surveys would suggest and recent hard data has been somewhat subdued, with exports, industrial output and orders all falling in December.

The German economy, a growth locomotive in the early years of the euro crisis, has slowed in the last two years as exports weakened and some firms delayed investments but the government expects it to grow by 1.8 percent this year - more than four times as strongly as in 2013 thanks to domestic demand.

The ZEW survey showed investors were more pessimistic about the outlook for the euro zone.

The index was based on a survey of 251 analysts and investors and was conducted between February 3 and Feb 17, ZEW said.

(Writing by Michelle Martin; Editing by Madeline Chambers)

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