Exports rose 1.5 percent from November, to 112.3 billion euros ($127.3 billion), while imports rose 1.2 percent to 92.9 billion euros, adjusted for seasonal and calendar factors, the Federal Statistical Office said. That widened Germany's trade surplus to 19.4 billion euros from November's 18.9 billion euros.
Economists had predicted a 0.4 percent rise in exports and a 0.5 percent rise in imports. For the full year, German exports rose 3 percent from 2017 to 1.32 trillion euros and imports rose 5.7 percent to 1.09 trillion euros.
The year-on-year gain in exports was led by a 4.5 percent rise in demand from other countries in the 19-nation eurozone. Exports to countries outside the European Union were up 1.9 percent. The gain in imports was more greater, with those from the eurozone rising 6.9 percent and those from outside the EU climbing 5 percent.
ING economist Carsten Brzeski called the figures a "welcome sign of life." They followed disappointing data this week on factory orders and industrial production in December. Economic growth has been held back in recent months by automakers' troubles getting vehicles certified under new, tougher emissions tests. At the same time, new import taxes imposed by the U.S. and China are weighing on prospects for global trade — hurting the outlook for major exporter Germany.
Last week, the government slashed its 2019 economic growth forecast from 1.8 percent to 1 percent. Germany's economy grew 1.5 percent last year and 2.2 percent in 2017.