The German labour market remains surprisingly resilient to the eurozone debt crisis, with unemployment in Europe's top economy falling to a four-month low, data showed on Thursday.
On the face of it, headline unemployment rose sharply in January, with the jobless rate jumping to 7.4 percent in raw or unadjusted terms from 6.7 percent in December, according to monthly data compiled by the Federal Labour Office.
And the unadjusted jobless total was up by more than 298,000 to 3.138 million, its highest level since March 2011.
But the increase was solely due to seasonal factors, such as the cold winter weather, and the underlying trend was positive, agency chief Frank-Juergen Weise insisted.
"The unfavourable economic conditions haven't left much of a mark on the labour market. The latest rise in unemployment is purely due to seasonal factors," Weise said.
The seasonally-adjusted jobless rate -- which irons out seasonal fluctuations -- slipped to 6.8 percent from 6.9 percent.
Unemployment in Germany has never been lower than 6.8 percent since reunification in 1990 and the rate was stable at that level for most of last year.
In concrete terms, the jobless total fell by 16,000 to 2.916 million -- its lowest level in four months -- on a seasonally-adjusted basis, much better than analysts' forecasts for an increase of as many as 10,000.
"The labour market is in fundamentally good shape and is reacting robustly to the difficult economic environment," Weise said.
Natixis economist Constantin Wirschke calculated that the drop in the adjusted jobless total was the first since April 2012.
But the favourable January figures were unlikely to be repeated in the coming months, Wirschke cautioned.
"We expect unemployment to rise slightly in the next couple of months and to stabilise thereafter. For the whole of 2013, we're predicting that the unemployment rate will hover near the historically low level currently seen in Germany," he said.
ING Belgium economist Carsten Brzeski said that joblessness varied from sector to sector.
In the export industries, for example, unemployment has started to increase as companies revise down their recruitment plans significantly.
"At the same time, companies operating in domestic sectors, such as the construction sector and health services, still have a strong demand for labour," he said.
This effect could be magnified in the coming months. But "on balance... it looks as if total unemployment should remain relatively stable throughout 2013," he said.
"Today's numbers confirm that the German job miracle has lost some of its magic. However, even without being miraculous, the labour market should remain growth-supportive," he concluded.
Newedge Strategy analyst Annlisa Piazza said she did not expecte companies to "reduce their labour force near term and the unemployment rate is expected to stabilise at the current level."
Heinrich Bayer at Postbank Research said that "at the moment, it seems nothing can faze the German labour market, neither sovereign debt crisis, nor economic slowdown.
"But it's still too early to sound the all-clear, as the labour market is traditionally a lagging indicator," Bayer warned. "The traditional pick-up in the labour market could come out weaker than usual."