Oct 8, 5:46 AM EDT

German economic think-tanks lower 2015 growth forecast

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BERLIN (AP) -- A group of German economic think-tanks lowered their 2015 growth forecast for the country's economy on Thursday, pointing to sluggish global expansion.

The group of four institutes said they expect Europe's biggest economy to grow by 1.8 percent this year - down from the 2.1 percent prediction in April. They left their forecast for 2016 unchanged at 1.8 percent.

Despite the downgrade, Germany's economy is set to grow faster this year than the 1.6 percent it recorded last year. Growth is being driven by private consumption and a gradual pickup in investment, the institutes said.

The export outlook is less upbeat, though, and for an economy hugely reliant on selling its goods and services abroad that is a problem.

The institutes said exports will gain only slightly this year and next as a result of the "moderate expansion of the global economy" and the gradual ebbing of the effect of a cheaper euro - the fall in Europe's single currency over the past year or so has been a potential boon to German exports.

Germany's unemployment rate should drop from an average 6.7 percent in 2014 to 6.4 percent this year, before ticking up to 6.5 percent next year as a result of asylum seekers who have arrived in recent months seeking jobs, the think-tanks said.

Ahead of the group's forecast, official figures Thursday showed that German exports dropped 5.2 percent in August from the month before. Despite the decline, the Federal Statistical Office said exports were 5 percent higher than a year earlier.

The agency said imports fell a monthly 3.1 percent and that as a result Germany's trade surplus narrowed to 19.6 billion euros ($22.1 billion euros) from 22.8 billion euros. The figures follow disappointing August factory orders and industrial production figures.

ING-DiBa economist Carsten Brzeski said there was "no reason to panic" and pointed to large export and industrial production declines in the same month last year as a result of the timing of summer vacations. The German economy "should rebound" in September, he said.

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