In what may be both good and bad news for the ECB, German inflation jumped more than expected in December, hitting the highest level in more than three years, according to preliminary data. German consumer prices, harmonized with other European countries (HICP), rose by 1.7% on the year, more than double the November increase of 0.7%, the German Federal Statistics Office said.
This was the highest annual inflation rate since July 2013 and stronger than the consensus forecast of 1.5%; it was just shy of the ECB's inflation target of 2.0%
On a non-harmonized basis, German annual inflation picked up to 1.7 percent after 0.8 percent in November; prices rose 0.7% on the month, also higher than the 0.6% expected by consensus.
Rising energy prices and higher food costs were the strongest drivers behind the overall increase, a breakdown of the non-harmonized data showed. The surge in energy prices will only lead to more inflationary pressure now that the lowest prices of 2016 have been "anniversaried."
"These are really strong inflation figures," DZ Bank economist Michael Holstein said, adding that negative base effects of past oil price drops were now fading out. Therefore, German inflation is likely to reach the ECB's target of nearly 2 percent in the coming months, he said.
The data means that the wider euro zone figure, due on Wednesday, will probably come in stronger than expected as well.
A strong recovery in German inflation would give conservatives like Bundesbank's President and ECB rate-setter Jens Weidmann more scope to argue for winding down the ECB's bond-buying program more quickly, Reuters notes. For Mario Draghi it will be good news in the he can claim victory over deflation; on the other hand it will mean an even faster arrival of more tapering and potentially rate hikes, a process which would likely lead to the next deflationary slide following a spike in bond yields which price out ECB bond market intervention.
Still, price pressures elsewhere in the euro zone remain more muted than in Germany, she added, pointing to French annual HICP inflation only creeping up to 0.8 percent in December after 0.7 percent in November. "Accordingly... we doubt that this will lead the ECB to reconsider its policy support," McKeown said.
Meanwhile, while rising prices may be good news for the ECB from a pan-euro zone perspective, they do not necessarily bode well for the German economy. It has been relying on private consumption, a booming construction sector and government spending for growth.
"Indeed, a temporary energy-related rise in inflation this year will dent real incomes growth, which is a key reason why we expect the economic recovery to slow," McKeown said.
The German government expects the economy to have grown by 1.8 percent in 2016 and predicts growth to slow to 1.4 percent this year, mainly due to fewer workdays and weaker exports. Still, economists expect Germany's labor market to remain robust in 2017.
In other news, the Federal Labour Office said on Tuesday that unemployment fell more than expected in December, keeping the jobless rate at a record low. "The strong increase in employment that has been going on for a long time slowed since the summer months, but demand for new workers remains at a high level," said Frank-Juergen Weise, head of the Federal Labour Office. The seasonally adjusted jobless total fell by 17,000 to 2.638 million, the Labour Office said. That was more than three fold the 5,000 consensus forecast.
The adjusted unemployment rate remained at 6.0 percent, the lowest level since German reunification in 1990. In 2016 as a whole, a record 43.4 million people were employed in Germany - 1 percent more than in 2015 and the tenth consecutive year that the workforce expanded.
"Job creation should continue this year," said Joerg Zeuner of KfW bank. "The expected rise in unemployment due to immigrants has so far not materialized."