German consumer morale brightened more than expected heading into March as shoppers in Europe's largest economy became more upbeat that a lockdown to contain the COVID-19 pandemic could be eased soon, a survey showed on Thursday.
The GfK research institute said its consumer sentiment index, based on a survey of around 2,000 Germans, improved to -12.9 points from a revised -15.5 in February.
The reading marked the first monthly increase since October and beat a Reuters forecast for -14.3.
The infection rate in Germany fell steadily in the first weeks of the year but has stagnated in recent days, and worries over more transmissible variants of the virus persist, making it more difficult for leaders to ease restrictions.
Chancellor Angela Merkel and state leaders are expected to meet on 3 March to discuss a gradual easing of lockdown measures that are currently in place until at least 7 March.
Restaurants, bars and entertainment venues have been shut since early November. A stricter lockdown from mid-December forced non-essential shops, services and schools to close.
Factories and offices have remained open.
GfK researcher Rolf Buerkl said consumer morale had somewhat recovered from the shock suffered following the decision to tighten lockdown measures in mid-December.
"The recent dip in infection rates and the launch of the vaccination program are fuelling hopes of a speedy easing of measures," Buerkl added.
But a sustained recovery in consumer sentiment will only be on the cards if lockdown measures are really lifted, allowing shops, hotels and restaurants to open again, he said.
If the measures are extended beyond 7 March, the chances of a rapid recovery will diminish, and difficult times will continue to lie ahead for consumers, Buerkl said.