Germany's unemployment rate edged down to 7.3% in March even though a traditional springtime upturn was limited by unusually cold weather, official data showed today.

The unadjusted jobless rate was down from 7.4% in February, the Federal Labor Agency said.

The number of people registered as unemployed was 3.098 million - 58,000 fewer than the previous month, but 70,000 more than in March 2012.

Unemployment typically declines in the spring, but harsh weather that typically weighs on industries such as construction in winter has persisted for longer than usual. The labour agency pointed to that as a reason for the small-than-usual decline.

In seasonally adjusted terms the unemployment rate was steady at 6.9% for the sixth consecutive month, in line with economists' forecasts, and the number of people out of work rose by 13,000.

Despite contracting in the last quarter of 2012, the German economy, Europe's biggest, has remained robust over the past few years, while several other countries in the euro area have struggled.

That has bolstered the labour market; Germany's jobless rate contrasts with unemployment of more than 25% in Greece and Spain. That, in turn, has bolstered consumer confidence.

Separate data released today showed that retail sales were up 0.4% in February, in calendar and seasonally adjusted terms, compared with the previous month - defying economists' expectations of a fall. The rise followed a 3% increase in January.