German growth slowed more than expected in the first quarter of 2015 as foreign trade weighed on Europe's largest economy. 

The German economy grew by 0.3% on the quarter between January and March after pulling off a 0.7% expansion in the final three months of 2014, preliminary data from the Federal Statistics Office showed today. 

That was below the consensus forecast in a Reuters poll for 0.5% growth and was far weaker than in neighbouring France, where the economy expanded by 0.6% on the quarter, its strongest rate in two years. 

Economists said that weak global trade is hitting German industry - an export heavyweight - and if the consumers start refraining from spending too, overall economic growth will decline rapidly. 

The German statistics office, Destatis, said public and private consumption, as well as investment in construction and equipment, had contributed positively to growth. 

Trade was a drag as imports rose more sharply than exports. 

While Germany has been an export-oriented economy for much of the past decade, household spending is now the main growth driver as weakness in euro zone trading partners and international crises dampen foreign demand for German goods and services. 

Unadjusted data showed the economy expanded by 1.1% on the year in early 2015, missing the Reuters consensus forecast for 1.2% growth. 

In 2014 the German economy expanded by 1.6% and it is widely expected to fare better this year. 

Last month Berlin raised its forecasts for German economic growth to 1.8% for this year and next as it took heart from rising employment, higher wages, cheap oil and the weak euro. 

On a 12-month comparison, GDP grew by 1.1% in the three months from January to March compared with the same three months a year earlier, Destatis said. 

The statistics office said it would publish a more detail breakdown of the different GDP components on May 22.