FRANKFURT -- Falling domestic orders hurt the Germany's key mechanical engineering sector in March, despite stable exports, the industry federation said on Thursday.

Incoming orders declined by 4% in March compared with the same month in 2012, the VDMA association said, with domestic orders falling by 1%, while export orders edged up 1%.

The data provides a snapshot of activity in a crucial sector of Europe's biggest economy.

"Domestic orders in particular were disappointing. And only big-ticket orders from outside the euro area prevented a decline in exports orders as well," said VDMA chief economist Ralph Wiechers.

"Overall, the data depict widespread uncertainty over the economy, as already seen in various leading indicators," Wiechers said.

Taking a three-month comparison to iron out short-term fluctuations, overall orders declined by 2.0 percent in the period from January to March, with foreign orders stagnating, while domestic orders declined by 7%, VDMA calculated.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2013