Exports in April fell the most since the 2009 financial crisis as the coronavirus pandemic slammed demand for Japanese cars, industrial materials and other goods, likely pushing the world’s third-largest economy deeper into recession.
The ugly trade numbers come as policymakers seek to balance virus containment measures against the need to revive battered parts of the economy as the risk of a second wave of infections looms.
The Bank of Japan will hold an emergency meeting Friday to work out a way to encourage financial institutions to lend to smaller, struggling firms. Policymakers are also considering cash injections for companies of all sizes.
Finance Ministry data on Thursday showed exports fell 21.9 percent year on year for the month as U.S.-bound shipments slumped 37.8 percent, the fastest drop since 2009, with car exports plunging 65.8 percent.
The drop was the biggest since October 2009 during the global financial crisis but slightly less than the 22.7 percent drop projected by economists in a Reuters poll. Exports fell 11.7 percent in March.
“Reopening of trade with China led China-bound exports of electronics parts and imports of masks and PC, but trade with Europe, America and Southeast Asia remain shrunk,” said Takeshi Minami, chief economist at Norinchukin Research Institute.
“It’s still far from fully-fledged resumption of economic activity. As exports and imports remain stagnant for a prolonged period of time, global trade will remain contractionary for the time being,” he said.
Exports to China, Japan’s largest trading partner, fell 4.1 percent in the year to April, due to slumping demand for chemical materials, car parts and medicines.
Shipments to Asia, which account for more than half of Japanese exports, declined 11.4 percent, and exports to the European Union fell 28.0 percent.
Other trade-reliant economies in Asia also saw poor economic data Thursday. South Korea’s exports slumped by a fifth year on year in the first 20 days of this month.
Industry data released last week showed Japan’s machine tool orders in April fell to their lowest in more than a decade, a sign of deteriorating business spending.
Monday’s first-quarter GDP data have confirmed Japan slipped into recession for the first time in 4½ years, putting the nation on course for its deepest postwar slump as the pandemic ravages businesses and consumers. Underlining the broadening impact of the outbreak, first-quarter exports plunged the most since the devastating March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
A private-sector manufacturing survey on Thursday also showed the decline in factory activity accelerated this month as output and orders slumped.
The au Jibun Bank Flash Japan Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index slipped to a seasonally adjusted 38.4 from a final 41.9 in April, its lowest since March 2009.
Analysts warn of an even bleaker picture for the second quarter as consumption crumbled after the government in April requested citizens to stay home and businesses to close.