• Kyodo

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Industrial output fell 2.1% in February from the previous month as a strong earthquake that struck northeastern Japan disrupted parts supplies for major automakers, reducing their production, government data showed Wednesday.

The seasonally adjusted index of production at factories and mines stood at 95.7 against the 2015 base of 100, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry said in a preliminary report. The result followed an upwardly revised 4.3% rise in January.

The auto sector led the decline, falling 8.8% from the previous month in the wake of the Feb. 13 earthquake. Automakers were also forced to cut production due to a global chip shortage, according to the ministry.

Makers of electrical machinery and information and communication electronics equipment saw a 2.9% decrease following a 7.6% boost in output in January, it said.

Despite the fall, the ministry maintained its assessment of industrial output, saying it is “picking up.”

“Overall, the recovery trend in output is continuing,” a ministry official said, adding that the earthquake was a one-off factor.

The ministry expects production to rise in the January-March period for the third straight quarterly increase.

Based on a poll of manufacturers, the ministry expects output to fall 1.9% in March and jump 9.3% in April.

But the ministry cautioned that the surveys, conducted by March 10, do not factor in developments in the COVID-19 pandemic that occurred later in the month, such as a resurgence of infections in areas where the government’s state of emergency was lifted.

The polls were also conducted before the March 19 fire at a plant of major chipmaker Renesas Electronics Corp., which fueled concerns amid the global supply crunch of semiconductors — especially those for vehicles.

Renesas said Tuesday that full-scale semiconductor production at the fire-hit plant might only resume in June. “The fire could pose a downside risk to production,” the official said.

In February, the index of industrial shipments decreased 1.5% to 94.4 while that of inventories fell 1.0% to 94.3.

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