• Kyodo

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Japan’s industrial output fell 9.5% from the previous year in fiscal 2020, to the lowest level since comparable data became available in fiscal 2013, with a broad range of sectors hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, government data showed Friday.

The country’s output in March, however, rose 2.2% from the previous month, buoyed by a recovery from production disrupted by a major earthquake in February and firm demand for autos and chemical products, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry said in a preliminary report.

In the year through March, the seasonally adjusted index of production at factories and mines stood at 90.4 against the 2015 base of 100, down for the second consecutive year.

Output of autos as well as oil and coal products both fell by 16.7% in the business year due to the initial shock of the pandemic, which pushed down global demand and disrupted supply chains.

In March, the index rose to 97.7, following an upwardly revised 1.3% fall in February.

Production has nearly returned to levels seen before the spread of the novel coronavirus, a ministry official said, but noted downside risks going forward due to the recent resurgence of infections in Japan and abroad, as well as a global shortage of semiconductors.

The ministry maintained its assessment of the data, saying output at factories and mines “is picking up.”

In the reporting month, auto production increased 7.5% from the previous month and output of chemical products such as ethylene, polyethylene and synthetic rubber grew 6.5%.

The rise in auto output reflected a recovery in production lines hit hard by a magnitude-7.3 quake that struck northeastern Japan on Feb. 13, which disrupted parts supply for major carmakers.

The ministry official said a March 19 fire at a plant operated by Renesas Electronics Corp., a major supplier of semiconductors for auto use, had little impact on production.

Based on a poll of manufacturers, the ministry expects output to rise 8.4% in April from the previous month and decline 4.3% in May. “Production levels in April may exceed those before the spread of infections,” the official said.

In March, the index of industrial shipments increased 0.8% to 95.2 while that of inventories rose 0.1% to 94.5.

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