Shipments to the U.S., the country’s biggest market, tumbled an unprecedented 58.4 percent from a year earlier, the Finance Ministry said today in Tokyo. Automobile exports slid 70.9 percent.
The collapse signals gross domestic product may shrink this quarter at a similar pace to the annualized 12.1 percent contraction posted in the previous three months, the sharpest since 1974. Prime Minister Taro Aso is compiling his third stimulus package as companies from Toyota Motor Corp. to Panasonic Corp. fire thousands of workers.
Last month’s drop in exports was the sharpest since at least 1980, when the government started to keep comparable data. Economists predicted a 47.6 percent decline.
Toyota, forecasting its first net loss in 59 years, yesterday said overseas shipments plunged 69 percent in February.
Demand fell across all regions. Exports to Europe dropped a record 54.7 percent, shipments to Asia declined 46.3 percent and goods sent to China slumped 39.7 percent.
Imports fell a record 43 percent, helping Japan post its first trade surplus in five months. The 82.4 billion yen ($842 million) surplus was still 91.2 percent lower than the same month a year earlier.
Finance Minister Kaoru Yosano said on March 22 that a new stimulus package of as much as 20 trillion yen, double the amount pledged since October, is not out of line” as the world’s second-biggest economy heads for its worst recession since 1945. The spending would add to public debt already estimated at 170 percent of gross domestic product.
Japan has become more reliant on exports in the past decade, making it especially vulnerable to changes in global commerce, which the World Trade Organization forecasts will shrink 9 percent this year, the most since World War II. During Japan’s expansion of 2002 to 2007, exports as a portion of GDP rose to 15.6 percent from 10.4 percent.
Asia’s largest economy fared worse last month than its neighbors. Exports from South Korea fell 17.1 percent, about half the pace of the decline in the previous month. Taiwan’s shipments slid 28.6 percent after dropping a record 44.1 percent in January.
There are signs that China, Japan’s second-largest overseas market, is stabilizing. The World Bank said last week that government spending on roads, power grids and housing is working” to take up the slack left by plunging exports.