Exports fell 26.7 percent from a year earlier, the Finance Ministry said today in Tokyo.
Shipments to the U.S. slid an unprecedented 34 percent and sales to China slumped the most in 13 years, underscoring why the Bank of Japan lowered its key interest rate to 0.1 percent last week. Exports to Europe slid 31 percent, the second-most ever. The yen’s surge to a 13-year high is amplifying the woes of exporters including Toyota Motor Corp., which may announce a lower earnings forecast at a press briefing today.
The government today lowered its assessment of the world’s second-largest economy, saying it’s worsening” for the first time since 2002. Gross domestic product shrank in the past two quarters, sending Japan into its first recession since 2001.
Toyota, Honda Motor Co. and Sony Corp. are among the companies that are shedding thousands of workers and closing production lines as profits dwindle. Car exports slid 32 percent last month, the most ever, and semiconductors slumped 29 percent, the ministry said.
Today’s report showed the global recession is spreading to the emerging markets that propped up exports as demand from the U.S. and Europe evaporated. Exports to Asia fell 27 percent, the most in 22 years. Shipments to China, Japan’s largest trading partner, tumbled 25 percent, the steepest decline since 1995.
Imports fell 14.4 percent, the first decline in 14 months, as oil costs eased and the yen gained. That wasn’t enough to prevent a trade deficit of 223.4 billion yen ($2.5 billion), the third shortfall in four months.
The yen strengthened 25 percent against the dollar this year as the global financial crisis prompted investors to sell riskier assets purchased with money borrowed in the currency.
Honda President Takeo Fukui said last week that the carmaker may shift more manufacturing overseas if the yen strengthens further and urged government action to halt its ascent. Every 1 yen gain against the dollar cuts Honda’s annual operating profit by 18 billion yen, according to the company.
Finance Minister Shoichi Nakagawa said last week that he has the means” to sell yen to stem its appreciation. Japan hasn’t intervened in the foreign-exchange market since 2004.
Companies are also struggling to obtain funding as the market turmoil dissuades investors from buying corporate debt. To help businesses get financing, the Bank of Japan last week decided to buy commercial paper for the first time.
Sales at home are unlikely to make up for the collapse in demand from abroad. Households, whose confidence is at a record low, pared spending in each of the eight months to October as wage growth stagnated and job prospects worsened.
The Finance Ministry last week submitted an extra budget for the year ending March that includes 2 trillion yen in cash handouts for households as Prime Minister Taro Aso tries to spur spending. That may be too little, too late, economists say.