TOKYO – Japan’s exports sank 11.7% in March as the coronavirus pandemic slammed auto shipments to the U.S. and China, generally its two biggest markets.
The Finance Ministry said Monday that exports to the U.S. fell 16.5% in March from a year earlier, while those to China declined 8.7%.
Trade has stalled recently due to travel restrictions and shutdowns aimed at curbing the outbreak of the coronavirus. The outlook is grim, with the International Monetary Fund forecasting the world economy is heading into its worst slowdown since the 1930s’ Great Depression.
Japan’s overall imports in March also suffered, sinking 5.0%, according to the provisional figures that aren’t seasonally adjusted.
The economy of China, Japan's major trading partner, is undergoing its worst contraction, at least since the 1960s, according to Beijing.
Yoshimasa Maruyama, chief economist for SMBC Nikko Securities, lowered his projections for the Japanese economy, saying he expects it contracted at a 21% annual pace in the first quarter.
An earlier forecast called for a 14% contraction. But a government stay-at-home request issued earlier this month has decimated consumer spending, Maruyama said in a report Monday.
The government has requested a stop to non-essential travel and urged many businesses to close nationwide in an effort to stem the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19.
Deaths from the coronavirus total about 250 people in Japan, according to Johns Hopkins University. But cases have been surging lately, mostly in Tokyo and other urban areas.
The sickness is critical in a minority of the cases, but people can also be infected for days until symptoms appear, or have no symptoms at all. That has contributed to people unwittingly spreading the virus, for which there is not yet any vaccine or cure.
Yuri Kageyama is on Twitter https://twitter.com/yurikageyama