TOKYO – Japanese exports plunged 35 percent in December, marking a third straight month of decline, the Finance Ministry said Thursday, underscoring the drop in global demand for automobiles, electronics parts and other products.
Japan's trade deficit came to 320.7 billion yen ($3.60 billion) in December, staying in the red for the third straight month, the ministry said. It was also the fifth time Japan's imports exceeded its exports during 2008, with the country also posting trade deficits last January, August, October and November.
Exports totaled 4.83 trillion yen ($54.27 billion), while imports fell 21.5 percent to 5.15 trillion yen ($57.87 billion), the ministry said.
Japan's trade surplus shrank 80 percent in 2008 when compared to the previous year to 2.16 trillion yen ($24.27 trillion), as exports dropped 3.4 percent and imports grew 7.9 percent, the ministry said.
Economists have warned that exports — a mainstay of the world's second-largest economy — would tumble further if the global economy remains bleak.
Battered by plunging global demand and a strengthening yen, major exporters such as Toyota Motor Corp. and Sony Corp. have scaled back production, jobs and earnings projections.
Japan, which had for years faced criticism by its trading partners, especially the US, over its trade surplus, has turned into a net importer in recent months amid the global crisis.
Exports to the United States., the world's largest economy, tumbled by a record 36.9 percent in December, marking the 16th consecutive year-on-year decline. Vehicle shipments to the US plummeted by more than 50 percent in the month, while exports of automotive parts declined 41.8 percent and those of audio equipment fell 60.9 percent.
Japan's exports to Europe tumbled by 41.8 percent, with vehicle shipment to the region plunging by 63.4 percent, the ministry said.
Japanese exports to the rest of Asia fell by 36.4 percent as semiconductor shipments declined by 40 percent. Japan's exports to China alone fell 35.5 percent.
Exports have also shrunk as the yen appreciated against the dollar and other key currencies. That means overseas sales in dollars and euros translates into fewer yen.