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Dismal car sales shred Japan's exports

JAPAN'S exports fell by nearly half in February from a year earlier - a record drop - the government said yesterday, dragged down by plunging auto shipments to the United States and Europe.

Exports tumbled 49.4 percent, the sharpest decline since the Japanese Ministry of Finance began compiling comparable data in 1980 but generally in line with economists' expectations.

Demand plunged in all regions of the world, particularly North America, Europe and Russia. The dismal figures highlight the grim outlook for Japan's export-oriented economy, the world's second-largest.

Japan, which had relied on foreign sales of its cars and gadgets to drive economic growth, now finds itself mired in its deepest recession since the end of World War II. The International Monetary Fund expects the economy to contract 5.8 percent in 2009, though economists say it could be far worse.

The slowdown has also sapped demand for imports, which fell 43 percent in February from a year earlier.

As a result, Japan posted its first trade surplus in five months, breaking a run of four straight months in the red. The surplus was 82.4 billion yen (US$841 million), down 91 percent from last year.

Exports to the rest of Asia retreated 46 percent, and exports to EU countries were down 55 percent.

Shipments of automobiles plummeted 64 percent, with those to the US down 71 percent. Overall exports to the US fell 58 percent.

Toyota Motor Corp said its global production plunged by nearly half in February from a year earlier. Honda Motor Corp reported a 43 percent drop, while Nissan Motor Co said its worldwide production fell 51 percent.


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