Exports fell 12.5 percent year-on-year — the biggest drop in 18 months — to 5.16 trillion yen ($62.8 billion), the finance ministry said Wednesday. Imports rose 8.9 percent to 5.62 trillion yen, resulting in a trade deficit for the first time in three months.
“Exports fell sharply as Japanese manufacturers simply could not produce goods due to severe supply shortages following the earthquake,” said Hiroshi Watanabe, an economist at the Daiwa Institute of Research.
The ministry said it was the first time in 31 years that Japan posted a trade deficit for the month of April.
The Nikkei 225 stock average fell 0.6 percent to 9,424.83.
Among Japanese exports, auto shipments took a beating, dropping a staggering 67 percent in April. Exports of semiconductors fell 19 percent.
The earthquake and tsunami killed more than 24,000 people and destroyed hundreds of factories in Japan’s coastal northeast, forcing manufacturers such as Toyota Motor Corp. and Sony Corp. to suspend production.
Toyota said the disaster will cost it production of 550,000 vehicles in Japan, and another 350,000 overseas by the end of May. Honda Motor Co. said it has suffered a production loss of 58,500 vehicles in Japan due to the earthquake.
U.S.-bound auto shipments nose-dived 73.5 percent in April, and Japan’s auto exports to China plunged 69.2 percent, the ministry said. Japanese auto exports dropped 69.9 percent in the month.
Faced with tumbling factory output and exports in the wake of the March disaster, the government said last week that Japan’s economy shrank at an annualized rate of 3.7 percent in the January-March period.
That was the second straight quarter of GDP contraction, sending the world’s No. 3 economy back into recession.
Bank of America Merrill Lynch said in a report that the Japanese economy would be constrained by shortages of electricity and manufacturing parts for two more quarters but begin to recover strongly from the final quarter of 2011.
Among regions, Japan’s exports to the United States tumbled 23.3 percent, and Asia-bound shipments declined 6.6 percent in April.
Exports to China — Japan’s biggest trading partner — fell 6.8 percent, marking the first year-on-year decline in 18 months. Exports to the European Union were down 10.7 percent, the first fall in three months.