Japan's exports in November fell from a year earlier for the 24th month, marking the longest streak of decline on record as the impact of the novel coronavirus pandemic on overseas demand continued, government data showed Wednesday.
Exports in the reporting month dropped 4.2 percent to 6.11 trillion yen ($59 billion), with shipments of diesel oil to Australia and cars to Europe and the Middle East remaining sluggish, the Finance Ministry said in a preliminary report.
The pace of year-on-year decline in exports accelerated from 0.2 percent in October, with a recent resurgence in the number of global virus infections further clouding the outlook.
The longest stretch of decrease since comparable data became available in January 1979 was also caused by adverse effects on Japan's exports from U.S.-China trade tensions, officials said.
The previous record was 23 months of consecutive falls in exports through July 1987, when Japan faced fierce trade friction with the United States amid Tokyo's rise as an economic power, with the yen appreciating against the U.S. dollar following the 1985 Plaza Accord, they said.
Exports of cars and auto parts shrank 3.0 percent and 2.9 percent, respectively, compared to the 3.0 percent and 4.0 percent increases in the previous month.
"A combination of factors is considered to have caused the decline in exports," a ministry official told a press briefing, citing news reports of a shipping-rate hike due partly to the reduced number of flights amid the pandemic causing increased demand for sea transport.
In November, imports slid 11.1 percent to 5.75 trillion yen, down for the 19th straight month on falling prices for crude oil imports from producers such as the United Arab Emirates. But the pace of decrease was slower than the 13.3 percent logged in October.
The goods trade surplus stood at 366.77 billion yen in the reporting month, down from the 871.69 billion yen recorded in October but remaining in the black for the fifth straight month.
By country, exports to the United States dipped 2.5 percent to 1.18 trillion yen, the first drop in three months, despite a 6.6 percent rise in car shipments to Japan's second-largest trading partner. Imports also declined 13.9 percent to 593.05 billion yen.
Exports to China, Japan's largest trading partner, rose 3.8 percent to 1.36 trillion yen, a smaller increase than the 10.2 percent growth in October. Imports grew 6.7 percent to 1.68 trillion yen.
"Boosted by the so-called pent-up demand resulting from city lockdowns overseas in spring, Japan's exports have recovered significantly so far, but the latest outcomes show they have begun to lose momentum," said Taro Saito, executive research fellow at the NLI Research Institute.
Saito forecast that the decelerating trend of Japanese product shipments will become clearer from December.
As for the impact of recent resurgences of COVID-19 cases across the world, Saito said it has yet to appear on the statistics "because most countries did not implement large-scale economic restrictions in November."
Japan's exports had posted double-digit slumps between March and August as global demand was dampened by the pandemic.
Exports served as a driving force when the world's third-largest economy grew an annualized real 22.9 percent in the July-September period from the previous quarter, the fastest expansion in 40 years after it shrank 29.2 percent in the April-June quarter due to the government's state of emergency declaration over the virus in April.
The emergency declaration was fully lifted in late May.
All figures were compiled on a customs-cleared basis.