The contraction followed a revised fourth-quarter drop of 14.4 percent, the Cabinet Office said today in Tokyo. Gross domestic product fell 3.5 percent in the year ended March 31, the most since records began in 1955, confirming that the recession is Japan’s worst in the postwar era.
Exports plunged an unprecedented 26 percent last quarter, forcing companies from Toyota Motor Corp. to Hitachi Ltd. to cut production, workers and wages. Stocks have gained 32 percent since reaching 26-year low in March on speculation worldwide interest-rate reductions and spending by governments will halt the slide in the world’s second-largest economy.
The first-quarter contraction was the most severe since records started 54 years ago.
GDP fell 4 percent on a non-annualized basis, more than double the U.S.’s 1.6 percent slide. It’s also worse than Europe’s record 2.5 percent contraction. Without adjusting for price changes, Japan shrank 2.9 percent last quarter.
Weaker domestic demand was the biggest contributor to the decline, shaving 2.6 percentage points off GDP, the most since 1974. Net exports -- the difference between exports and imports -- was responsible for 1.4 percentage points of the drop.
Consumer spending slid 1.1 percent and business investment plunged a record 10.4 percent. Economists say companies will keep cutting spending because the decline in demand has left factories and workers underused.
Consumer confidence climbed to a 10-month high in April. Exports increased in March from a month earlier, and factory output rose for the first time since September.
Falling inventories accounted for 0.3 percentage point of last quarter’s contraction. Companies including Honda Motor Corp. have cut stockpiles at a quicker rate than sales have declined, giving them room to increase production.
The automaker plans to boost output in Japan this quarter as dealerships clear inventories, the Wall Street Journal reported last week. Honda Executive Vice President Koichi Kondo said last month that the worst for the U.S. is probably over.
Still, the failure of export demand to do better than simply stabilize will probably limit the scope of Japan’s recovery. Toyota, Hitachi, and Panasonic Corp. all forecast continued losses in the current business year. Panasonic said last week it plans to close about 20 factories this year and proceed with the 15,000 job cuts announced in February.