Brazil’s industrial production plummets 18.8% in April

Brazil’s industrial production nosedived by 18.8 percent in April from the month before as the coronavirus pandemic shut down Latin America’s largest economy, official figures released Wednesday show.

It was a 27.2 percent drop compared to April 2019, the deepest decline since 2002 when the official statistics agency IBGE began tracking industrial production.

“There were double-digit declines of historic proportions in all economic categories and 22 of the 26 activities monitored,” IBGE official Andre Macedo said in the report.

Brazil, which has emerged as one of the countries hit hardest by the pandemic, is facing a painful recession this year as a result.

The economy shrank 1.5 percent in the first quarter of 2020.

The government is forecasting a contraction of 4.7 percent for the year, but many economists predict the decline will be even worse, setting a new annual record.

The hardest hit industry is the automotive sector, which has ground to a virtual halt. Its output shrank by 92.1 percent year-on-year, according to the report.

“The numbers are terrible, and the short-term outlook is dismal,” financial consultancy Pantheon Macroeconomics wrote in a note.

It predicted another double-digit decline in industrial output in May, “despite attempts to reopen some sectors.”

Industrial output had already shrunk by 9.1 percent from February to March, as the effects of coronavirus stay-at-home measures began to be felt.

Unemployment has meanwhile risen sharply: 4.9 million jobs were lost from February to April, bringing the unemployment rate to 12.6 percent, IBGE said last week.

Economists are predicting the rate will hit 18 percent by the end of the year.

Brazil’s death toll from the new coronavirus passed the 30,000 mark Tuesday to hit 31,199, with more than 555,000 confirmed infections.

That is the second-highest caseload in the world, after the United States.

Experts say under-testing means the real figures are probably much higher.

President Jair Bolsonaro has fiercely criticized coronavirus isolation measures, even as the number of infections and deaths continues to soar in Brazil.

The far-right leader has urged businesses to wage “war” on state governors who declare stay-at-homes, saying the “treatment can’t be worse than the disease.”