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German factory orders plunge in March as shutdowns hit

Cars and trucks are driven on a relatively empty highway in Frankfurt, Germany, Wednesday, May 6, 2020. Due to the coronavirus a lot less traffic is seen during the day. (AP Photo/Michael Probst)
Cars and trucks are driven on a relatively empty highway in Frankfurt, Germany, Wednesday, May 6, 2020. Due to the coronavirus a lot less traffic is seen during the day. (AP Photo/Michael Probst) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

BERLIN – German factory orders plunged by 15.6% in March compared with the previous month as countries around Europe and beyond started shutting down public life and businesses, official data showed Wednesday.

Demand from both domestic and foreign customers for goods made in Europe's biggest economy plummeted by a similar amount, the Economy Ministry said. Orders from inside Germany were off 14.8%; demand from elsewhere in the 19-nation eurozone dropped 17.9%; and orders from other countries fell 15%.

There was a particularly steep drop in orders for investment goods such as factory machinery, which were down 22.6%.

March was the month in which the coronavirus pandemic hit Europe, with first Italy and then other countries imposing sweeping restrictions on public life and businesses. Germany itself started shutting down in mid-March. It never ordered factories closed, but companies did stop production in some areas — such as the automaking sector — and supply chains were disrupted.

Data for January and February were relatively healthy, so orders dropped only 2.7% in the first quarter compared with last year's fourth quarter, the Economy Ministry said.

Germany is now in the process of gradually loosening restrictions imposed in March, as are many other European countries, but the economic impact is expected to be deep.