* Lowest-ever shipment level for July, exports plunge 52 pct
* Shipments to power companies down 21.6 pct (Adds detail)
TOKYO Aug 19 (Reuters) – Japanese copper wire and cable shipments fell 7.5 percent from a year earlier in July to the lowest on record for the month as exports halved and domestic demand shrank 5.4 percent, an industry body said on Friday.
July shipments totaled an estimated 55,100 tonnes, data from the Japanese Electric Wire and Cable Makers’ Association showed, down from revised June shipments of 56,723 tonnes.
Demand for copper, used in a wide range of products from utensils and construction materials to computer chips, is often seen as a gauge of economic activity.
“Exports plunged, while domestic demand remained weak,” an industry official said, adding that it was hard to predict future trends.
Exports of copper wire and cable plunged 51.7 percent to 1,300 tonnes during the month in the wake of a slowdown in demand in China, the world’s biggest consumer, and the strong yen, now hovering near a record high against the U.S. dollar.
Domestic demand also stayed weak, with shipments for electric power companies falling 21.6 percent to 4,900 tonnes and those for the auto sector declining 11.5 percent to 5,800 tonnes.
Wire and cable shipments for the construction sector, which accounts for more than 40 percent of domestic demand, slipped 3.5 percent, their first year-on-year fall in 12 months.
Japan’s business mood improved in August and is expected to brighten further as manufacturers restore output to pre-disaster levels, a Reuters poll showed, but a rising yen and slackening foreign demand have started taking their toll on exports.
Companies in the Reuters Tankan survey expressed growing concern about the currency’s rise while trade data showed recovery in exports slowed markedly in July when the yen soared against a weakening dollar.
Japan’s gross domestic product fell 0.3 percent in the April-June quarter after the earthquake in March, less than a median forecast for a 0.7 percent contraction and a 0.9 percent decline in January-March.
(Reporting by Yuko Inoue; Editing by Joseph Radford)