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The parking lot at the Ford assembly plant in Oakville, Ont., sits empty on March 18, 2020. Auto plants, along with many other manufacturing facilities, have been disrupted for weeks by the coronavirus pandemic.J.P. MOCZULSKI/The Globe and Mail

Canadian manufacturing activity tumbled to its weakest on record in April as the coronavirus outbreak moved some factories to halt production and new orders crumbled, data showed on Friday.

The IHS Markit Canada Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ index (PMI) fell to a seasonally adjusted 33.0 in April, the lowest in data going back to October 2010, from 46.1 in March. A reading below 50 shows contraction in the sector.

“Canadian manufacturers unsurprisingly recorded a survey-record drop in output during April as the COVID-19 pandemic led to either complete factory shutdowns or reduced production schedules, alongside rapidly shrinking customer demand,” said Tim Moore, economics director at IHS Markit.

Survey-record declines were seen for the output index, which slumped to 22.6 from 41.2 in March, and the measure of new orders, which was down to 23.9 from 41.0.

The plunge in new orders reflected a rapid decline in sales to both domestic and export clients, while manufacturers often commented on severe reductions in sales to clients in the automotive and energy sectors, IHS Markit said.

Some Canadian oil companies have been cutting production due to the crash in crude prices.

To support the economy, the Bank of Canada has slashed interest rates to nearly zero and has begun buying government debt, while Ottawa is rolling out more than $100 billion in direct aid, including wage subsidies for businesses.

Still, the employment index plunged to a survey-record low of 25.1 from 44.6 in March, reflecting widespread layoffs as well as staff hiring freezes.

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