Canadian manufacturing sales took their steepest tumble in at least 17 years in December, falling for a fifth straight month and capping off the worst period ever for auto trade with the United States.

Statistics Canada said yesterday that December’s 8.0 per cent decline to $44.2 billion, accelerating from November’s 6.4 per cent pullback, was the largest monthly sag in manufacturing sales since 1992. For all of 2008, the value of sales declined 0.5 per cent to the weakest level since 2005.

Statistics Canada also reported large shifts of international investment during December, as Canadians pulled back money from abroad while foreigners removed an “unprecedented” amount of Canadian bonds from their holdings.

The agency said Canadians’ sale of $6.4 billion worth of foreign securities in December represented the fourth straight month of net divestment from other countries.

Meanwhile, the Canadian Auto Workers said 2008 was Canada’s worst-ever year in trade of automotive products. CAW president Ken Lewenza estimated that the $14-billion auto trade deficit last year corresponds to the loss of 22,500 direct auto jobs and is the main reason why Canada suffered its first trade deficit in more than three decades in December.