The economy has lost more than $5 billion since the economic crisis began last September until the end of March, as exports dropped at a cumulative rate of 15 percent, the Israel Manufacturers Association reported Tuesday. "Export is one of the economy's main catalysts for employment," said Ruby Ginel, head of the association's economic division. "The loss of $1 billion in exports translates into a loss of 8,000 jobs." In the first quarter of this year, industrial exports were $7.6b., down 8% in real terms compared with the monthly average rates of the previous quarter. Sector-by-sector analysis found that the mixed technology sector was the hardest hit by the crisis, as exports plunged 26% in the first quarter after a modest increase of 1.8% in last quarter of 2008. The hi-tech sectors experienced modest growth in exports. They saw an increase in real terms of 6% in exports in the first quarter after a decline of 7% in the last quarter of 2008. Neutralizing the effect of the hi-tech sector, overall exports fell 19% in the first quarter. Separately, a survey by the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry found that exports of goods among the 100 leading companies dropped 33.2% since the outbreak of the global economic crisis, as demand continues to fall. The ministry's index of the 100 leading exporters of goods showed that from the third quarter of last year until the end of the first quarter of 2009, exports of goods fell 33.2%. In the first quarter, total exports of the 100 leading companies dropped 9.4% compared with the previous quarter and totaled NIS 4.8 billion, representing 52% of industrial exports. Overall industrial exports declined by 16%. During the same period, exports of goods to Asia plunged 27.7% compared with the earlier quarter. Quarter-on-quarter comparison found that exports of goods among the 100 leading exporters fell 26.1%.