Survey finds Japan business confidence improves

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By ERIC TALMADGE, Associated Press

TOKYO (AP) — Big manufacturers have more confidence in Japan's economy but remain pessimistic overall, a closely watched quarterly survey by the country's central bank showed Monday.

The "tankan" confidence index was minus 1, meaning Japan's big manufacturers are gloomy but are less so than in March, when the survey produced a minus 4 result.

The survey for the three months through June showed its first improvement in three quarters and was better than expected.

The Bank of Japan itself had forecast a minus 3 for the quarter. And experts had told Kyodo news agency they expected the index to remain at minus 4.

Japanese exporters have been cautious because of the Eurozone debt crisis and have been hurt by the strong yen and weaker growth in Asia. There are also strong concerns that a plan to double Japan's consumption tax to 10 percent over the next three years could stall growth.

But efforts to rebuild after last year's devastating earthquake and tsunami have created some opportunities for businesses, particularly in the construction and services sectors. Cheaper commodity costs were seen as also helping the index to gain ground. The survey forecast sentiment could strengthen further in the months ahead.

In the non-manufacturing sector, which includes construction companies, the index improved to plus 8, a 3-point gain.

The Bank of Japan surveyed 10,792 companies nationwide and about 99 percent responded.

The index is a percentage of the companies with a positive outlook versus those who see unfavorable conditions ahead, so a minus number means there are more pessimistic companies than optimistic ones.

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