Japanese Manufacturers Upbeat Amid Market Volatility

Key quarterly confidence index for large manufacturers unchanged from June; analysts expected index would fall due to problems in the U.S. credit market.

TOKYO (AP) — Recent global market turmoil and uncertainty about the U.S. economy haven't dented confidence at Japan's major manufacturers, a closely-watched Bank of Japan survey showed Monday.
The central bank's quarterly ''tankan'' survey of corporate sentiment showed the key confidence index for large manufacturers stood at 23 in September, unchanged from June. Analysts had predicted the index would fall to 21 amid worries about the global fallout from problems in the U.S. credit market.
The survey, which polls more than 10,000 companies, suggests that Japan's big exporters are more upbeat than many had expected.
''The figure underlined the Japanese economy's firm footing — strong exports and production at home,'' said Hiroshi Shiraishi, an economist with the Lehman Brothers Inc. ''That offset some concerns over the global market turmoil.''
The tankan's sentiment index measures the percentage of companies reporting that business conditions are better minus those reporting that conditions are worse. The higher the number, the greater the portion of companies that are optimistic.
The survey also showed that large corporations plan to increase business investment by a combined 8.7 percent in the fiscal year that began in April. That was higher than the 7.7 percent increase in June's estimate.
Japan's Economy Minister Hiroko Ota said business investment remains healthy despite a 1.2 percent contraction in April-June economic growth on an annual basis.
''As for business investment, I was concerned about its future course after the GDP data came out, but now it has been reconfirmed that it remains healthy,'' Ota told reporters.
But the index for large non-manufacturers, meanwhile, deteriorated to 20 in September from 22 in June, matching forecasts by economists. All told, the tankan tallies results from more than 10,000 companies.
Those mixed results probably aren't enough to dramatically alter the prevailing view that the Bank of Japan is unlikely to raise interest rates imminently given the economic instability caused by the credit market crisis, analysts said.
Shiraishi, the economist, said the latest tankan report was somewhat positive for a hike in interest rates by Japan's central bank, but it was ''not the decisive factor'' that will enable it to act anytime soon.
''Although large makers were faring well ... the smaller firms' confidence turned worse, with a view of uncertainties ahead,'' Shiraishi said.
Among small manufacturers, the sentiment index fell from 6 to 1, its lowest level since March 2005.
Last month, the Bank of Japan left its benchmark interest rates unchanged at 0.5 percent. BOJ Gov. Toshihiko Fukui has said the downside risks for the U.S. economy and instability in global markets must be monitored closely before raising interest rates. The BOJ's next policy committee meeting is set for Oct. 10-11.
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