TOKYO (AP) -- Japanese core machinery orders -- a key indicator of capital spending -- posted their biggest drop in more than four years in February, the government said.
Core orders, which exclude often volatile orders from electric power companies and those for ships, fell 12.7 percent in February from the previous month, the Cabinet Office said. That was the worst performance since a 13.6 percent decrease in November 2003.
Core orders are considered a key yardstick of business investment in the future. Their decline bodes ill for the country's economy because it has long depended on exports and manufacturers' investment for growth.
February's fall was slightly smaller than an estimate of a 13.9 percent decline from the previous month by economists surveyed by Dow Jones Newswires.
The drop is a typical pullback that follows unusual strength in the previous month, analysts and the Cabinet Office said. In January, core orders surged 19.6 percent, the biggest rise in seven years.
Compared with a year earlier and without seasonal adjustments, core orders rose 2.4 percent in February, data from the Cabinet Office showed.
Other data released Friday showed Japan's March bank lending rose at the fastest rate in about a year, while the current-account surplus posted its second straight month of gains in February.
Analysts maintain that Japan's export-driven economy will continue to slow, dogged by sliding U.S. demand for Japanese products and growth-hobbling increases in global energy costs.
''Japan's economy no doubt is decelerating,'' said Toshihiro Nagahama, a senior economist at Dai-Ichi Life Research Institute.