Demand for corporate loans in Japan remains weak, according to a poll of major commercial banks released Friday by the Bank of Japan.

In the first quarterly survey of lending activity among large banks, 60 percent of institutions reported demand by corporate borrowers did not change in the January-March period compared with the previous quarter.

Of the 50 major institutions surveyed earlier this month, 28 percent reported a drop in loan requests, while 12 percent said demand increased.

Looking ahead to the April-June quarter, 6 percent of banks said they expect a decline in demand, while 20 percent predicted an increase.

The remaining 74 percent projected demand will remain flat.

On demand by individual borrowers in the last three months, 65 percent of institutions said lending was unchanged.

Three banks to merge

KUMAMOTO (Kyodo) Three regional banks announced Friday that they have reached a final agreement to integrate and share core banking systems such as automated teller machines, starting in May 2002.

The banks are Higo Bank, headquartered in Kumamoto; Michinoku Bank, based in Aomori; and San-in Godo Bank, based in Matsue, Shimane Prefecture.

As a result of the integration, their systems will operate around the clock throughout the year.

The banks said the deal will allow them to cut the cost of updating systems by more than 30 percent.