Business sentiment among major Japanese companies was positive for the third successive quarter in October to December, led by a continued improvement in automobile-related industries, a government survey showed Monday.

The business sentiment index for companies with capital of ¥1 billion ($6.9 million) or more stood at plus 4.8, against plus 5.8 in the previous quarter, according to the joint survey by the Finance Ministry and the Cabinet Office.

The index represents the proportion of companies that saw their business conditions improve from the previous quarter, minus that of firms feeling the opposite.

The index for large manufacturers came to plus 5.7, marking a positive figure for the second straight quarter. The auto industry's sentiment improved on vehicle production growth thanks to the easing of semiconductor shortages, while metal products makers enjoyed brisk demand from automakers.

The index for large nonmanufacturers stood at plus 4.4, chiefly reflecting an improvement in the services industry, including the restaurant and hotel sectors, which were aided by a recovery in demand from inbound tourists.

The index for midsize companies stood at plus 6.8, and that for small companies at minus 3.7.

The outlook index for all major companies came to plus 3.2 for January to March and plus 1.5 for April to June.

"We will closely monitor developments, including the impact of a downturn in overseas economies and rising prices," a government official said.

The index showing the proportion of companies experiencing labor shortages hit record highs for all major companies and all midsize businesses for the second straight quarter, according to the survey based on data as of Nov. 15.