Business sentiment among major Japanese companies in the January to March period deteriorated to record its first negative reading in four quarters, a government survey showed Tuesday.

The business sentiment index for large companies stood at minus 0.018, according to the joint survey conducted by the Finance Ministry and the Cabinet Office as of Feb. 15.

The stagnant result was mainly due to a plunge in sentiment among automakers and auto-parts manufacturers that reflected a decline in demand from China and other overseas markets, as well as production and shipment suspensions at the Toyota Motor group in the wake of a scandal over fraudulent engine performance tests. The index for such companies came to minus 23.8.