Major Japanese companies have predicted 1.3 percent real growth for the economy in fiscal 2001, topping 1 percent for the first time in four years, the government said Friday in releasing results of an annual survey.

The projection is better than the 0.9 percent forecast a year ago for fiscal 2000, but below the growth target of 1.7 percent set by the government in December.

The Cabinet Office’s Economic and Social Research Institute conducted the survey in January, asking the 2,270 nonfinancial companies listed on the Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya stock exchanges about their predictions for the year. The response rate was 61.9 percent.

Corporate forecasts were also better than the year before for the medium term, with average yearly growth of 1.5 percent predicted for the three years starting in April and 1.7 percent for five years, against 1.3 percent and 1.5 percent last year.

However, growth improvement slowed compared with the previous survey, which showed a leap in estimated expansion for fiscal 2000 to 0.9 percent from the 0.2 percent contraction for fiscal 1999 in the first improvement in five years, the institute said.

The companies also saw larger, 3.6 percent growth in capital investment in the next three years against a 1.7 percent gain projected last year, while export-oriented firms anticipated the highest value of the yen at which they could operate profitably would be 107 to the dollar.

In the latest poll, the institute asked firms about their past and future plans for investments related to information technology.

The average ratio of IT investment to overall capital spending stood at 15.2 percent for the past three years and 18.3 percent for the next three years, with the ratio for nonmanufacturers almost double that of manufacturers, it said.

The focus of IT investment shifted from buying computers, peripherals and software to software development and systems integration, which the institute described as “sophistication.”

Although speeding up operations remained the most important purpose of such spending, enhancing marketing and sales, improving structural efficiency and cutting procurement costs also gained prominence in corporate plans for the coming three years.

Few companies expected business-to-consumer electronic commerce would help increase sales or profits, however, while many anticipated it would lead to intensified price competition and the elimination of intermediaries in traditional distribution systems.

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