There were 19,458 corporate bankruptcies in 2002, the second-highest figure in the postwar period, Teikoku Databank Ltd. said Monday.

The result was up 0.1 percent from the preceding year for the third straight rise, the credit research agency said, and it was highest number of failures for any year since the early 1990s downfall of the asset-inflated bubble economy.

A postwar record of 20,841 corporate bankruptcies was set in 1984.

“Bankruptcies caused by deflationary depression are still on the increase,” Teikoku Databank said.

The failed firms left 13.76 trillion yen in combined liabilities, down 15.2 percent from the previous year but still the fifth-largest figure in the postwar era. The record high for debts was 23.99 trillion yen posted in 2000.

The data only covered bankruptcies of firms with debts of 10 million yen or more.

The agency said the combined debt figure was swollen by a string of large-scale bankruptcies in such areas as golf-course development, companies in the leisure industry and listed firms, including construction companies.

Failures of listed companies came to a record 29, dwarfing the previous record highs of 14 in 1997 and 2001. In 1997, Japan was rocked by a series of failures of financial institutions, including Hokkaido Takushoku Bank, while in 2001, deflation began to take its toll on firms.

Of the 29 listed-company failures, 13 were listed on the first section of the Tokyo Stock Exchange, surpassing the previous record of eight in 2000 and 2001. Conspicuous among the 29 were general contractors Sato Kogyo Co. and Dai Nippon Construction Co.

In December, the number of corporate bankruptcies rose 3.5 percent from a year earlier to 1,557, rising for the first time in five months. But their combined liabilities fell 53.4 percent from a year earlier to 728.36 billion yen.

“The nation’s bankruptcy-related situation is about to see a new phase, given the present situation, where even megabanks are named as companies at risk of failure,” Teikoku Databank said.

The December figure is the eighth largest for any December in the postwar period, the agency said. The combined debt decline was the consequence of the lack of large-scale failures of firms with debts of more than 50 billion yen, it said.

The agency said turbulence surrounding firms classified as being “at risk of failure,” which started with a rush of failures of listed firms in early 2002 and extended to the stock market plunge in the second half touched off by the “Takenaka shock.”

The Takenaka shock refers to Financial Services Minister Heizo Takenaka’s prescriptions for banks to get rid of their bad loans.

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