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Core private-sector machinery orders rose a seasonally adjusted 7 percent in January from the previous month to 931.9 billion yen, marking the second straight month of expansion, the government said Wednesday.

Unadjusted core orders increased 18.8 percent from a year earlier, the Cabinet Office’s Economic and Social Research Institute said.

The total value of orders in the latest reporting month is the highest since August 2001.

The upbeat data prompted the government to say that corporate capital spending may pick up soon, possibly in the first half of 2003.

“There are signs of improvement in machinery orders,” said Yoshihiko Senoo, director of the institute’s business statistics department. “There is a possibility that capital spending will increase in the future.”

Senoo added, however, that it is too early to be certain about the outlook, saying the plunge in stock prices this month and worries over a possible attack on Iraq could alter developments.

Private-sector machinery orders are considered a leading indicator of corporate capital spending six to nine months in advance.

Core private-sector orders exclude invoices for ships and orders from electric power companies, whose large size makes them more volatile.

In January, orders from manufacturers rose 11.4 percent from a month earlier to 361.4 billion yen, following a 6.5 percent increase in December.

Of the 17 surveyed manufacturing industries, machinery orders in nine sectors rose.

The biggest contributor to the rise was the electrical machinery industry, whose orders rose 27.6 percent over the previous month. That was the second consecutive month of gains, following an expansion of 13.9 percent in December.

Orders from steelmakers increased even more drastically, jumping 103.1 percent from a month earlier.

Orders from nonmanufacturers, meanwhile, increased 5.2 percent to 573.9 billion yen, following a 4.7 percent rise in December. Of the 11 surveyed nonmanufacturing sectors, orders in seven fields rose.

Senoo said the government’s forecast of a 3.5 percent drop in core machinery orders in the January-March quarter would be realized if declines of 13.2 percent are recorded in February and March.

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