Core private-sector machinery orders, a key gauge of corporate capital spending, fell 5.2 percent to 1.04 trillion yen in February, the Cabinet Office said Wednesday.

The decline was much bigger than the market’s consensus projection of a 0.4 percent month-on-month fall, and follows a 3.9 percent rise in January, according to a report by Lehman Brothers Japan Inc.

The drop was primarily led by a 29.7 percent decline in electronics machinery orders, including semiconductor equipment, said a government official who briefed reporters.

But economists said the decline would be temporary because Japanese economic growth is still being driven by corporate spending.

Hiroshi Shiraishi, an economist at Lehman Brothers Japan, said the decline in electronics machinery is a cause for concern, but added there is no sign the sector has entered a downswing.

“The March corporate ‘tankan’ (business sentiment) survey confirmed that corporate spending will remain firm from now on, so we don’t have to be worried about it,” he said in a report released Wednesday.

Machinery orders are considered an indicator of what corporate capital spending will be like six to nine months ahead. The number excludes orders for ships and for machinery at power utilities because they are large and volatile and tend to skew the readings.

On a year-on-year basis, core machinery orders fell 4.2 percent in February after rising 2.6 percent in January. Orders from manufacturers dropped 9.0 percent on the month and 2.2 percent compared with a year ago.

On April 2, the tankan showed that large manufacturers plan to increase spending on plants and equipment by 2.9 percent in business 2007, which started in April.

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