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The number of corporate bankruptcies in the fiscal year through March fell 8.75 percent from the preceding year to 14,732, the first decline in four years, a credit research firm said Thursday.

Liabilities accompanying the corporate failures decreased 49.09 percent to ¥7.14 trillion, marking the first fall in three years, Tokyo Shoko Research said.

The number of failures dropped apparently because credit became more readily available for companies due to government stimulus measures and a new law to help smaller firms that came into force last year, it said.

The research agency’s data cover business failures involving ¥10 million or more of debt. The failures included companies that filed for protection from creditors while trying to turn their businesses around and those that were liquidated completely.

Over the fiscal year, seven companies listed on stock exchanges failed, down sharply from the record 45 seen the year before. The seven included Japan Airlines Corp., which filed for protection in January in the biggest corporate failure since World War II.

Tokyo Shoko Research added that companies brought down by slumping sales and other recession-related causes accounted for a record 80.7 percent. The improvement in the bankruptcy data does not suggest the economy is on a self-sustaining recovery path, it said.

A record 9,964 companies liquidated their operations totally, indicating the severity of the situation facing the corporate sector, according to the research agency.

Bankruptcies mounted particularly among hospital, golf course and restaurant operators as well as firms in the tourism industry.

Osaka and its surrounding area was the only one of the nine geographic regions to see an increase in bankruptcies.

Among the failed firms, those with workforces of up to four accounted for 63.1 percent of the total, the second-highest level since fiscal 1989. In contrast, bankruptcies among companies employing at least 300 workers dropped 62.2 percent.

According to Teikoku Databank, another private credit research firm, corporate failures in fiscal 2009 totaled 12,866, down 2.8 percent from the year before with liabilities declining 48.6 percent to ¥7.02 trillion.

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