• Kyodo

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Business sentiment among large companies in the October-December period rose for the second straight quarter, remaining positive after a plunge earlier this year due to the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, a government survey showed Thursday.

The confidence index covering firms capitalized at ¥1 billion or more stood at plus 11.6 in the fourth quarter of 2020, up from plus 2.0 in the July-September period, according to the joint survey by the Finance Ministry and Cabinet Office.

The latest figure hit the third-highest level since comparable data became available from the April-June quarter of 2004.

The reading has been recovering from minus 47.6 in the April-June this year, the lowest since minus 51.3 in the first quarter of 2009 in the wake of the global financial crisis.

The index is calculated by subtracting the percentage of firms reporting worsening conditions from those observing improvements.

The survey results reflected the gradual resumption of economic activity in the country following the complete lifting in late May of a state of emergency declaration. Under the declaration, which began in April, people were asked to stay home and nonessential businesses were asked to suspend operations.

By sector, the index for manufacturers came to plus 21.6, up from plus 0.1 in the previous quarter to hit a record high. The index for nonmanufacturers stood at plus 6.7, up from plus 2.9.

“Signs of a pickup were seen especially among auto-related manufacturers and service providers such as restaurants and hotels,” a ministry official told reporters while warning that a recent resurgence of virus infections may worsen their sentiment.

The survey covered 14,017 companies capitalized at ¥10 million or more, of which 80.1% had responded by Nov. 15. Since then, the number of new coronavirus cases across the country has repeatedly hit record daily highs.

For midsize companies capitalized at ¥100 million or more but less than ¥1 billion, the index turned positive, improving to plus 5.5 from minus 8.1. It was minus 54.1 in April-June.

The index for small firms capitalized at ¥10 million or more but less than ¥100 million remained negative, although it improved to minus 15.5 for the reporting quarter from minus 25.8 in the previous period.

Looking ahead, the index forecasting business conditions for large companies in the three months through March was plus 3.1. The figure came to plus 2.2 for the following quarter.

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