REUTERS - Asia's top companies were slightly more confident on their business outlook in the fourth quarter, despite lingering doubts about the global economy, according to the latest Thomson Reuters/INSEAD Asia Business Sentiment Survey, published on Wednesday.
The Thomson Reuters/INSEAD Asia Business Sentiment Index rose to 63 in December, halting two consecutive quarters of decline. The index had fallen to 62 in September, a 7-point drop from the June survey. A reading above 50 indicates an overall positive outlook.
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Corporate sentiment in Australia picked up for a second successive quarter, but global economic uncertainty remained the biggest concern. Of the 19 respondents, four were positive, 12 neutral and three were negative. In the last quarter, two were positive, two negative and 10 neutral.
Ten respondents said their new orders increased, while two said orders decreased. James Hardie (JHX.AX), the world's largest manufacturer of fibre cement products, and Australian warehouse operator Goodman Group (GMG.AX) took part in the survey.
Sentiment among Chinese companies rebounded in the fourth quarter from an all-time low in the previous quarter. Two companies were positive, while five were neutral and none reported negative sentiment, compared with one positive, four neutral and one negative in the third quarter of 2012.
Most were worried about the global economy, while one cited rising costs. Three out of seven respondents said employment levels were higher, a significant improvement compared with only one respondent in the previous quarter. Casino operator Galaxy Entertainment Group Ltd (0027.HK) was among the respondents.
Indian respondents grew significantly more upbeat and the country's sentiment index reached its highest level since the first quarter of 2011, with all of the seven companies surveyed positive about their outlook.
Economic uncertainty and rising costs were still the top risks cited by companies in Asia's No.3 economy.
India's YES Bank (YESB.NS) was among those taking part in the survey.
Sentiment among Japanese respondents, which included Toshiba Corp (6502.T), Nippon Steel and Sumitomo Metal Corp. (5401.T) and Canon Inc (7751.T), continued the pessimistic tone of the previous quarter.
None of the Japanese companies had a positive outlook for the first time since the survey started in 2009, with 15 out of 17 respondents neutral and two negative.
Foreign exchange volatility was seen as the biggest risk by three companies, while economic uncertainty worried the majority.
SOUTH KOREA: IMPROVEMENT (INDEX AT 50 VS 20 in Q3)
Sentiment improved after the country's sentiment index hit its lowest level since the third quarter of 2011 in September.
All of the 11 respondents were neutral about their outlook, an improvement compared with three negative respondents and two neutral in the previous quarter.
Global economic uncertainty was the top business risk for Korean companies, while one saw foreign exchange volatility as a concern. Hyundai Heavy (009540.KS) was among those taking part in the survey.
The country's sentiment index hit its lowest level since the third quarter of 2011. Two of three respondents were neutral about their outlook, while one was negative.
All of the companies in the survey saw economic uncertainty as the biggest risk to their business outlook. Yuanta Financial Holdings Co. (2885.TW) was among those taking part in the survey.
SOUTH EAST ASIA: MOSTLY OPTIMISTIC (PHILIPPINES, INDONESIA, MALAYSIA AT 100; SINGAPORE AT 50; THAILAND 75)
Corporate sentiment from Southeast Asia was mostly upbeat, with Malaysia, Indonesia and Philippines recording the highest scores. All of the 15 respondents from the three countries were positive about their business outlook.
Thai firms also grew more upbeat as the country's index improved from the last quarter, with three out of six companies reporting positive sentiment and three neutral.
However, Singapore's sentiment index fell to its lowest level since the fourth quarter of 2011. Nine of 11 companies surveyed were neutral, one was negative and one positive.
** Companies sampled for the survey may change from one quarter to the next.
Compiled by Janeman Latul; Editing by Alex Richardson