TOKYO (Reuters) - Confidence among Japanese manufacturers worsened for a third straight month in April to a level unseen since early last year, the Reuters Tankan poll showed on Friday, as rises in the yen and crude oil prices threaten to undermine corporate profits.
The monthly poll, which tracks the Bank of Japan’s (BOJ) closely watched tankan quarterly survey, found manufacturers’ confidence was expected to improve a little over the next three months, although fears of a global trade war cloud the outlook.
Trade tensions, such as the United States and China’s recent dueling tariff announcements, could hit Japan’s export-reliant economy hard, potentially leading to financial market turmoil that would cause an unwelcome spike in the safe-haven yen.
The specter of a trade war adds to concern about global political risk, including a potentially spreading of conflict in the Middle East and renewed U.S. sanctions against Iran, which have pushed up crude oil and commodity prices.
In the Reuters poll of 542 large- and mid-sized companies, in which 253 firms responded on condition of anonymity, many complained about a profit squeeze caused by the strong yen and rising raw materials costs.
“The prices of our products are struggling to catch up with a further increase in crude oil prices,” a manager of a chemicals maker wrote in the survey.
A manager of a metal products/machinery firm wrote: “Our business conditions are not so good because our clients have no appetite for capital expenditure thanks to U.S. and other countries’ economic policies, and geopolitical risks.”
The Reuters Tankan sentiment index for manufacturers stood at 21, down seven points from the previous month, dragged lower by industries such as oil refiners, makers of chemicals, and exporters of cars and electric machinery.
The survey conducted over April 4-17 found the index was expected to improve to 23 in July.
The service-sector index rose to 36, up one point from March and matching a record high last seen in June 2015, led by retailers, suggesting a pick-up in private consumption that makes up about 60 percent of the economy.
The index is expected to fall slightly to 35 in July.
The Reuters Tankan followed the central bank’s key tankan survey that showed big manufacturers’ sentiment worsened for the first time in two years as worries about a rising yen and trade frictions with the United States dimmed the outlook.
The Reuters Tankan indexes are calculated by subtracting the percentage of pessimistic respondents from optimistic ones. A positive figure means optimists outnumber pessimists.
Reporting by Tetsushi Kajimoto; Editing by Eric Meijer