Confidence among major Japanese manufacturers came in lower than market expectations, a quarterly central bank survey showed Wednesday, underscoring the lacklustre state of the world's number three economy.
The Bank of Japan's closely watched Tankan survey showed confidence among large manufacturers stood at plus 12 in March, flat from the previous report and missing expectations that the level would come in at 14, although sentiment among non-manufacturers was more upbeat.
The survey of more than 10,000 companies -- marking the difference between the percentage of firms that are optimistic and those that see conditions as unfavourable -- is the most comprehensive indicator of how Japan Inc. is faring.
The tepid report comes days after separate data showed that Japanese factory output fell by a worse-than-expected 3.4 percent in February, while inflation stalled with a key measure of prices flat for the first time in nearly two years.
The Tankan result highlights the challenges facing Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's two-year-old bid to conquer deflation and revive the long-sluggish economy.
Abe is calling on cautious firms to use some of their enormous cash piles by lifting wages to put more money into employees' pockets, a move he hopes will stimulate spending and drive prices higher.
Japan limped out of a brief recession in the last quarter of 2014, after a sales tax rise last year hammered consumer spending and sent the economy into contraction.
"The headline index of business conditions for large manufacturers in the Q1 Tankan survey was unchanged at +12. This was weaker than most had expected," Marcel Thieliant from Capital Economics wrote in a report shortly after the survey was released.