Business sentiment among large Japanese firms continued to worsen in the final quarter of 2012 on weak manufacturing and exports, a government survey showed on Monday. The confidence index stood at minus 5.5, down from 2.2 for the previous three months and the first negative figure in two quarters, the Finance Ministry and the Cabinet Office said. The reading included companies capitalized at 1 billion yen (12.1 million US dollars) or more. By industry, carmakers were notably pessimistic amid slowing exports to China and Europe. The result was weaker than the government\'s forecast in the previous survey in August with the index expected to grow to 5.4. The sluggishness was partly affected by the dispute between Japan and China over a group of islands in the East China Sea, which has led to anti-Japan protests in China as well as boycotting of Japanese products there, Kyodo news agency reported.