Sentiment among Japan's small and midsize companies, especially in the housing sector, fell to its most pessimistic level in nearly three years in December, a government-affiliated lender said Wednesday.
The sales outlook index, which measures the percentage of companies predicting that sales will improve over the next three months minus those saying it will worsen, stood at 6.4 in December from November's 8.9 reading, according to a business sentiment survey by the Japan Finance Corporation for Small and Medium Enterprise.
That's the lowest since January in 2005 when the index had also fallen to 6.4.
Builders, who have been severely hurt by a slowdown in housing starts due to confusion over a law change in June, pushed down overall sentiment, according to the lender.
The monthly survey's sales index, which asks whether companies' sales increased from a month earlier, stood at minus 2.5, meaning a greater percentage said sales had declined. The result missed the neutral line of zero for the sixth straight month.
High oil prices are hitting companies hard with 66 percent of those surveyed said their profits were dragged down by the energy prices, up 2.6 percent from November, according to the survey, which received response from 593 companies in Japan's three biggest metropolitan areas.