Economy watcher survey worsens in July for 4th month in row

Business confidence among people in Japan with jobs sensitive to economic conditions worsened for the fourth straight month in July, as severe heat discouraged consumers from going out to shop, dine and for recreation, the government said Thursday.

The diffusion index of sentiment over the nation's current economic situation among so-called "economy watchers," such as taxi drivers and restaurant employees, fell 0.7 point from a previous month to 52.3, the Cabinet Office said in its monthly survey.

The diffusion index to gauge the business sentiment is based on whether respondents see economic conditions as improving or worsening compared with three months before. A reading of 50 indicates that those polled generally believe economic conditions are flat.

The government kept its basic assessment of the monthly survey intact in July, saying the watchers suggest the economy is "gradually picking up."

In early July, a scorching heat wave hit many parts of the country after the rainy season ended in most areas.

The index for the direction of economic conditions in the coming few months was unchanged at 53.6 in July.

Despite fears about rises in food and energy prices against a backdrop of the yen's slide, expectations lingered for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's economic policies, centering on drastic monetary easing and large-scale public works projects, the Cabinet Office said.

A falling yen usually supports exports by making Japanese companies' products cheaper abroad and increases the value of overseas revenue in yen terms, though it also lifts import prices. Japan imports more than 90 percent of its energy resources.

The Cabinet Office surveyed 2,050 workers across Japan from July 25 to 31, of whom 1,893, or 92.3 percent, responded.