By Leika Kihara
TOKYO (Reuters) - Japanese big manufacturers' business confidence worsened to a nearly three-year low in the quarter to June, a central bank survey showed, in yet another sign of the growing economic toll exerted by slowing global demand and the U.S.-China trade war.
But service-sector mood improved and companies maintained their solid spending plans, the Bank of Japan's closely watched "tankan" survey showed on Monday, suggesting that solid domestic demand was partially offsetting weakness in overseas shipments.
A weekend truce in the U.S.-China trade war may also offer some respite, though analysts said there was little to cheer given soft global demand and lingering uncertainty over future developments in the trade talks.
"Japan's economy is stagnating but not falling off the cliff with non-manufacturers' sentiment and capital expenditure holding up," said Yoshiki Shinke, chief economist at Dai-ichi Life Research Institute.
"This data alone won't force the BOJ to change its scenario that the economy continues to recover moderately. But that's not to say the outlook for Japan's economy has turned positive."
The headline index gauging big manufacturers' sentiment slid to plus 7 in June from plus 12 in March, worse than a median market forecast and hitting the lowest level since September 2016, the tankan showed.
The index for big non-manufacturers rose to plus 23 from plus 21 in March, exceeding a median market forecast of plus 20.
Roughly 70% of the companies surveyed gave their replies on June 11, according to the BOJ, which meant the survey did not reflect the impact of an agreement reached on Saturday between the United States and China to restart trade talks.
CAPEX OUTLOOK MURKY
The data underscores the divergence between exporters, who are feeling the pinch from the trade tension, and service-sector firms benefiting from the resilience in private consumption.
A long public holiday in May gave a boost to retailers' sentiment as households splurged on leisure, though some firms complained that pent-up construction demand ahead of the 2020 Olympic Games may be peaking, a BOJ official told a briefing.
Big firms plan to raise their capital expenditure by 7.4% in the fiscal year to March 2020, slightly below market forecasts but roughly flat from three months ago, the tankan showed.
Any downturn in business spending could cast doubt on the BOJ's argument a sustained economic recovery will prod firms to boost prices and wages, helping inflation accelerate.
But Takeshi Minami, chief economist at Norinchukin Research Institute, said firms may simply be taking a wait-and-see stance given uncertainty over how the U.S.-China trade talks unfold
"Companies will likely stay cautious about boosting capital expenditure," he said. "They won't revise up their spending plans when exports are weakening."
Japan's economy expanded by an annualized 2.1% in the first quarter but many analysts predict growth to slow in coming months as the U.S.-China tariff row hurts trade, business sentiment and corporate profits. A scheduled sales tax hike in October may also curb consumption, they warn.
The tankan's sentiment indexes are derived by subtracting the number of respondents who say conditions are poor from those who say they are good. A positive reading means optimists outnumber pessimists.
(Additional reporting by Kaori Kaneko; Editing by Shri Navaratnam)