TOKYO (AP) -- Confidence at major Japanese manufacturers worsened to its lowest in more than four years as the plunging dollar, soaring fuel prices and fears of a U.S. slowdown weighed on the economy.
The closely watched quarterly central bank "tankan" survey, released Tuesday, showed the index for large manufacturers' business sentiment fell to 11, down from 19 in the survey released in December.
The latest reading was the lowest since December 2003, and also lower than the reading of 12 expected by analysts polled by Dow Jones newswires.
The tankan sentiment index is the percentage of companies saying business conditions are good minus those saying conditions are unfavorable.
"The tankan is showing that conditions are extremely bad for Japanese companies," said Yuji Shimanaka, chief economist Mitsubishi UFJ Securities in Tokyo.
Fears have been looming about the health of the world's second-largest economy as Japan remains so dependent on exports for growth that a weak dollar is likely to further dent already poor profits at some companies.
The dollar fell below 96 yen in March for the first time in more than a dozen years, and large manufacturers expect the dollar to be weaker in the year ahead than in the just-ended fiscal year.