NEW DELHI, June 18 (Reuters) - Asia’s top companies reported a bullish outlook in the second quarter of 2014 compared to the first three months despite worries over the global economy and rising costs, the latest ThomsonReuters/INSEAD Asia Business Sentiment Survey showed.
Of the 124 companies who responded to the poll, none reported a negative outlook for the first time in the survey’s history. The ThomsonReuters/INSEAD Asia Business Sentiment Index rose significantly to 74 in the second quarter compared to a 64 reading in the first quarter.
A reading above 50 indicates an overall positive outlook.
Business confidence among companies in Australia recovered in the second quarter even as half the participants continued to worry about the global economy.
Of the 12 respondents, which included Stockland Corp and Oil Search, seven companies were positive while the rest remained neutral, an improvement over the last quarter where only two of seven companies were positive.
Five companies said their new orders increased while the same number said they hired more people. Close to a third of all companies surveyed have increased employment levels in the second quarter.
Sentiment in China rebounded as a third of companies polled reported a positive outlook and 50 percent of the participants saw an increase in new orders and sales in the second quarter. Last quarter all eight respondents held a neutral outlook.
Nine of the 15 participants said global economic uncertainty was the top risk, a worry shared by more than 50 percent of 124 companies surveyed in the second quarter. A handful of Chinese firms are concerned about rising costs.
The world’s second-largest economy is struggling to recover from an economic slowdown, exacerbated by a deterioration in the property market, despite government stimulus. This has pulled the sentiment index down from its peak of 95 in the first quarter of 2011.
Despite worries over the global economy, rising costs and volatility in exchange rates, Indian companies were the most optimistic with all 10 respondents reporting a positive outlook, a level last seen in the fourth quarter of 2012.
Nine companies said new orders and sales increased in the second quarter while employment levels rose for 60 percent of the respondents. Three companies said delays in payments from customers had declined.
A resounding election victory last month for pro-business leader Narendra Modi, with the mandate to steer the economy out of its current slump and create more jobs, has revived consumer confidence in Asia’s third-largest economy.
Business sentiment in Japan weakened slightly with the global economic environment primarily weighing on corporate outlook.
Of the 16 respondents, which included Daiichi Sankyo Co Ltd , Canon Inc, Seven & I Holdings and NTT DoCoMo, 14 were neutral on the outlook and two positive, similar to the previous survey.
While risks associated with exchange rate volatility abated in the second quarter, a handful of companies continued to worry about rising costs. Fewer companies reported an increase in new orders and employment levels over the last quarter.
Global economic uncertainty weighed on sentiment at South Korean companies with the economy’s index falling to 50 in the second quarter from 67 last quarter.
All 19 respondents said their outlook was neutral with the majority concerned about the global economy while a handful were worried about rising costs. While half the respondents said new orders and sales increased, only three reported higher employment.
In the previous quarter a third of the companies had a positive outlook while the remaining six were neutral.
TAIWAN: SENTIMENT REBOUNDs (INDEX AT 67 VS 50 IN Q1)
Optimism returned to Taiwan’s sentiment index, reversing the decline in the March quarter. Two of the six respondents turned positive in their outlook compared with none in the last survey.
Companies were concerned about the global economy, rising costs and exchange rate volatility. Two respondents lowered employment levels this quarter compared with steady levels last quarter while two companies reported an increase in orders, compared to just one in the previous quarter.
SOUTHEAST ASIA: MOSTLY STABLE, THAILAND RECOVERS (THAILAND AT 91; PHILIPPINES AT 100; SINGAPORE AT 67; MALAYSIA AT 67)
Sentiment among Southeast Asian businesses was mostly upbeat as Thailand recovered and with the exception of Malaysia, which slipped to 67 from 75 as rising costs and uncertain world economics continued to worry businesses in the region.
The business outlook in Thailand turned positive after two quarters of negative sentiment as political turmoil in the country eased. The index rose to 91 from 41 last quarter - the highest level since the first quarter of 2012 - as 12 of 16 companies saw an increase in new orders and sales. Worries over political stability, among other things, remained.
The Philippines, along with India, was the most optimistic with all 15 respondents showing a positive outlook which remained unchanged at 100. Two-thirds of the respondents reported higher employment levels while almost all saw an increase in new orders and sales.
The sentiment index among companies in Singapore remained unchanged at 67 with two of six respondents showing a positive outlook and the rest remaining neutral. Only three of six companies said new orders and sales increased this quarter compared with eight of nine respondents last quarter.
There were no responses from Indonesia, the region’s biggest economy.
** Companies sampled for the survey may change from one quarter to the next. (Compiled by Aditi Shah; Editing by Matt Driskill)