Sentiment among leaders of large Japanese companies worsened in the first three months of 2009 compared to the final three months of 2008. Consumer prices in Singapore increased at an even slower pace in February, as gasoline prices continued to fall and the demand for the country's goods dropped.

Japan's Finance Ministry and Cabinet Office said the large company business sentiment index registered minus 51.3 in the first quarter of 2009, compared to the minus 35.7 reading in the fourth quarter. Negative readings indicate more companies are pessimistic about the economy than are optimistic.

In other news from Japan, land prices dropped for the first time in three years in 2008, official data showed, reflecting the impact of financial crisis on Japan's real estate market.

Japan's Finance Minister Kaoru Yosano said a massive government stimulus package would be necessary to prevent the current fiscal quarter from repeating the 12.1 percent economic contraction seen in the fourth quarter of 2008.

Japan's Chain Stores Association said supermarket sales declined 5.4% year-on-year in February after falling 2.7% in January. Elsewhere, the Japan Franchise Association said convenience store sales grew at a slower annual pace of 2% in February after rising 7% in January.

Singapore's Department of Statistics said the consumer price index rose 1.9% year-on-year in February, at a much slower pace compared to a 2.9% rise in the previous month. The increase in consumer prices was smaller than economists' expectations for a 2.6% rise.

Taiwan's commercial sales fell 8.23% year-on-year in February compared to a 19.12% decline in the previous month, a report by the Department of Statistics, Ministry of Economic Affairs said. This was the fifth consecutive month of decline in commercial sales.

Taiwan's Directorate-General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics reported that the seasonally adjusted jobless rate rose to 5.63% in February from 5.33% in January. Economists were looking for a rate of 5.6%.

Hong Kong recorded a balance of payments surplus of HK$ 147.3 billion in the fourth quarter, up from a surplus of HK$ 51.3 billion in the third quarter. The current account surplus increased to HK$ 80.5 billion in the fourth quarter from HK$ 75.3 billion in the previous quarter. In 2008, the balance of payments showed a surplus of HK$ 263.8 billion, larger than the surplus of HK$ 114.4 billion in the previous year.

Thailand's economy could contract 3% this year, Finance Minister Korn Chatikavanij warned. The minister said the economy may shrink 8%-9% this year if the government does nothing and the number of unemployed may increase to 2 million.

China and Indonesia agreed on a three-year CNY 100 billion or IDR 175 trillion currency swap pact, the People's Bank of China said.

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