Wednesday, a closely watched survey revealed that business sentiment plummeted in Japan signaling that economic slowdown in the world's second largest economy will deepen.

Sentiment among Japan's large manufacturers dropped at a record rate in the first quarter of 2009, posting a diffusion index score of minus 58, the Bank of Japan's Tankan Survey revealed. That was worse than analyst expectations for minus 55 following a reading of minus 24 in the previous quarter. It was the sixth straight quarter of decline. Further, the fall of 34 points from the previous survey in December marked the largest fall on record.

The previous record low for the index was the minus 57 logged in June 1975. However, the large manufacturers' outlook for the June quarter posted a mild recovery, coming in at minus 51.

The non-manufacturing index saw a score of minus 31, worse than forecasts for a minus 25 after posting minus 9 in the previous quarter. The outlook for the June quarter came in at minus 30.

Also on Wednesday, the Japan Automobile Dealers' Association said the country's domestic automobile sales dropped 31.5% year-on-year in March to 323,063 units.

South Korea's trade surplus hit a record high of US$4.6 billion in March, mainly due to imports falling faster than exports, the Ministry of Knowledge Economy said. The trade surplus bettered the previous record of US$3.8 billion registered in April 1998.

In March, exports plunged 21.2% year-on-year to US$28.3 billion, after a revised 18.3% fall in the previous month. Exports fell for the fifth consecutive month in March. Meanwhile, imports slipped 36% annually to US$23.7 billion in the month, following a 30.9% decline in February. Economists expected exports to slip 21.5% and imports to fall 33.7% in March.

Elsewhere, South Korea's National Statistical Office said that the consumer price index or CPI rose 3.9% year-over-year in March, slower than the 4.1% increase in the previous month. On a monthly basis, consumer prices increased 0.7% in March.

China's Purchasing Managers' Index for the manufacturing sector dropped to 44.8 in March from 45.1 in February, the CLSA Asia-Pacific reportedly said. The index stood below the threshold for the eighth consecutive month.

India's Ministry of Commerce and Industry said that exports decreased 21.7% year-on-year to US$11.91 billion in February, smaller than US$ 15.22 billion recorded in the previous year. Meanwhile, imports decreased 23.3% annually to US$ 16.82 billion in February, compared with US$ 21.93 billion in the previous year. The trade deficit stood at US$ 4.91 billion in February, narrowing from US$ 6.71 billion in the previous year.

Indonesia's consumer price annual inflation slowed to 7.92% in March from 8.6% recorded in February, the Central Statistics Bureau said. On a monthly basis, consumer prices were up 0.22% in March after rising 0.21% in February. Core inflation that excludes fuel prices, stood at 7.15%, down from 7.42% in February.

Separately, the statistical office said Indonesia's exports plunged 32.8% year-on-year in February to US$7.08 billion. The decline exceeded economists' expectation of 36.6% fall. Imports dropped 42% to US$4.56 billion, giving a trade surplus of US$2.52 billion.

Thailand's Commerce Ministry announced that the CPI dropped 0.2% year-over-year in March. On a monthly basis, the CPI rose 0.5% in March, compared with 1% increase in the previous month. The core CPI, which excludes fresh food and fuel, increased 1.5% year-on-year.

Singapore's private residential property prices fell 13.8% in the first quarter, after falling 6.1% in the fourth quarter, a flash report from the country's Urban Redevelopment Authority said.

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