Business confidence in Australia improved in March, with the index rising to minus 13 from minus 22 in February, results of the latest survey by the National Australia Bank or NAB showed Tuesday.

A reading below zero indicates pessimists outnumber optimists.

The index of business confidence increased 3 points to minus 17, but remained at a low level not seen since 1992.

At the same time, employment intentions declined to its lowest levels since September 1991, with the index falling 2 points to minus 29.

In March, while there was an increase in the new orders index, export orders fell. The index of stock of goods declined to a low level.

Among the sectors, confidence increased in retailing, boosted by the government's handouts. Along with this, confidence also showed an improvement in mining, manufacturing, finance and business services.

Meanwhile, the NAB forecasts the Australian economy to contract 1% in 2009, but expects it to grow 0.75% in 2010.

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