SHANGHAI, Dec 18 (Reuters) - Asia's top companies were less upbeat about their business outlook in the last quarter of the year, compared to the third quarter, with lingering concerns over the global economy and rising costs among the major issues weighing down sentiment, the latest ThomsonReuters/INSEAD Asia Business Sentiment Survey published on Wednesday showed.
The ThomsonReuters/INSEAD Asia Business Sentiment Index declined 4 points to 62 in December, falling for the second consecutive quarter. The index had dropped to 66 in September, a fall of 5 points from the June survey.
A reading above 50 indicates an overall positive outlook.
AUTOS: WORST AMONG SECTORS (INDEX AT 33 VS 63 IN Q3)
Sentiment among Asian automakers deteriorated sharply during the fourth quarter, with the sector's index reading crashing to 33 from 63 the previous quarter. One-third of the respondents were pessimistic, and none expressed optimism in the survey. Four out of a total of six respondents cited global economic uncertainty as the biggest business risk they face. Japan's Honda Motor Co Ltd was among the companies surveyed.
BUILDING: BEST AMONG SECTORS (INDEX UNCHANGED AT 100)
The building sector was the most bullish, registering an index reading of 100. All of the eight companies polled painted a rosy outlook, bringing the index to the full mark for the second consecutive quarter. Three respondents said employment levels improved, while all of the eight respondents said new orders and sales increased. Australia's James Hardie Industries Plc was among the companies surveyed.
FINANCIALS: RECOVERING (INDEX AT 63 VS 50 IN Q3)
The reading among financial firms recovered to 63 from last quarter's 50, reflecting a brighter sector outlook. However, of the 12 respondents, nine expressed concern over global economic uncertainty. Five financial companies said sales increased. Taiwan's Yuanta Financial Holdings Co Ltd was among the companies surveyed.
FOOD: LESS OPTIMISTIC (INDEX AT 50 VS 75 IN Q3)
Food companies were less optimistic in the latest survey, with the sector's reading dropping to 50 from 75 during the previous quarter. All of the nine respondents were neutral in the survey, while rising costs were seen as the sector's biggest risk. Japan's Asahi Group Holdings and Kirin Holdings Co Ltd were among the participants in the survey.
DRUGS: IMPROVED CONFIDENCE (INDEX AT 75 VS 60 IN Q3)
Drug makers have turned more bullish. Four respondents were neutral and four others positive, pushing up the sector's reading to 75 from 60 last quarter. Japan's Daiichi Sankyo Co Ltd was among those surveyed.
PROPERTY: SLIDING FROM THE TOP (INDEX AT 75 VS 100 IN Q3)
Property developers, who were among the most bullish companies with readings of 100 during the last survey, saw their reading sliding to 75 this quarter, with confidence dented by global economic uncertainty. Most developers polled in the survey, however, still said the companies' sales increased.
RESOURCES: CONFIDENCE DENTED (INDEX AT 50 FROM 72 IN Q3)
Global economic uncertainty and the threat of rising costs dented the confidence of resources companies. The sector's reading dropped sharply to 50 from last quarter's 72. Out of a total of 25 respondents, only one said employment rose. The remaining resources companies polled said the level remained the same as last quarter. The Philippine's Manila Water Co was among the companies that responded to the survey.
RETAIL: LITTLE CHANGED (INDEX AT 58 VS 57 IN Q3)
The reading in the retail sector was little changed, up one point to 58 from last quarter's 57. Eight of a total of 17 respondents cited rising costs as their biggest risks while the remaining seven saw global economic uncertainty as their major concern. Twelve retail companies polled said their sales increased.
SHIPPING: SAILING UPWARD (INDEX AT 67 VS 50 IN Q3)
Asia's shipping industry painted a much brighter outlook during the fourth quarter, pushing up the reading to 67 from 50 in the previous survey. However, global economic uncertainty remained a major source of concern for the sector. South Korea's Hyundai Heavy Industries Co Ltd was among the companies surveyed.
TECH: SLIGHTLY MORE CONFIDENT (INDEX AT 64 VS 62 IN Q3)
Technology companies were slightly more confident about the future. When asked to identify business risks ahead, the 11 responses varied: four mentioned rising costs, three cited forex volatility, while four said they were concerned about global economic uncertainty. Japan's Hitachi Ltd, NTT DoCoMo Inc and Australia's Telstra Corp Ltd were among the companies that participated in the survey.
** Companies sampled for the survey may change from one quarter to the next.