TOKYO -- Japanese companies are regaining lost confidence and feeling less somber, the central bank said Thursday, thanks to an export boom that is lifting the country's corporate gloom.

The Nikkei 225 stock average in Tokyo ended higher Thursday by 1.39% to 11,244.40.

Growing faith in the global recovery produced solid numbers in the Bank of Japan's quarterly "tankan" survey of business sentiment. The report guides central bankers in monetary policy decisions and is a closely watched barometer of the country's economic health.

The tankan showed confidence rose for the fourth straight quarter, with the main index for large manufacturers at minus 14. The reading, generally in line with market forecasts, is an 11-point improvement from three months ago and is the highest level since September 2008. It hit a record low of minus 58 a year ago in the midst of Japan's worst recession since World War II.

The figure represents the percentage of companies saying business conditions are good minus those saying conditions are unfavorable. Therefore, the higher the number, the better the mood.

More encouraging are signs that export growth is starting to trickle home, spurring a lackluster domestic economy. "There has been this concern that exports go up, and nothing else happens," said Richard Jerram, head of Asian economics at Macquarie Capital Securities in Tokyo. "We've been arguing that you should get second-round effects ... and that certainly seems to be coming through quite well."

Sentiment among big non-manufacturers climbed to minus 14 from minus 21 in December.
Copyright 2009 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.