June 20 (Reuters) - Asia's top companies are less upbeat on their business outlook than in the first quarter, with mounting concern over the euro zone crisis and a slowdown in China's growth, according to the latest Thomson Reuters/INSEAD Asia Business Sentiment Survey, published on Wednesday.
The Thomson Reuters/INSEAD Asia Business Sentiment Index slid to 69 in June from 74 in March, when it saw a dramatic 14-point jump from the December survey. A reading above 50 indicates an overall positive outlook.
Australian firms were the most downbeat since the 2011 third quarter, gripped by worries over global economic uncertainty. Of the 12 respondents, four were negative, two positive and six were neutral. In the last quarter, three were neutral and four positive.
All but one cited economic uncertainty as the main reason for their lack of optimism, while one was worried about rising costs. James Hardie, the world's largest manufacturer of fibre cement products, and bank-insurer Suncorp took part in the survey.
CHINA: LESS POSITIVE
Easing growth in Asia's largest economy was reflected in the companies' responses, which were the least positive since the survey began in 2009. Four companies were positive, while 13 were neutral and two were negative, compared with eight positive, eight neutral and one negative in the previous quarter.
Most were worried about the global economy, while some cited rising costs. Employment levels stayed the same at 17 of the 19 respondents, while one reported lower levels and one higher. Four saw a higher delay in customer payments. Refiner Sinopec was among the respondents.
INDIA: LESS OPTIMISTIC
Indian companies were less positive than in the quarter before, with growth in Asia's No.3 economy slumping to its lowest in nine years amid a sluggish policymaking environment and a weakening local currency. However, no company in the survey was negative, with seven neutral and six positive.
Economic uncertainty, rising costs and regulatory worries were the top risks. Employment levels stayed the same at seven companies, increased at three and declined at three. Miner Coal India, mortgage lender HDFC and power firm NTPC were among those taking part in the survey.
JAPAN: MORE UPBEAT
Japanese respondents, which included Toshiba Corp, Sharp Corp and Canon Inc, reported improved sentiment as robust private consumption and rebuilding from last year's earthquake and tsunami should offset slowing global growth. Five companies were positive, 18 neutral and one negative.
Foreign exchange volatility was seen as the biggest risk by three companies, while economic uncertainty worried the majority. Regulatory risks and competition were other threats mentioned. Five of the 24 respondents saw an improvement in new orders, while 18 said there had been no change and one saw a decrease.
SOUTH KOREA: SLIGHT IMPROVEMENT
Sentiment improved after being neutral for two quarters, reflecting some recovery in the country's first-quarter economic growth. Of 24 respondents, 17 reported neutral sentiment, five were positive and two were negative.
Global economic uncertainty was the top business risk for Korean companies, while two saw foreign exchange volatility as a concern. Daewoo Shipbuilding, Hyundai Heavy and LG Display were among those taking part in the survey.
TAIWAN: SIGNIFICANTLY LESS OPTIMISTIC
Taiwanese companies grew markedly less optimistic from the previous quarter, with one positive response, one negative and five neutral. In the previous quarter, all four respondents were positive. Most of the companies in the survey saw economic uncertainty as the biggest risk to their outlook, while one said it was worried about rising costs. A majority of respondents were from the technology sector, such as Pegatron and Acer Inc.
SOUTH EAST ASIA: MOSTLY POSITIVE
Although sentiment declined at the majority of south-east Asian countries, it was still higher than most of their counterparts. The Philippines was the most optimistic, with all respondents positive, but they flagged risks from rising costs and the global economy.
In Singapore, where sentiment was less buoyant, eight of nine companies were neutral and one was positive. In the previous quarter, four were positive and two neutral. Indonesia, the region's biggest economy, one of 24 companies was negative and 21 positive. In the last quarter, both of the two respondents had been positive.
Thai firms also grew less optimistic as one of 22 companies reported negative sentiment, 11 were positive and the rest were neutral. Both firms in the previous survey had been positive. Five of six Malaysian companies were positive and one neutral.