TOKYO – Activity in Japan’s services sector contracted for the eighth straight month in September but at the slowest pace since the coronavirus pandemic started wreaking havoc on the economy, a private business survey showed on Monday, in a sign that demand is starting to steady.

The final Jibun Bank Japan Services Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) rose to its highest in eight months, coming in at a seasonally adjusted 46.9 from 45.0 in the previous month.

The headline index, while still below the 50 neutral level, was higher than a preliminary reading of 45.6, suggesting conditions were moving closer to stabilisation.

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“Overall, there are signs of improvement in the sector, however recovery is far from secure,” said Shreeya Patel, economist at IHS Markit, which compiles the survey.

“Demand across the country remains subdued, with tourism and travel restrictions impeding new work volumes across the service sector.”

The main reading was pulled down by an accelerated decline in new orders from abroad, with surveyed firms citing depressed demand conditions in export markets as well as the closure of clients’ businesses.

People wait at a traffic intersection, reflected on a monitor showing Japan’s Nikkei 225 index at a securities firm in Tokyo on Monday, Aug. 17, 2020. Japanese stocks sank while other Asian markets gained Monday after Japan reported a record economic

However, the survey also showed strong optimism in companies’ outlook for the 12 months ahead on hopes of a recovery in demand, pushing the business expectations sub-index to its highest level of the year.

While job shedding continued for a seventh month, the pace of staff cuts was more modest and neared a neutral level.

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