By Leika Kihara and Tetsushi Kajimoto
TOKYO (Reuters) - Confidence among Japan's big firms remained unchanged from three months ago, a closely-watched central bank survey showed, but sentiment on the outlook soured for the first time in three quarters as trade frictions and global growth concerns hurt the business mood.
Big companies maintained their upbeat capital expenditure plans for the current fiscal year, the Bank of Japan's "tankan" survey for the three months to December showed, an indication robust domestic demand was softening the blow from external headwinds.
The tankan's headline gauge of big manufacturers' sentiment stood at plus 19, unchanged from three months ago and beating a median market forecast of plus 17, the survey showed on Friday.
The index for non-manufacturers rose to plus 24 from plus 22 in the September survey, exceeding a market forecast of plus 21 and improving for the first time in two quarters.
Both manufacturers and non-manufacturers were more pessimistic about the business outlook three months ahead, a sign they are only just starting to feel the pinch from global trade tensions.
Big firms plan to raise capital spending by 14.3 percent in the business year to March 2019, up from 13.4 percent in the previous survey. That compared with analysts' median estimate of a 12.7 percent increase.
International trade frictions, slowing business spending and corporate profit growth have raised risks to Japan's export-led economy.
The survey will be among factors the BOJ will scrutinise at its two-day rate review next week, when it is widely expected to keep monetary policy steady.
Japan's economy shrank an annualised 2.5 percent in the third quarter, suffering the worst slump in over four years, as a string of natural disasters cooled consumer sentiment and disrupted factory output.
Many analysts expect growth to have rebounded in the current quarter, though slowing exports and heightening risks to the global economy cloud the outlook.
The tankan's sentiment indexes are calculated by subtracting the number of respondents who say conditions are poor from those who say they are good. A positive reading means optimists outnumber pessimists.
(Reporting by Leika Kihara; Editing by Sam Holmes)