The Federation of Korean Industries reports that business confidence in South Korea has reached a "crisis phase."

In a monthly survey, the business confidence index dropped to 90 points in April, compared with March's level of 109 points.

The month-on-month fall was the biggest since June of 2002, the index then dropped more than 21 points. One analyst says the war in Iraq and tensions on the Korea Peninsula have undermined confidence.

Marcus Rosgen, an economist with ING Barings, says the South Korean economy is still holding up well. "Business confidence declined and you also had a decline in some of the consumer confidence indicators," he says. "But what is still showing strong growth is exports. Korean export growth continues to surprise most of the investors on the upside."

The Iraq war has contributed to a surge in exports for Vietnam. The country's exports rose 43 percent to $4.6 billion in the first three months of 2003 compared with the same period last year.

The first-quarter surge in exports was due in part to higher earnings from crude oil exports as the crisis in the Persian Gulf pushed oil prices higher. But analysts say exports of coffee, footwear and textiles, also showed strong growth.

In Australia, a judge has handed over his findings on HIH Insurance, the nation's biggest corporate failure, to the federal government.

The report is said to contain evidence of more than a thousand possible legal violations involving the cover-up of the insurance giant's $3.8 billion debt. The report also may recommend major changes to the country's corporate regulatory system, which failed to prevent the scandal.

But the findings will not be made public until later this month.

Lawyers working on an investigative commission say 33 individuals and companies may have acted illegally in their dealings with HIH.