TOKYO: Japanese machinery orders plunged 26.8 per cent in April from March to 786.9 billion yen (about HK$65.65 billion), the first decline in three months, the Economic Planning Agency has reported. The agency said the decline mainly reflected a 15.6 per cent rise in March, following a 2.7 per cent rise in February and a 4.2 per cent decline in January. Orders from the private sector, excluding shipbuilding contracts and orders from power companies that tend to fluctuate widely, also represent an 18.5 per cent drop from a year earlier, the 13th consecutive such decline. The fall followed a declaration last Thursday by planning agency chief Hajime Funada that the economic slowdown was almost over. ''We cannot determine the state of the economy on this data for April alone,'' an agency official said. Private machinery orders are seen as a key indicator of Japan's economy and of corporate spending on plant and equipment about six months ahead. External orders also fell sharply, down 23.1 per cent from March and 3.8 per cent from a year earlier to 432.7 billion yen while public sector orders rose 11.6 per cent from March and 16.8 per cent from last year to 339 billion yen.