Yen fall likely to pose hurdle to restructuring

by Mie Sakamoto

Kyodo

The yen’s recent plunge may help the nation’s struggling electronics makers recover from massive losses, but it could also hamper their restructuring efforts in the long run.

After reporting huge group net losses for the April to December period on Friday, senior officials of both Panasonic Corp. and Sharp Corp. expressed hope for positive effects from the yen’s depreciation, which is set to improve their competitive edge and earnings.

In the most recent quarter, the weakened yen lifted Panasonic’s operating balance by ¥3 billion and raised Sharp’s pretax balance by ¥8 billion, the officials said.

Panasonic Managing Director Hideaki Kawai said the company has so far seen only a limited impact from the yen’s fall but is expecting more favorable effects on its earnings.

“We had not expected that the yen would move downward, but it will work positively for an improvement in the future,” Kawai said at a news conference in Tokyo. “We are expecting that it will generate positive effects.”

Canon Inc., whose overseas sales accounted for around 80 percent of sales in 2012, expects the exchange rate benefits to lift its operating balance by ¥109.2 billion in the business year through December.

In the currency markets, the dollar has risen more than ¥10 to break through the ¥90 barrier since mid-November, when Liberal Democratic Party leader Shinzo Abe, fresh off a victory in the Dec. 16 general election that made him prime minister, started pressuring the Bank of Japan to be more aggressive with its monetary easing policy and print more yen.

The dollar climbed as high as ¥92.97, a 32-month-high, in New York on Friday. The euro has gained more than ¥20 to trade around ¥125 recently and fetched ¥126.60-70 at 5 p.m. Friday in New York.

Sharp President Takashi Okuda welcomed the policy measures pursued by Abe’s government.

“It is very encouraging that the new government was launched and is working on overcoming deflation, monetary and fiscal policies and a growth strategy,” he said

“Most of all, we feel heartened by the depreciation of the yen,” he added.

In addition to lifting exporters’ overseas earnings, a weak yen will also enable them to engage in price competition with South Korean and other rivals, said Koki Shiraishi, senior analyst at SMBC Nikko Securities Inc.

“It will give Japanese firms resources to cut prices of their products, although they have suffered a disadvantage in sales competition until now” because they have not been able to lower prices to prevent further deterioration in their earnings, he said.

But there could also be side effects, such as higher energy costs, because of Japan’s dependence on oil and other fossil-fuel imports caused by the Fukushima nuclear crisis, which began in March 2011.

“The semiconductor-related business will benefit from a weak yen, but the rapid fall in the currency will increase costs because it uses a massive amount of electricity,” Toshiba Corporate Executive Vice President Makoto Kubo told a press conference, adding that a rate of ¥90 against the dollar would be “a comfortable level.”

Shiraishi of SMBC Nikko Securities voiced concern that the weakening yen may become an obstacle to the electronics maker’s restructuring plans in the long term, because it will make their earnings look better to shareholders, reducing the need to take action.

“From the medium- to long-term perspective, a weak yen may have adverse effects,” Shiraishi said, noting that the improvement would give them an excuse not to slash personnel costs despite the need to pare surplus workers.

In addition, the business environment is expected to remain severe for a while amid slumping demand for flat-panel televisions in Japan and slowing demand in Europe.

“The situation has not changed, as we are still seeing severe earnings conditions,” Sharp’s Okuda said.

Reflecting their cautious outlook, Sharp and Panasonic left their earnings projections for the full business year through March unchanged. Sharp expects to post its largest-ever group net loss of ¥450 billion, while Panasonic projects booking a group net loss of ¥765 billion.