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Carmakers seen heading for big year

by Hiroko Nakata

Staff Writer

Japanese automakers are expected to reap further profits, possibly at record levels, in the current business year to next March thanks to the yen’s decline and the positive U.S. economic outlook, experts said.

The carmakers have already benefited from windfall profits since the yen started to tumble against major currencies late last year amid hopes for aggressive credit easing under “Abenomics.”

The exchange rate impact is being magnified by carmakers’ cost-cutting efforts during the yen’s past rallies and the global economic slowdown triggered by the Lehman Brothers’ collapse in 2008.

“The automakers will likely see profits close to their highest levels for the year to March 2014, should the yen’s weak trend remain intact,” said Satoshi Nagashima, who is in charge of the automobile sector at German consulting firm Roland Berger.

He also said their strong earnings are not resulting from the yen’s depreciation alone.

“The biggest reason is that they did their best (to reduce costs) when the yen was high. Their efforts to generate profits even when the yen surged are contributing to their earnings,” he said.

Experts point out that the industry has scope to grow further.

For example, Toyota Motor Corp., which last year reclaimed its title as the world’s biggest carmaker, announced Wednesday it expects ¥1.8 trillion in profit this year, up 36.3 percent from fiscal 2012. While that would be impressive, it would still be a little less than 80 percent of the record ¥2.27 trillion in operating profit it logged in the 2007 business year.

Toyota’s earnings projection is also based on the average dollar rate being ¥90. The dollar briefly reached ¥101 on Friday in Tokyo after having hovered at just below ¥100 for the past month.

Toyota’s annual operating profit gains by ¥40 billion for every ¥1 fall against the dollar.

“There are high hopes for further upside from earnings forecasts in light of current yen’s weakness,” Takaki Nakanishi, an auto sector analyst for Bank of America Merrill Lynch, wrote in a recent report. He expects Toyota’s operating profit to exceed its projection by nearly ¥500 billion and possibly reach a record high.

Toyota said ¥450 billion in cost reductions helped it report a ¥1.32 trillion operating profit for the business year that ended in March, and its impact was more than the ¥150 billion in effects generated by the exchange rate factor. For the current business year, the automaker expects to cut expenses by another ¥160 billion while reaping ¥400 billion in currency effects.

Toyota President Akio Toyoda said in a news conference Wednesday that the company is ready to make further efforts.

“We’ve just reached a starting line of sustainable growth,” he said.

Honda Motor Co. and Nissan Motor Co. have also worked to change their cost structure in the past few years by importing components from China and South Korea and shifting plants overseas.

“The efforts to cut costs finally contributed to their profits,” Nagashima said.

Honda Motor Co. reported last month a group operating profit of ¥544.81 billion for the year that ended in March, more than double its profit from a year earlier. It expects a ¥780 billion profit for this year.

Automakers’ bright earnings results also coincided with a recovery in the U.S. car market, which was slowed by the 2008 crisis.

As for domestic factors, carmakers have overcome the supply chain damage from the Great East Japan Earthquake and floods in Thailand in 2011.

In overseas markets, sales in China are recovering from the sharp drop brought on by anti-Japan riots over the Senkaku territorial dispute, while other emerging markets are continuing to grow, experts and car companies said.

  • nobuo takamura

    I wonder this good news for the auto companies implies the on-going disparity between the poor and the rich within the tiny area like in Japan. Profits and losses are sure to offset themselves and result in dragging us into the conflicting society. No thanks!