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Major firms’ first-quarter earnings twice year-ago level

Bloomberg, Kyodo

The country’s top listed companies doubled earnings last quarter from a year earlier, exceeding already high forecasts and generating momentum for the economic recovery effort of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

With almost all of the Nikkei 225 stock average companies reporting, profit surged 103 percent and beat analyst estimates by 16 percent, the most in two years, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Companies topping estimates range from Toyota Motor Corp. and Sony Corp. to Shiseido Co. and Kobe Steel Ltd.

The magnitude and breadth of the profit surge means the country’s leading companies have the money to help stoke the economy — through investment, dividends and higher wages — which would aid Abe’s effort to break two decades of stagnation. Slumping corporate investment has hindered the recovery, with gross domestic product figures released Monday showing companies cut spending for a sixth straight quarter.

“The first quarter got the fiscal year off to a great start,” said Takashi Aoki, a fund manager at Mizuho Asset Management Co. “There will definitely be more capital spending, and increased spending will definitely stimulate the economy further.”

Large companies are benefiting from Abe’s economic policies, including the weakening of the country’s currency. The yen’s 19 percent drop from the same quarter a year earlier made Japanese cars, auto parts, machinery, electronic components and home appliances more competitive in the U.S., Europe and Asia.

The earnings growth means companies have the most cash per share in more than a decade, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. They had an average of ¥3,255.91 in cash and equivalents per share, the most since at least 2000 and 19 percent more than in the same quarter a year earlier, the data show.

Toyota’s cash and marketable securities rose 11 percent to $37 billion as of the end of June, the most among listed nonfinancial companies in Japan, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

The automaker’s capital spending and research expenditures are to jump 10 percent this fiscal year. The company is paying workers the highest bonuses since 2008, while planning higher dividends.

Toyota’s earnings soared as the weaker yen bolstered the value of exports. The company makes about half its cars at factories in the country. Income from Japanese operations, including exports, quadrupled to ¥456 billion in the quarter. That’s more than double what analysts surveyed by Bloomberg News were expecting.

The country’s six biggest carmakers reported total net income of about ¥848 billion for the quarter that ended in June, beating analyst estimates 14 percent.

Toyota raised its forecast for annual profit to ¥1.48 trillion on Aug. 2 from a May forecast of ¥1.37 trillion, citing better than expected margins on vehicles made in Japan and sold abroad.

“It’s unusual for a company to be raising their forecasts this early on,” said Nicholas Smith, a strategist at CLSA Asia-Pacific Markets. “Things are finally coming together for them.”

Meanwhile, Sony raised its annual sales forecast 5 percent, citing the weaker-than-expected currency, after reporting first-quarter profit of ¥3.48 billion, beating analysts’ estimates.

The weaker currency is also fueling an earnings rebound at domestic shipping companies.

Nippon Yusen K.K., Mitsui O.S.K. Lines Ltd. and Kawasaki Kisen Kaisha Ltd., the country’s three biggest commercial fleets, returned to profit in the first quarter as a weaker yen boosted earnings repatriated into the local currency.

A shift from overseas growth to investing in Japan, where decades of stagnant growth and an aging population have discouraged expansion, has become a key measure of success for Abe’s efforts to revive growth.

Since Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party won power in December, the prime minister has shot two arrows aimed at ending 15 years of deflation and reviving growth. The first was a monetary policy that doubled purchases of bonds to pump cash into the economy. The second was a fiscal stimulus plan that boosted government spending.

Gains at exporters have sparked the country’s biggest stock rally since 2005, prompting consumers to spend more, said Toshihiro Nagahama, chief economist at Dai-ichi Life Research Institute.

“Retailer profits are gaining as higher share prices provide a wealth effect to consumers,” said Nagahama.

Latest economic figures show the GDP deflator, a wider price gauge than the consumer price index, rose 0.1 percent from the previous quarter, marking the first climb in three quarters and indicating that the economy has shown signs of emerging from nearly two decades of deflation.

Consumption, the biggest component, accounting for around 60 percent of GDP, increased 0.8 percent on the back of healthy sales of luxury goods such as jewelry, with consumer confidence improving amid higher share prices.

Consumer prices are likely to increase gradually, the BOJ said in a statement Aug. 8.

“Consumer sentiment is starting to improve,” said Mikihiko Yamato, deputy head of research at JI Asia in Tokyo. “While people’s salaries are not increasing, bonuses are rising and I think they will spend a lot in the December holiday season. More people are buying themselves things that are a little bit better than what they usually buy.”

Still, some investors were disappointed with fiscal first-quarter earnings that rose less than they had expected. The broader Topix index has dropped 4.7 percent in the past month, trimming this year’s gains to 33 percent.

“People in the market had already expected the weak yen will boost profit,” said Yoshihiro Ito, chief strategist at Okasan Online Securities. “Companies still need to increase capital spending before consumer spending will be invigorated.”