• Kyodo News

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Mazda Motor Corp. said Thursday that its group sales and operating profit for the first half of fiscal 2006 hit all-time highs, driven by brisk sales in the United States and Europe.

Mazda’s consolidated operating profit for the April-September period soared 43 percent from a year before to 69.76 billion yen on sales of 1.52 trillion yen, up 12.5 percent. The Hiroshima-based automaker benefited also from a weaker yen and cost-reduction efforts.

Mazda, the Japanese affiliate of Ford Motor Co., said its first-half group pretax profit also advanced 30.5 percent to 56.59 billion yen. Its group net profit, however, slipped 12.5 percent to 27.21 billion yen because a pension-related extraordinary profit was booked in the previous year’s fiscal first half.

Excluding this factor, its net profit rose 18 percent, the automaker said.

During the first half, Mazda’s domestic sales fell 7 percent to 131,000 units. Strong minicar sales were more than offset by a fall in demand for larger cars.

Its sales in the U.S. market grew 3 percent to 142,000 units, backed by brisk sales of the MX-5 sports car and the Mazda5 minivan as well as the newly introduced CX-7 crossover sport utility vehicle.

Strong sales of the MX-5 and Mazda5 helped the automaker post a 10 percent increase in sales in Europe to 151,000 units.

Mazda upgraded its full-year earnings forecast from estimates announced in April.

Its consolidated net profit for the year to next March is now estimated at 82 billion yen, up from the initially projected 75.00 billion yen, on sales of 3.15 trillion yen, up from 3.10 trillion yen. Its group pretax profit forecast has been upgraded to 140 billion yen, up from 130 billion yen.

In the previous year to last March, Mazda posted a group net profit of 66.71 billion yen and a pretax profit of 101.47 billion yen on sales of 2.92 trillion yen.

The automaker is paying no dividend for the latest fiscal first half and instead plans a yearend dividend of 5 yen per share, as in fiscal 2005.

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