Toyota Motor Corp. and Nissan Motor Co. are benefiting from a decline in the price of commodities like steel and rubber, which will make it cheaper to produce cars and give an extra boost to profits.
Seven analysts who cover the industry said in interviews that the automakers haven’t fully factored declining global commodity prices into their earnings estimates for the fiscal year ending March.
Lower prices for materials such as steel may boost full-year net income at Toyota by more than $500 million, said Frank Schwope, an analyst at Norddeutsche Landesbank Girozentrale in Hanover, Germany.
“It’s a big advantage,” Schwope said. “You don’t see the prices stabilize for now, so I’m expecting further boosts.”
Automakers are some of the biggest beneficiaries of the falling prices, said Steve Man, a Bloomberg Intelligence analyst.
For Japan’s carmakers, set to report third-quarter earnings starting with Honda Motor Co. on Friday, the windfall comes on top of a weaker yen that’s increasing the repatriated value of overseas earnings.
“The yen obviously is a big tailwind, but the impact of raw material prices is no small thing,” said Masahiro Akita, an analyst at Credit Suisse AG.
Toyota and Nissan had estimated that raw material costs would rise this year by ¥75 billion and ¥30 billion, respectively. Instead, cold-rolled steel — which accounts for the lion’s share of such costs — has fallen 13 percent in the past 12 months, according to Bloomberg Intelligence calculations of average global prices. Rubber dropped 11 percent. The plunge in oil prices to the lowest in six years is also buoying car demand as drivers pay less for gasoline.
Analysts expect aggregate net income for Japan’s three biggest carmakers — Toyota, Nissan and Honda — to exceed the companies’ own estimates by 8 percent, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
The gap is set to widen as analysts update their forecasts to account for lower commodity prices.
Schwope said he may raise his estimate for Toyota’s commodities windfall by an additional $100 million or more, resulting in a projected 3.5 percent boost to Toyota’s full-year profit forecast for a record ¥2 trillion.
Six other analysts from brokerages including Credit Suisse and Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley Securities Co., surveyed by Bloomberg News last week, also said they need to quantify the gain from lower commodity prices when making future profit forecasts, and that they expect Toyota and Nissan to do the same.
The calculations are complicated by the impact of the weaker yen. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s efforts to fight deflation helped drive the Japanese currency to a seven-year low against the U.S. dollar in December.
While the yen’s depreciation raises the value of earnings from overseas, it also makes commodities — most of which are priced in dollars — more expensive in yen terms.
While the benefit of lower commodity prices should be factored into forecasts, “it’s still unclear how big it is,” said Koji Endo, an analyst at Advanced Research Japan, citing currency fluctuations.
Japanese carmakers’ profits and share prices have also been eroded in the past year by vehicle recalls triggered by faulty Takata Corp. air bags that could explode with too much force and spew metal shards at motorists. The flaw has been linked to five deaths in the U.S. and Malaysia.
Honda, Takata’s largest customer, will probably book ¥40 billion in quality-related costs, according to Shotaro Noguchi, an analyst at SMBC Nikko Co.
Analysts have cut their average estimates for Honda’s full- year operating profit by 3 percent and Nissan’s by 0.5 percent in the past four weeks, amid mounting recall costs and slumping sales in emerging markets including China and Russia.
The average estimate for Toyota has risen 0.7 percent as the company outsold Volkswagen AG and General Motors Co. globally for a third straight year in 2014.
The effect of lower commodity prices on profits may be even greater next fiscal year, as raw materials prices for automakers are determined by longer-term contracts that are typically negotiated every six months.
Nissan will probably see a profit boost of ¥57 billion in the fiscal year starting April 1, equivalent to 14 percent of projected earnings for the current year, according to Christopher Richter, an analyst at CLSA Ltd. Nissan’s raw-material costs per vehicle will drop 11 percent to $1,444, he wrote in a report this month.
“Car prices will also likely fall with the raw materials, further boosting sales,” said Martin Krajhanzl, an analyst at Erste Group Bank AG in Austria. “It’s a really important impact on automakers.”
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