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After record profits, Japanese firms growing jittery over protectionism, oil prices

JIJI

After scoring record earnings in fiscal 2017, many Japanese companies are getting jittery about the course of the global economy amid protectionist moves in the United States and higher oil prices.

For the fiscal year ended in March, 272 nonfinancial companies listed on the Tokyo Stock Exchange’s first section had reported record group net profits by Thursday.

Their showings were jacked up by brisk sales, price hikes and corporate reforms.

Mitsuaki Nishiyama, senior vice president of Hitachi Ltd., credited reforms as the technology giant logged a record net profit for the first time in six years thanks to efforts to trim sluggish operations, such as logistics.

Net profit at Sony Corp. surged more than sixfold from the previous year to ¥490 billion as a result of similar reforms.

Toyota Motor Corp. chalked up a net profit of ¥2.49 trillion, supported by brisk sales of fuel-efficient hybrid vehicles, the yen’s decline and U.S. corporate tax cuts. President Akio Toyoda said effects of cost-cutting “are becoming evident.”

Shin-Etsu Chemical Co. enjoyed a record net profit for the first time in 10 years, mainly because prices for vinyl chloride resin for pipes rose amid rising global infrastructure demand.

The wider use of “internet of things” and artificial intelligence technologies buoyed semiconductor-related companies.

Net profit at chip-making equipment producer Tokyo Electron Ltd. rewrote the record high from the previous year, jumping by more than 70 percent.

The robust global economy also boosted earnings at nonmanufacturers. Airline operator ANA Holdings Inc. enjoyed a record profit for the third consecutive year, thanks to brisk demand for business trips and cargo services.

Meanwhile, sales have slowed for U.S. tech titan Apple Inc.’s high-end iPhone models, which supported earnings at electronics manufacturers in Japan.

An official of Mitsubishi Electric Corp. said that orders for equipment to make organic electroluminescence panels used in high-end smartphones are slowing.

For fiscal 2018, many managers worry about the chance of the yen rising due to international uncertainties and the course of U.S. trade under President Donald Trump.

By Friday, 1,049, or over 80 percent, of the 1,287 nonfinancial firms listed on the TSE’s first section that close their books in March had published their fiscal 2017 earnings, according to a Jiji Press survey.

Their combined net profits are forecast to fall 1.6 percent in fiscal 2018 after a climbing 25.2 percent the previous year, with 349 companies braced for lower earnings ahead, the survey said.

Shigenobu Nagamori, president and chairman of motor-maker Nidec Corp., warned that the dollar could fall below ¥100.

Following Washington’s recent decision to withdraw from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, many companies expect crude oil prices to rise further.

Recently, oil prices are 30 percent higher on average than in fiscal 2017.

This “is an unignorable cost factor,” said Hiroaki Mino, senior strategist at Mizuho Securities Co.

Labor shortages are also among the issues facing domestic firms.

Kenichi Shibasaki, senior managing executive officer of Yamato Holdings Co., said that the parcel delivery group won’t be able to continue business without improving its working environment.