Toyota foresees profit slump after quake, strong yen

Japanese auto giant Toyota on Friday said it expected net profit in this fiscal year to drop 31% on-year to $3.5-billion on a strong yen and the effect on production of the March 11 disasters.

The automaker said it expected to stage a recovery in the second half as supply problems caused by the earthquake fade, but warned the current strength of the local currency made domestic production too expensive.

Toyota had delayed its estimate to assess the full scale of the impact of the quake on production and sales, and is the first of Japan’s major automakers to give an earnings forecast.

Its estimate of a 280-billion yen net profit missed expectations and is well below last year’s 408.1-billion yen ($5.1-billion) net profit.

The 9.0-magnitude earthquake and the resulting tsunami on March 11 left 24 000 dead or missing, hammered production and crippled electricity-generating facilities, including a nuclear plant at the centre of an ongoing emergency.

Amid power and parts supply woes, Toyota announced production disruptions domestically and overseas because of the crisis, temporarily slowing output or shutting plants. Production is expected to fully recover in November.

The disaster — which contributed to a 77% net profit fall for Toyota in the fourth quarter — will reduce its global production by 450 000 units, and would result in a 360-billion yen hit to operating profit this year, said executive vice-president Satoshi Ozawa.

‘A level playing field’
The strong yen versus other currencies has meanwhile hit repatriated profits and made it more expensive for Toyota to produce cars in Japan for sale overseas.

The yen is currently trading at around 80 to the dollar, a rate that was “beyond the limit” in terms of manufacturing goods in Japan, Ozawa quoted Toyota president Akio Toyoda as saying.

“The current strong yen is putting a big burden on Japanese manufacturing and Japanese industries,” Ozawa said, arguing Toyota wanted “a level playing field” with rival makers.

“We’d like to ask the government to correct currency rates as soon as possible,” he said.

Toyota’s net profit for the first half to September 30 was expected to plunge 97% to 10-billion yen.

Full-year sales were forecast at 18.6-trillion yen, compared with 18.99-trillion yen the previous year.

‘World’s number one’
Operating profit is projected at 300-billion yen for the full year to March 2012, compared with 468.2-billion yen the previous year.

“We will step up production in the second half, strive to cut fixed expenses and make continuous efforts to reduce costs, which we expect will bring about 300-billion yen,” Ozawa said.

Analysts say Toyota is particularly exposed in terms of its thin operating margins in comparison with its peers, partly due to quality-related expenditures as it looks to recover from the impact of millions of recalls.

Toyota became mired in crisis when it recalled nearly nine million autos between late 2009 and February last year due to brake and accelerator defects.

It sold 8.42-million vehicles globally in 2010, just ahead of General Motors’ 8.39-million, but analysts say the impact of the March disasters will see it cede its position as the world’s biggest carmaker.

“There is no importance at all in being the world’s number one,” Ozawa said Friday, arguing that Toyota’s focus was on quality. — AFP

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