February 5, 2013 9:47 am

Toyota lifts profit outlook on US demand

Toyota, which regained its position as the world’s largest carmaker in 2012, underscored its firm recovery by raising its profit forecast on buoyant demand in the US and the impact of a weaker yen.

The Japanese carmaker expects consolidated net profit of Y860bn for the year to March, a 10 per cent increase from the Y780bn previously forecast and more than triple the Y283.5bn it made in the previous year.

Revenues are forecast to rise to Y21.8tn, against an earlier forecast of Y21.3tn, and Y18.5tn in the previous year.

The better performance reflects strong demand for Toyota’s vehicles, particularly in the US, where the Toyota Camry was the leading choice among sedan buyers last year for the 11th straight year.

Toyota made a net profit of Y99.9bn for the third quarter to the end of December, up 23.5 per cent from a year ago, when it was recovering from a series of natural disasters.

Toyota and other Japanese carmakers were particularly hard hit in 2011 by the massive earthquake and tsunami in northeastern Japan, as well as by the floods in Thailand.

It took a Y90bn hit in the third quarter because of its settlement with car owners who lost money on reports that Toyota vehicles were prone to unintended acceleration, which led to a massive recall of its cars in 2010.

In the current year to March, Toyota expects to sell 100,000 more vehicles than it initially forecast last November, or 8.85m units, in large part because of strong demand in the US.

“This year, we think there is a possibility that the US market overall will grow to more than 15m units,” said Takahiko Ijichi, senior managing director.

Toyota, along with other Japanese automakers, suffered for most of the year from a strong yen as well as the economic slump in Europe and anti-Japan protests and boycotts in China in the summer.

The Chinese problems, stemming from a bilateral territorial dispute over islands in the East China Sea, halved sales in China in September and October, preventing Toyota from achieving its target of more than 1m vehicle sales a year in that market.

Demand in Japan, which was buoyant until the autumn because of government subsidies for eco-friendly cars, has also slumped since September when the subsidies were ended, and is expected to remain sluggish through the year.

Meanwhile, “Europe continues to be a very difficult market with the exception of Russia”, Mr Ijichi said, adding that Toyota expects the European market to shrink further this year.

Nevertheless, Toyota expects higher sales in overseas markets and the weaker yen to drive profits higher in the year to March.

Toyota sold more than 1.8m vehicles in North America in the nine months to the end of December, compared with 1.3m in the same period in 2011.

Kohei Takahashi, analyst at JPMorgan in Tokyo, said Toyota’s market share in the US, which had fallen to 14 per cent last year, could easily rise back to the 17 per cent level it has enjoyed in the past.

“I expect Toyota to increase their market share further in the US as the negative news recedes and they bring new models to the market,” said Mr Takahashi.

The weakening of the yen against the US dollar and euro is expected to contribute Y140bn to operating profits in the year to March.

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