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Old 02-04-2005, 07:19   #1 (permalink)
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Japan:Mazda posts strong third-quarter profit

Mazda posts strong third-quarter profit

Reuters

TOKYO -- Mazda Motor Corp. posted better-than-expected third-quarter profits on Friday and kept its projections for record full-year earnings, but it cut its sales forecast as it loses production to a fire at a Japanese plant.

The maker of the popular Mazda3 compact now expects to ship 30,000 fewer cars worldwide in the year to March 31 -- a shortfall in production that it had flagged last week -- resulting in the lower revenue projection.

But the Japanese automaker, owned one-third by Ford Motor Co., said cost cuts and a favorable strengthening in the euro would help it meet its original profit forecasts. Mazda now expects the euro to average 132 yen for the year instead of 134 yen, while keeping its dollar assumption rate at 107 yen.

"We are pleased with our year-to-date results and, despite the December fire at our Ujina No. 1 plant, are still on course to achieve all-time record operating profits," Chief Financial Officer Gideon Wolthers said in a statement.

Mazda said restoration at the plant, which has been out of action since one of its paint lines caught fire in mid-December, was moving faster than expected. Operations at the plant, located near its headquarters in Hiroshima, Japan, are scheduled to fully restart in April.

For the October-December quarter, operating profit was 20.6 billion yen ($197.2 million), better than the average 16.87 billion yen expected by three brokerages surveyed by Reuters Estimates. Net profit was 7.4 billion yen.

Mazda reported third-quarter profits for the first time and gave no comparisons from the year before.

Operating profit for the nine months to Dec. 31 was 64.14 billion yen, representing 82 percent of its full-year target of a record 78 billion yen, or up 11 percent from last year.

Net profit is still expected to total 37 billion yen after factoring in up to a 10 billion yen impact from the fire, part of which Mazda said should be covered by insurance.

Revenue forecast for the year was lowered to 2.66 trillion yen from 2.71 trillion yen, with slower shipments expected in all major regions -- Japan, North America and Europe. Mazda expects global shipments to total 1.1 million units instead of the 1.13 million projected three months ago.

The automaker is especially struggling to reverse a sales slide in the United States, which management has said was the main priority to put the company back on a solid recovery track.

Its U.S. sales during the three quarters fell 4.1 percent to 200,000 units on weak demand for its light trucks. Sales of smaller cars were also falling slightly short of expectations, a Mazda official said.

But Tochio Nobuyoshi, deputy general manager of Mazda's finance division, said profitability was improving in North America because the automaker was spending less on sales incentives and selling fewer vehicles to fleet customers.

He said Mazda was now spending about $2,100 per vehicle on incentives such as discounts and rebates, $300 less than the average spending in 2004.

In Europe, sales grew 14.3 percent to 201,000 units during the nine months, but the pace of rise has slowed recently on heated competition. In Japan, sales rose 1.6 percent to 196,000 vehicles.
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