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(YURIKO NAKAO/Yuriko Nakoa/Reuters)
(YURIKO NAKAO/Yuriko Nakoa/Reuters)

Toyota profit biggest in two years Add to ...

Toyota Motor Corp's hike in forecasts and biggest quarterly profit in two years on robust Asian sales failed to allay concerns that a strong yen and a faltering U.S. recovery would take a toll in the coming months.

Toyota joined rivals from Ford Motor Co to Hyundai Motor Co in posting forecast-beating quarterly results, a big turnaround from six months ago when the world's largest auto maker was reeling from its worst safety crisis.

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Toyota raised its global sales forecast by 90,000 units to 7.38 million vehicles for the year to March, but like other auto makers, warned that the second half would be tough, particularly in crisis-hit Europe where it cut its target.

Sales costs would also increase, it said, as auto makers gear up to entice consumers in a tougher environment, further pressuring already weak margins.

"The prospect of an economic slowdown in North America is the biggest concern for Toyota," said Mitsushige Akino, chief fund manager at Ichiyoshi Investment Management.

"Its first-quarter results were solid but its upgrading of its fiscal year forecast was below consensus, so they are keeping a cautious stance."

Toyota's new guidance for operating profit to total ¥330-billion ($3.85-billion U.S.) in the year to March 31, 2011, is still far short of a consensus ¥527-billion in a survey of 21 analysts by Thomson Reuters.

Toyota was forced to recall more than 10 million vehicles for problems with unintended acceleration and braking issues, which cost the company billions of dollars and tarnished its image.



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President Akio Toyoda has vowed to put the recall debacle that has monopolized his first year as chief executive behind him, calling 2010 a fresh "starting line" for the 73-year-old company founded by his grandfather.

"Toyota is losing out to rivals in the U.S. and Chinese markets due to its recalls," said Richard Lin, a Taipei-based analyst at Uni-President Asset Management, whose Asia-Pacific fund recently sold Toyota shares. "Its growth momentum is not as strong as that of Nissan, Hyundai and BMW."

Margins are also a problem, with Toyota offering higher sales incentives to attract U.S. customers. It said it wanted to cut U.S. sales incentives by 10-20 per cent in the coming months.

Toyota's first quarter margin was 4.3 per cent, compared with Nissan's 8.2 per cent and Honda's 9.9 per cent.

In the coming quarters, Toyota is set to get the double blow of crumbling domestic sales and a stronger-than-assumed yen, which makes exports less competitive and reduces the value of profits made overseas.

Toyota expects to export around 60 per cent of its Japan-made vehicles this year - a higher ratio than at rivals Honda Motor Co and Nissan Motor Co.

Toyota kept its dollar assumption at 90 yen, a figure described by some analysts as aggressive, but cut its euro forecast to 112 yen versus 125 yen.

"There's a lack of visibility regarding currency movements and it's difficult to predict how big an impact the end of Japanese subsidies will have," senior managing director Takahiko Ijichi told a news conference. "We're factoring in a big impact on profits from weaker volumes in the second half."

Japan's incentives to replace old cars with fuel-efficient ones have shored up domestic production in the past year, but those subsidies will expire in September. Toyota has been a major beneficiary since the subsidies favour hybrid cars like its best-selling Prius.

And with a U.S. sales recovery looking slower than anticipated, Toyota has said it may be a few years before its operations in Japan could break even.

"For Toyota, there's a lot of weight on Japan and North America, so a slowdown in the recovery in U.S. sales is especially a risk for them," said UBS auto analyst Tatsuo Yoshida.

Toyota's U.S. sales in July slipped 3 per cent, albeit from strong results a year earlier, and trailed a 5 per cent rise in overall sales, data on Tuesday showed.

For the April-June quarter, the maker of the Corolla sedan reported an operating profit of ¥211.7-billion thanks to a sharp rise in vehicle sales and boosted by big finance-related gains. A year ago, it lost ¥194.9-billion.

First-quarter net profit, which includes earnings made in China, was 190.5 billion yen, compared with a loss of 77.8 billion yen a year earlier.

Shares of Toyota have fallen about 22 per cent in the year to date, faring worse than Tokyo's main TOPIX index, which lost 17 per cent in the same period.

Toyota's shares closed down 1.6 per cent before the results were announced on Wednesday, against a 2.1 per cent fall in the broader Tokyo market.

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