Toyota roars back with robust profit forecast


A standout: A Toyota booth at the 89th Geneva International Motor Show in Switzerland. The world’s No. 1 automaker now stands primed for the V-shaped Covid recovery eluding many of its peers. — Reuters

TOKYO: Toyota Motor Corp unveiled a 250 billion yen (US$2.3bil or RM9.5bil) share buyback and expects to return to pre-pandemic profitability in the current fiscal year as its ability to keep churning out vehicles amid a global shortage of automotive chips puts it in a prime position to capitalise on swiftly recovering demand for cars.

The Japanese automaker forecast 2.5 trillion yen in operating profit for the 12 months that will end in March, compared with a 2.4 trillion yen profit in fiscal 2019, before the pandemic.

Analysts were predicting, on average, an operating profit of 2.7 trillion yen.

In a tumultuous period for the auto industry, Toyota quickly pulled ahead of the pack, straightening out its supply chain and ramping up production in order to meet rising demand for cars.

The world’s No. 1 automaker now stands primed for the V-shaped Covid recovery eluding many of its peers, which are having to scale back because of the global chip shortage.

Amid the gloom, Toyota’s results “stand out as particularly bright, ” Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Tatsuo Yoshida said. The company’s sales are proving sturdy, he said.

By manoeuvring through the disruptions of the pandemic, Toyota rose to become the world’s largest automaker last year, wresting the title back from Volkswagen AG.

Japanese rival Nissan Motor Co by contrast reported an operating loss of 151 billion yen for the fiscal year on Tuesday.

Honda Motor Co is set to announce earnings tomorrow, with analysts predicting, on average, a profit of 549 billion yen, down about 13% from the previous year.

Early implementation of infection-prevention measures and a timely ramp up of production in China, where virus-related disruptions dissipated relatively early, meant Toyota has been able to increase its global output above the previous year’s level each month since August.

That allowed Toyota to meet demand for cars that rose swiftly in regions beginning to emerge from lockdown. Overall, unit sales for the fiscal year ended in March were down just 4% versus the previous year.

Stronger-than-anticipated demand for cars threw the auto industry for a loop at the beginning of 2021 when many were hit with the realisation they hadn’t ordered enough chips to raise their output.

The failure to secure semiconductors, which are crucial to making tech-laden modern cars, is expected to result in millions of lost vehicle sales this year. Experts are saying the dearth will probably get worse before it gets better.

The chip shortage is likely to impact 500,000 units of Nissan’s output this current fiscal year, though it aims to recover about half of those losses in the latter half of the year when the crunch begins to ease, said Nissan chief executive officer Makoto Uchida, speaking at a briefing Tuesday.

Toyota has emerged relatively unscathed up until this point thanks to its practice of monitoring small suppliers and stockpiling chips, although a fire that broke out at an automotive chip plant owned by Renesas Electronics Corp in March still poses a risk to the whole of Japan’s automotive sector.

Toyota’s hybrid system of keeping inventory of some crucial parts gave it a leg up on other automakers depending heavily on the ‘Just-in-time’ manufacturing strategy of keeping a low stock of goods on hand.

As the shortage drags on, the world’s biggest automaker still expects to have sufficient semiconductors for production in the near term, though the summer months get a little cloudier, Bob Carter, Toyota’s top sales executive in the US, said in a recent interview.

The company’s deep contingency planning is putting it in a good position to reap sales from consumers in the United States and China who are snapping up cars, emboldened by signs the pandemic is waning.

Toyota’s global sales in March rose 44% to 982,912 units, an all-time record for a single month.

While a stronger rebound may be delayed by the chip shortage, Toyota is likely to recover any lost sales when the situation eases due to strong underlying auto demand in markets like China, Roman Schorr, a director at Fitch Ratings Ltd wrote in a recent note.

This could help accelerate the recovery in its operating performance and credit metrics to pre-pandemic levels, Schorr said.

Toyota shares are up about 5.5% this year. — Bloomberg

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