Nissan says full-year profit up 14%

TOKYO - Nissan said Monday its full-year net profit jumped 14%, driven by a recovery in major markets, cost-cutting efforts and the weaker yen, and forecast further marginal improvement this year.

Japan's second-biggest automaker said it earned 389.0 billion yen ($3.8 billion) for the fiscal year to March, after sales rose 20% on the previous year to 10.48 trillion yen.

The profit and sales gains were mainly due to "a reverse of the yen's appreciation against the dollar, reductions of purchasing costs and growing sales," Nissan said in a statement.

Nissan, maker of the Altima sedan and luxury Infiniti brand, said sales in Japan rose 11.1% in units for the fiscal year, while those in China jumped 17.2%.

Nissan's sales in North America gained 12.4% with a 2.4% increase in Europe, but its sales in other regions declined 8.5%.

The figures come after rival Toyota last week posted a record annual net profit of 1.82 trillion yen over the fiscal year to March, nearly doubling from a year earlier.

Japanese car companies have been big winners over the past year as a sharp drop in the yen inflated their repatriated profits, while sales accelerated in key markets including the US and China.

- China sales recover -

Japanese automakers' sales in China fell off a cliff in late 2012 and into last year as a Tokyo-Beijing row over disputed islands sparked a consumer boycott of Japanese brands in the world's biggest vehicle market.

Relations remain tense, but Japanese manufacturers have reported sales are returning to pre-spat levels.

"Although our performance was impacted by the island dispute in the first half, demand has since significantly improved," the company's chief executive Carlos Ghosn told a news conference.

For the current fiscal year, Nissan forecast slight gains in both profit and sales, projecting a 405 billion yen net profit and sales of 10.79 trillion yen in the year to March 2015.

"This is a satisfactory outcome reflecting solid growth in several key markets, but these results ... do not yet reflect Nissan's actual potential," Ghosn said.

Nissan's 14% net profit gain compares with Toyota's 90% surge and a 56% jump posted by their rival Honda Motor for the fiscal year.

"Nissan has been somewhat left behind due to several negative factors, including smaller than expected sales in emerging economies and the growing cost of consumer incentives in the US market," said Shigeru Matsumura, analyst with SMBC Friend Securities.

Japanese carmakers, including Nissan, are likely to face a tough business environment for the current fiscal year, Matsumura said.

"The positive impact of a weak yen is tapering off, while the consumption tax hike is expected to dampen sales in Japan," he said, he said, referring to a rise in sales tax from five percent to eight percent, which took effect in April.

"Customers in emerging economies are now demanding better quality cars at lower prices, while cleaner engines are sought," he said. "It's going to be a crucial year for all carmakers."

In Tokyo, Nissan shares closed 0.22% lower at 869 yen before the earnings report was released.

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