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Toyota boosts outlook as profit rises 23%

Visitors browse a Toyota showroom in Tokyo,Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2013. Toyota Motor Corp. reported its October-December profit rose 23 per cent.

Koji Sasahara/AP

Toyota Motor Corp. lifted its annual profit guidance, banking on stronger sales in its key U.S. market and a boost from a weaker yen, which put its Japanese manufacturing in the black for the first time in five years.

But the world's best-selling auto maker, which shipped a record number of cars last year, said it would not build any new factories over the next three years despite the pickup in its fortunes, after it was burned in the financial crisis.

Toyota raised its net profit forecast for the year to March by more than 10 per cent to ¥860-billion ($9.3-billion U.S.) on strong U.S. sales of the Camry sedan and other vehicles.

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"If the current weak yen trend continues, the company's profit will likely sharply rise for the next fiscal year as well," said Mitsushige Akino, chief fund manager at Ichiyoshi Asset Management.

"If a recovery in the U.S. economy serves as a tailwind, its stock price has more upside."

The firm said it expected to ship 2.2 million vehicles in the U.S. this calendar year, up almost 6 per cent from last year's figure.

Among Japan's big three auto makers Toyota, Nissan Motor Co. and Honda Motor Co., analysts see top seller Toyota as the most likely to benefit from a weakening yen because it has the highest ratio of production in Japan, more than half of which it exports.

Japanese operations, including domestic manufacturing for export, used to generate about half of Toyota's profit, but they started losing money after the Lehman Brothers crisis of 2008, until the yen's recent weakening put them back into the black.

The yen is trading around 92 to the dollar, compared with 78 at the start of October. The weaker the Japanese currency, the more money exporters make when they convert overseas profits back into yen.

By contrast, Toyota's South Korean rival Hyundai Motor Co , which including its affiliate Kia Motors Corp is ranked fifth in global sales, last month posted a surprise quarterly profit drop as a stronger won dented its overseas earnings.

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Last week, Honda announced a third-quarter profit that was less than the market had expected, but believed the weaker yen would help to absorb the impact of poor demand in China and Europe.

Nissan is due to announce its results on Feb. 8.

In 2013, Toyota expects to sell 8.9 million vehicles globally. Across the group, which includes Daihatsu Motor Co. and Hino Motors Ltd., it forecasts shipping 9.91 million vehicles.

Last year, the 75-year-old firm sold a record 8.72 million vehicles around the world. Its group-wide sales were also a record high of 9.75 million vehicles, beating General Motors Co to regain top rank among car manufacturers.

Still, Toyota does not plan to dramatically ramp up production in the weak-yen environment.

"It's easy to confuse volume expansion with true growth as a company," senior managing officer Takahiko Ijichi told reporters.

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"We're getting rid of that way of doing business," he said, adding that the firm did not plan to build new plants for the next three years.

Toyota posted net profit of ¥99.9-billion for the three months to Dec. 31, up 23.5 per cent from a year ago but below the average estimate of ¥143.7-billion among seven analysts polled by Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Behind the poorer-than-expected third quarter performance was the cost of settling a class action lawsuit in the United States over claims that millions of Toyota cars accelerate unintentionally.

The firm booked ¥90-billion in costs related to the class action settlement, Toyota's Ijichi said.

Shares in Toyota have risen nearly 50 per cent since mid-November on hopes the weakening yen will boost its bottom line, nearly double the 28 per cent rise in Tokyo's benchmark Nikkei average over the same period.

Toyota shares ended down 1.2 per cent on Tuesday at ¥4,540 before the earnings announcement, performing better than the Nikkei, which dropped 1.9 per cent.

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