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Written by: Staff

TOKYO, April 6 (Reuters) Japan's Toyota Motor Corp., Honda Motor Co. and Mazda Motor Corp. will be more exposed to the dollar-yen exchange rate this business year as their car exports to the United States rise, a top Tokyo-based auto analyst said on Thursday.

Japan's top auto makers have made it a point to build more of their vehicles in markets where they are sold to reduce their exposure to currency swings, but have struggled to keep pace with the faster growth in demand, especially in the United States.

Speaking at an industry panel, Goldman Sachs' Kunihiko Shiohara also noted that much of these firms' recent capacity expansion in North America was aimed at building sport utility vehicles, pickups and other light truck models, which have been ceding some ground to the more fuel-efficient sedan segment due to higher gasoline prices.

With this shift in demand, Japanese auto makers would have to supply more passenger cars from their domestic plants, which would expose them further to currency fluctuations, he said.

Shiohara expects every one-yen swing in the dollar to add or subtract 30 billion yen ($255 million) from Toyota's consolidated operating profit in the year that started this month, up from 25 billion yen previously.

For Honda, the impact would grow to 18-19 billion yen from around 15 billion yen, while for Mazda it would jump to 2.5 billion yen from 1.5 billion yen, he predicted.

''All in all, they are likely to be well-exposed to exchange rate fluctuation risks from here,'' he said. ''We are really nervous about that.'' Top-ranked Toyota, which has a new assembly plant for large pickup trucks kicking off in San Antonio, Texas, later this year, exported 885,000 passenger cars to the United States in 2005, up 16 percent from the year before.

Honda's exports to the United States rose by a more modest 2.8 percent to 225,000 units in 2005. But the pace will pick up this year, Shiohara said, given its planned production of the new Acura RDX and CR-V crossovers in the United States, implying that that much capacity -- to the tune of 100,000 units a year -- would have to be supplied from Japan for passenger car models.

Mazda is seeing the biggest surge in exports to North America, with growth exceeding 40 percent in January and February thanks to the popularity of the Mazda5/Premacy model.

While auto makers favour a stronger buffer against foreign exchange swings, the bigger exposure is currently a boon for Japanese car makers, with the dollar trading 9 yen higher than a year ago, at around 117 yen.

Partly thanks to a weaker yen, nine out of Japan's major 13 auto makers are expected to report record profits for the business year ended March 31, Credit Suisse' auto analyst Koji Endo told the same gathering.

Cheered by the euro's climb to an all-time high against the yen, Japanese auto stocks posted strong gains across the board on Thursday. Toyota rose 3.2 percent to 6,770 yen, while Honda put on 5.65 percent to 7,850 yen, both marking new life-time highs.

($1=117.43 Yen) REUTERS SS BD2045

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