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Written by: Staff

TOKYO, May 2 (Reuters) Toyota Motor Corp. is set to boost its per share dividend by about 30 percent for the business year ended in March, the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper said on Tuesday, a level in line with market estimates.

Toyota said it could not comment on specific dividend plans until it publishes its full-year earnings on May 10, but said it would steadily raise the payout if profits rise.

Japan's top auto maker has said it is aiming to raise its dividend payout ratio to around 30 percent -- a benchmark for major Western companies -- from around 18 percent in the year ended March 2005, through dividend hikes and share buybacks.

The Yomiuri, without citing sources, said Toyota would add about 20 yen to its annual per share dividend for last business year from the 65 yen paid out in 2004/05.

A consensus estimate of 17 analysts surveyed by Reuters Estimates has Toyota's dividend at 85 yen a share for last year, and climbing to 100 yen this year.

The report had little impact on Toyota's shares, which ended the morning session up 1.94 percent at 6,820 yen, in line with a 1.99 percent rise in Tokyo's transport sector subindex.

At current share prices and with the estimated 85 yen in per share dividend, Toyota's dividend yield of 1.25 percent would be one of the lowest among big auto makers. Japan's second-ranked Nissan Motor Co.'s dividend yield stands at 1.93 percent, while DaimlerChrysler AG's is around 3.45 percent.

Fuelled by key product launches, a soft yen and hefty cost cuts, Toyota is set to extend its run of record profits for the last business year, and strong earnings are expected to continue for some time.

An average of 21 estimates compiled by Reuters Estimates puts 2005/06 operating profit at 1.779 trillion yen ($15.73 billion) -- by far the biggest in the global auto industry.

Toyota has so far provided no group-based earnings estimates, but, answering calls from the investment community, will start doing so from this year, a spokesman said.

Consensus projections have Toyota's operating profit rising to 2.006 trillion yen for the year to March 2007.

($1=113.10 Yen) REUTERS CS HT0914

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