Toyota Motor Corp. (7203) outsold General Motors Co. (GM) and all other carmakers for the second time in three quarters, in the latest example of how Japan’s largest manufacturers are benefiting from Abenomics.
Japan’s biggest company and its subsidiaries sold 2.5 million vehicles in the July-to-September period, up 2.8 percent from a year earlier, according to figures released today by the Toyota City-based carmaker. Third-quarter sales at Detroit-based GM, reported earlier this month, rose 5.5 percent to 2.4 million vehicles while Volkswagen AG (VOW) boosted deliveries, excluding heavy trucks, to about 2.33 million, according to data from the companies.
Toyota’s recent success -- analysts estimate it will post record profit this fiscal year -- illustrates how Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s policies that have weakened the yen are benefiting Japan’s exporters and helping revive an economy that’s been through three recessions in five years. Large manufacturers are more confident than they’ve been since 2007, and share prices are near the highest in half a decade.
“In the past few months, Abenomics has pushed up sales of Japanese carmakers by weakening the yen,” said Yuuki Sakurai, President of Fukoku Capital Management Inc. “The selling prices of some Japanese cars in the U.S. have been lowered to make them more competitive.”
Toyota shares have gained 58 percent this year, compared with GM’s 23 percent. Volkswagen’s stock has been little changed.
Toyota outsold GM in the first nine months of 2013, putting the company on track to lead the industry for a second straight year. Toyota sold 7.41 million vehicles versus GM’s 7.25 million and VW’s 7.03 million, according to the companies.
The yen has fallen about 11 percent against the dollar in 2013, creating a tailwind for Japanese brands as they face the most competitive lineup of vehicles from GM, Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler Group LLC in a generation.
Before Abe, the Japanese currency hobbled exporters for years, appreciating to a postwar high of 75.35 to the dollar in October 2011 from about 115 four years earlier. The yen began tumbling in late 2012 as polls showed Abe, who called for unprecedented monetary-easing policies that would weaken the currency, was going to be Japan’s next head of state. The yen traded at 97.67 to the dollar at 6:26 p.m. Tokyo time.
In the U.S., Toyota’s deliveries rose 12 percent in the July-to-September period, enough to outsell Ford for the first time in 15 quarters as the weaker yen gave the Japanese company room to offer higher incentives for its best-selling Camry model. Toyota sold 586,016 vehicles in the U.S. last quarter, second only to GM’s 697,113.
Honda Motor Co.’s U.S. deliveries rose 13 percent to the highest in 21 quarters, Nissan’s climbed 10 percent and Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd. (7270)’s Subaru saw deliveries surge more than 30 percent for a second straight quarter. The total U.S. market expanded 9 percent and GM posted 6.9 percent growth, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
The benefits from the yen have prompted Ford Chief Executive Officer Alan Mulally to call Japan a currency manipulator that’s giving local exporters an unfair edge. U.S. automakers have hired lobbyists to oppose Japan’s entry into the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a U.S.-led free-trade agreement that’s being negotiated.
In Japan, where local brands control about 90 percent of sales, industry deliveries rose for the first time in four quarters amid an improving economy and as consumers rushed to buy cars before the nation’s sales tax, which has been unchanged at 5 percent since 1997, rises to 8 percent next April.
While Toyota saw its smallest drop in Japan deliveries in four quarters, falling deliveries in the domestic market contributed to Toyota posting slower sales growth than GM globally.
BNP Paribas SA (BNP) estimated earlier this month that auto sales in Japan may continue rising before the increase in the sales tax and that current estimates for industry sales of 5.5 million vehicles this fiscal year may be too low.
Even in China, the world’s largest auto market, things are looking up for Toyota as the backlash there against Japanese brands fades. A diplomatic row between Asia’s two biggest economies over a group of uninhabited islands triggered protests and consumer boycotts across China last year, leading to sales declines for Japan’s three biggest carmakers.
Toyota’s China sales rose 11 percent in the three months to September -- the fastest growth in five quarters -- to about 220,000 vehicles. Nissan and Honda also reported gains.
Still, GM and VW each sells three to four vehicles in China for every one that Toyota delivers. GM’s sales in the country climbed 12 percent to 745,026 vehicles, while VW estimates its deliveries in China -- including Hong Kong -- rose to above 800,000.
In Southeast Asia, where Japanese auto brands dominate, demand is slumping. In Indonesia, where Toyota and unit Daihatsu account for about half of sales, the growth in deliveries has dipped below 10 percent for two straight quarters amid higher fuel prices, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
Auto sales in Thailand, where Japanese automakers control 90 percent of the market, fell 25 percent in the third quarter after government rebates to encourage first-time vehicle buyers ended.
In Europe, auto sales rose for the first time in eight quarters as the end of a recession in the region and price cuts helped revive demand. In September alone, regional market leader VW saw sales climb 5.8 percent and GM’s deliveries increased 5.4 percent as Toyota posted a 6.1 percent gain in registrations.
With sales picking up globally, Toyota is poised to rake in higher profits. Net income last quarter surged 72 percent to 444.7 billion yen ($4.6 billion), according to the average of six analyst estimates compiled by Bloomberg. That’s triple the earnings GM is expected to report and more than 70 percent higher than the average estimate for VW.
“At this time it looks like the yen will stay where it is at now -- from 95 to 105,” said Edwin Merner, president of Atlantis Investment Research Corp., which manages about $3 billion in assets. Those “will be very nice exchange rates for Toyota,” he said.
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