Olympus Expects Camera Unit to Return to Profit Next Year

Olympus Corp. forecast a return to profit for its camera unit next fiscal year as sales of mirrorless models increase.

Annual sales of mirrorless models will rise to 1 million units as early as in the year starting April, reaching 5 percent share of the global market, Chief Executive Officer Hiroyuki Sasa said in an interview in Tokyo yesterday. Achieving that level of sales will bring about 7 billion yen ($68 million) in operating profit, he said.

Olympus, which has posted two consecutive quarters of losses, is counting on high-end mirrorless digital cameras to make up for the earning shortfalls from compact ones amid surging demand of smartphone sales such as Apple Inc.’s iPhone. The Tokyo-based company aims for its mirrorless models to compete with single-lens reflux cameras by Canon Inc. and Nikon Corp., the world’s biggest camera makers.

“What mirrorless cameras can do has become toe-to-toe with cameras with mirrorbox,” Sasa said. “Ours are lighter, smaller and made with less parts, so we can do better with prices.”

Mirrorless models have sensors that send image data directly to the camera’s LCD screen, eliminating the need for mirrors, prisms and an optical viewfinder. Olympus has said it expects to sell 660,000 units of mirrorless cameras in the year ending March.

With the camera industry’s revenue falling to the lowest level in a decade, amid surging smartphone sales, Nikon has cut prices to lure consumers. The single-lens reflex camera market was 20 million units globally last year, according to data by Camera & Imaging Products Association.

Olympus’s camera unit accounted for about 14 percent of the company’s total revenue last year and reported an operating loss of 2.7 billion yen in the six months ended Sept. 30.

Using Innovations

The company needs to stay in the camera business so it can also use the innovations for its health-care business, Sasa said. There’s no reason for Olympus to exit the market, he said.

Shares of Olympus rose 2 percent to 3,260 yen in Tokyo yesterday. The stock has almost doubled this year, while the benchmark Topix Index has risen 45 percent.

Olympus, also the world’s biggest maker of endoscopes, in November cut its net income forecast for year ending March to 13 billion yen from 30 billion yen, citing cash set aside for lawsuits.

Olympus, whose former president revealed a $1.7 billion accounting fraud that lasted 13 years, was in September charged in the U.K. for allegedly deceiving auditors at a subsidiary.

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