Despite strong FY12 results, firms should seek new business strategy
The weaker yen and other economic factors have helped many Japanese companies achieve solid financial results. Now, their ability to implement aggressive strategies that can enhance their core businesses and promote growth stands to be tested.
Many companies listed on the First Section of the Tokyo Stock Exchange recently announced their consolidated settlements of accounts for fiscal 2012, and their average earnings are projected to grow for the first time in two fiscal years. It is also notable that several firms project a large or record increase in profits in fiscal 2013, which ends next March.
Many of those companies have overcome challenges such as damage caused by the Great East Japan Earthquake in March 2011 and massive floods in Thailand that inundated their factories the same year. Correction of the yen's excessive appreciation due to Abenomics, the economic policies of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government, and other measures have had tremendous effects on the improved earnings. Personal consumption has also embarked on a gradual path toward recovery.
We commend these improvements in the business environment that have led to increased profitability.
Automakers leading recovery
A prime example of the economic upswing is the auto industry.
Toyota Motor Corp. reported its operating profit in fiscal 2012 reached 1.3 trillion yen, 3.7 times higher than the previous fiscal year and exceeding 1 trillion yen for the first time in five fiscal years. The automaker projects an increase to 1.8 trillion yen in operating profit this fiscal year, approaching the peak recorded before the so-called Lehman shock in 2008.
Toyota President Akio Toyoda has said his company is standing at the starting line to realize sustainable growth. His remarks suggest the firm believes recovery is nigh due to an increase in exports.
Meanwhile, Nissan Motor Co. said its annual profit came in nearly flat due to floundering sales in the Chinese market resulting from the deterioration of Japan-China relations. However, other automakers such as Honda Motor Co. and Suzuki Motor Corp. reported rosier results. The companies' improved performance is expected to have a positive ripple effect on the broader Japanese economy because the auto industry relies on various supporting industries such as parts manufacturers.
Increased domestic demand is reflected in the results of major department store operator Isetan Mitsukoshi Holdings Ltd. The firm marked a record operating profit due to brisk sales of luxury goods on the back of high stock prices, which stimulated consumption. Many housing construction firms have also achieved solid results, apparently benefitting from a rush of demand before the consumption tax increase takes effect next year.
On the other hand, the electric appliance industry has fallen on hard times, failing to reap any benefits from the weaker yen.
For instance, Panasonic Corp. said its after-tax loss exceeded 700 billion yen for the second consecutive year. Sony Corp. is back in the black for the first time in five fiscal years. However, it was only able to return to profitability thanks to restructuring measures such as the sale of some of its buildings, and has failed to pull its TV and other divisions out of the doldrums.
Toshiba Corp. reported a decline in operating profit because the weakened yen negatively impacted earnings on its liquid crystal display televisions imported to Japan from the firm's factories abroad.
Firms project turnaround
These companies project their businesses will recover this fiscal year, but competition with foreign rivals such as South Korean firms remains intense.
The Japanese players have to recoup lost ground by focusing on strategic, profitable products and rethinking their selection of and concentration on core businesses. They should aim to accelerate efforts to gain market share in emerging economies and other nations.
The Japanese economy has only halfway recovered thus far; the government's role in supporting private companies is still important. Effective growth-strategy measures are essential, such as a reduction of corporate tax rates and relaxation of regulations. Cooperation must also be enhanced between the government and the private sector to boost infrastructure exports.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 12, 2013)