TOKYO – Toyota, the world's largest automaker, sank into the red for the October-December quarter and acknowledged Friday it was heading for its first annual net loss since 1950 because of plunging global sales and the strong yen.
Joining a string of Japanese companies that have slashed forecasts, Toyota Motor Corp. said it expects a net loss of 350 billion yen ($3.85 billion) for the year through March.
That's a stunning reversal from the record 1.72 trillion yen profit the maker of the Prius hybrid and Lexus luxury line had earned the previous fiscal year. In December, the company thought it would eke out a small annual net profit, but the outlook has darkened since then, especially with the dramatic contraction in the U.S. auto market on which Toyota depends so heavily.
For the fiscal third quarter, Toyota racked up a loss of 164.7 billion yen ($1.81 billion), down sharply from the 458.6 billion yen profit it had the same period the previous year, as the global slump squelched sales.
Quarterly sales plunged 28.4 percent to 4.8 trillion yen.
Toyota said the last time it had the equivalent of a net loss was in 1950, when it reported just parent results under different accounting standards than it uses now.
The damage to Toyota's bottom line was particularly pronounced because the company had been on such an aggressive growth track in recent years, but the downturn came extremely suddenly, said Yasuaki Iwamoto, analyst with Okasan Securities Co. in Tokyo.
"Toyota is having serious problems responding," he said. "It boasts a full and global lineup of products. But the world's auto demand changed in a flash."
And the company can't count on global sales picking up in the fiscal year through March 2010, and at best can hope to cut costs to minimize the damage, Iwamoto said.
Toyota, which last year overtook General Motors Corp. to become the world's best-selling auto company, announced no further job cuts Friday. It is reducing the number of contract workers from 8,800 in June to 3,000 in March.
Just a few hours before the earnings were released, Moody's Investors Service lowered its top credit rating of "Aaa" on Toyota by one notch to "Aa1," citing fears about its profitability.
Toyota's global vehicle sales for the October-December quarter shrank by 443,000 units from the same period a year earlier to 1.84 million, as sales dropped throughout the world, including North America, Europe, Japan and other Asian nations, it said.
"Both revenues and profits declined severely during this period," Executive Vice President Mitsuo Kinoshita said of the latest quarter.
Conditions were especially tough in the U.S. and Europe, and the rapid rise of the yen against the dollar, euro and other currencies, which reduces the value of overseas earnings, also hurt results, he said.
Toyota lowered its global vehicle sales forecast for the fiscal year by 220,000 from its December projection to 7.32 million vehicles. Now it expects 21 trillion yen in sales for the year, down from a record 26.3 trillion yen earned for the previous year.
The company also said its yearly operating loss will balloon to 450 billion yen, worse than its earlier forecast of 150 billion yen loss. That would be the company's first operating loss in 70 years. Operating income excludes taxes and other items included in net profit, and often gives a picture of a company's core business.
Until the U.S. financial crisis erupted last year, Toyota had been on a roll, boosting rising profits for seven straight years, riding on the success of its fuel-efficient models.
The global slump and the rising yen have pummeled all Japanese exporters, including electronics makers Sony Corp. and Panasonic Corp., which are both forecasting losses for the fiscal year through March.
Honda Motor Co., Japan's second-biggest automaker, expects to stay in the black for the year through March at 80 billion yen profit, although that's down 87 percent from the record 600 billion yen the previous year.
Kinoshita promised Toyota will turn itself around through cost cuts and new products. He said Toyota continues to be committed to developing gas-electric hybrids as a pillar of its growth strategy.
He pointed to the third-generation Prius, set to arrive at dealerships in May, as well as the HS250h, the first Lexus model designed solely as a hybrid, scheduled for sale midyear, as models symbolizing Toyota's future.
Last month, the company tapped as incoming president a member of the founding family, Akio Toyoda, an executive vice president, who at 52 is considered young by Japanese standards for heading a major corporation.
Company officials and analysts say he can help bring employee ranks, group companies and dealerships together during hard times because he has the special charm of a Toyoda.
Toyota shares rose 1.6 percent to 3,050 yen. The earnings were announced earnings after trading ended in Tokyo.