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Subaru braces for coronavirus impact after full-year profit rises

The 2019 Subaru Forester is presented at the New York Auto Show. REUTERS

Subaru Corp on Monday posted a 15.7 percent rise in annual operating profit in the year that ended in March as it recovered from a raft of product recalls last year, but warned that sales of its cars would take a hit from the coronavirus outbreak.

Profit rose to 210.3 billion yen ($1.96 billion) for the year just ended, from 181.7 billion yen a year earlier under international financial reporting standards. It exceeded a consensus estimate of 204.7 billion yen profit drawn from 17 analysts polled by Refinitiv.

Global automakers are struggling to recover from the coronavirus, which has pummelled car sales as shelter-in-place orders in many countries clobbered car demand, while plant workers had been left unable to commute to work.

Though Subaru and its rivals have begun to restart vehicle factories, anaemic demand, supply chain disruption and social distancing measures at factories are expected to limit output in the coming months.

“We saw a limited impact of the coronavirus on our results for the year just ended,” Chief Executive Tomomi Nakamura told a teleconference.

“But although we have resumed production this month, we are only operating one shift in Japan, and the pace of US output has slowed significantly … we see many uncertainties related to the virus.”

As a result, the maker of the Outback and Forester SUV crossovers declined to give an earnings forecast for the current business year, while it slashed its year-end dividend for the year just ended by 61 percent to 28 yen per share.

Some analysts believe industry-wide global auto sales could slump by a third this year and that any recovery will be slow and patchy as job losses and reduced incomes weigh on consumer spending.

The 2020 Subaru Outback is revealed at the 2019 New York International Auto Show. REUTERS

Subaru, which earns two-thirds of its vehicle sales from the United States, acknowledged that it may take a hit in the coming months as its biggest market struggles get the coronavirus pandemic under control.

The automaker saw a 3 percent rise in global vehicle sales in the year to March to 1.03 million units, bouncing back from last year, when a defective steering component and measures to improve inspection tests had stopped output for two weeks at its sole assembly plant in Japan.

The process to restart its US plants would take time, Subaru said, and it expects to produce only around 5,000 units this month, a fraction of last year’s 40,000. The virus would result in a global production hit of around 150,000 units, it added.

The automaker said it had secured a 200 billion yen credit line from its lenders to see it through the coronavirus. It has been improving its free cash position over the past year, but warned that its coffers would take a hit through June. (REUTERS)

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