Will Japan's carmakers catch bailout fever?

Posted by: Ian Rowley on November 6, 2008

Yet more grim earnings news in Japan today. Toyota, the last of Japan’s automakers to post its half-year results, has slashed its operating profit outlook by over 70% to $6.1 billion for its fiscal year which ends in March. Given it made $5.9 billion in the six months through Sept. 30, that means it will likely make only around $200 million in the second half of the year. Toyota exec Mitsuo Kinoshita said things were so bad that Toyota has formed an “Emergency Profit Improvement Committee,” headed by CEO Katsuaki Watanabe.

Honda, Nissan and others have already slashed forecasts, albeit by smaller margins, but citing similar problems. Among them: the U.S sales slump, high raw materials costs and, for the Japanese makers, the soaring yen.

Of course, with no one yet projecting losses, the problems aren’t in the U.S. Big Three’s league, as Ford and GM’s results on Nov. 7 will no doubt highlight. Still, that didn’t stop Honda chief Takeo Fukui calling for the Japanese authorities to intervene to weaken the yen earlier today. Speaking at a the launch of the Honda Life, a minicar for the Japanese market, Fukui told reporters the government should step in after the yen’s recent surge against the dollar and other currencies. “Of course (the government) should intervene,” Reuters reported Fukui as saying. Fukui’s comments were before Toyota’s weak forecasts.

To some extent, Fukui, who isn’t against the U.S. government aiding U.S. automakers, has a point. On Oct. 27, the yen surged to 90 to the dollar and is currently at 98. Back in 2003, when it was at a relatively weak 103, Japan stepped in to ease the pain. Against the euro and other currencies the rise has been even more pronounced. And there is little doubt the speed of the current surge is painful. In Toyota’s case, analysts say a one-yen appreciation of the Japanese currency against the dollar reduces earnings by around $450 million; a one yen appreciation against the euro costs $80 million. The numbers aren’t as brutal at smaller Honda but they still have a big impact.

Whether Fukui’s comments were well timed is another matter. As grim as things are getting for Japan’s car makers—not to mention Japan’s economy which will likely experience a recession—most analysts point out that with plenty of cash, ample fuel sippers and profits they’re in a strong position to capitalize from rivals’ woes. And at a time when GM, Ford and Chrysler are all in serious trouble, asking for help in the currency markets is unlikely to go down with customers in the U.S., Honda’s most profitable market.

Reader Comments

Jordan

November 8, 2008 1:28 AM

ABSOLUTELY NOT! Foreign auto manufacturers do not deserve ANY assistance. First of all "bail out money" is a loan, not a free gift. Secondly remember that US automakers carry 3 major burdens that foreign auto makers do not: 1) Health Care, some other countries have government controlled healthcare but in the US we do not. Therefore companies must carry this burden and the cost of this has spiraled out of control in the last few years at no fault of the manufacturers. This offers a competitive advantage to foreign manufacturers who do not carry this financial anchor. 2) Pensions. Did you know it takes GM 6 months to earn enough money to pay their pension? That means it takes half the year for GM to earn enough money to pay off the people who no longer work there! GM has made positive changes and no longer offers pensions (I was hired in 2000 about a month after GM stopped offering pension plans, just my luck). And finally 3) Unions which are generally overpaid and underworked. Unions are great for working class people but they should not make as much as an engineer with a MBA, and many of them make more than an Engineer with an MBA. Does that make sense? Many union members get paid to stay home (job bank). Unions are great for the members but bad for manufacturers as they simply drive excessive expense! Since US manufacturers carry these major burdens, what has the government done to create a level playing field for US mfgrs? These burdens put all the US mfgrs, not just auto, at a MAJOR disadvantage. Some more interesting "food for thought", where would the US, and the world for that matter, be if in WW2 the government couldn't use the auto manufacturing plants to build planes, tanks, and other military supplies? The answer is that we would all be German right now; the entire planet would have a big picture of Hitler in their living room titled "Our Founding Father". Manufacturing is a dying industry in the US because we are not cost competitive for the above reasons. However having the capability to manufacture is VERY IMPORTANT!! Would you be comfortable if the US depended on other countries 100% for food? Then why would you be comfortable if all manufacturing left the US and made us 100% dependant on other countries for all our manufactured goods? Remember you probably live next to some who is tied to the manufacturing industry in some way. YOUR home value may be impacted if they lose their manufactirng job. All home values, stock values, 401K values, will be impacted if millions more people tied to auto manufacturers lose their jobs too. Now what do you think is best for the US? There is no question in my mind, the Government MUST ASSIST or this situation will get even more out of control, and the entire country will suffer as a result.

nyongesa

November 8, 2008 6:39 AM

Jordan,

I Read your long screed on why we have to save GM from itself, and it's complete rubbish. At it's most basic industrial policy, which is what this amounts to, is a disaster for any economy that undertakes it. There are endless economic studies that refute every element of protectionist arguments you put forth, dozens of industrialized, succesfull countries around the world do just fine without an Automobile Industry. In no plausible way is the Auto industry a strategic one, The big three are not key components to the defense of the country, and specialty vehicle manufacturers supply specialty military equipment to the DOD. Neither is it realistic to trot out some 60 year old war, as evidence of future scenarios, in as much as the horse buggy industry was not essential to WWII.

the most indsidous part of the too big to fail industrial company, is the notion that free market capitalism is an static force in the world. agriculture has declined from 99% to single digits of our economy without implosion of the economy or the trully strategic product it provides. manufacturing is on it's way to similar equilibruim, as will services next, and so on so forth throughout future decades. The act of protecting industries renders them coddled to the winds of competition, and prevents them ferreting out they're structural weaknesses.

The big three lobbied hard for protectionist policies in the eighties, and transplants came into the country, and two decades later the big three are now asking for straight cash now, they have never adopted what it took to be become competative in all that time, how will they start under the governments skirt. They will simply perfect the lobbying, whinning and gaming of the system process.

Jordan, how do you have the audacity to ask me and other taxpayers who get up everyday and take on the whole world in semiconductors, computers, software, aviation, pharmaceuticals, farm equipment, entertainment, agriculture and dozens of other industries, and deliver the best in the world, without even a clear realistic plan of how you detriot will pay this back.

Jordan most of us taxpayers face 30 day severence's if lucky, versus, the $140,000 buyout packages for high school grad educated, GM rank and file. To give GM 50 billion dollars of our money, after losing 76 billion dollars and still being unable to elimanate 1 single division of nine. does GM need to offfer dozens of vehicles when Toyota, Volkswagen and other global competitors offer 1/3 the platforms for similar sales volume. Are we to bvelieve that last minute religion in the form of the volt, will save this titanic.

To be frank, 50 billion is not enough, nor is 100 billion, even 1 trillion dollars will not save Detroit, because their problem is systemic. Like the banks, they are fundamentally insolvent, and intellectually bankrupt. the tragedy is that tens of thousands of managers, engineers and skilled machinsist are trapped in those organizations. They need liberating so as tommorrows U.S. auto industry can rise from the ashes. I am willing to contribute to the new Auto industry, but I owe detroit nothing, and any black hole "loans" amount to simply a mugging.

Paulsons, 3 page request for 700 billion for the financial industry was met with derision, and required modification. GM's zero detail, zero page request for 75 billion needs equal derision.

J1

November 11, 2008 8:31 PM

First off, Jordan, re-read the part about Fukui's statement. He wants the JAPANESE government to assist their domestic carmakers. He isn't looking to get some of the American governmental assistance.

As for you, Nyongesa, you seem bright enough, but until you check that condescending attitude of yours at the door, none of us will bother debating with you.

A1

November 12, 2008 11:16 AM

I kind of liked Nyongesa's condescending attitude. J1 would you like to meet outside the door and show us how much you are invested in receiving the payout or paying out the payout?
-broke and loving it, jump in the waters fine.

A2

November 16, 2008 10:50 PM

I like condescending attitude as long as there's substance in the story. Nyongesa's has quite of bit of substance, many of which BW readers may not like, unfortunately. Folks, Let it rip!

A3

November 18, 2008 10:22 PM

I think the US gov. should fix the exchange rate at 1 USD = 50 yen

Toyota would be bleeding money faster than GM ever has.

The Japanese gov works hard to keep the exchange rate artificially low. If they don't play fair I do not understand why we should!

Steven Montes

November 19, 2008 12:48 AM

The three Auto Makers looking to be bailed out is absurd, and criminal. Their problems are self inflated, and well designed to cry wolf at a time the economy is at its worst. For God sakes car makers are glorified car salesmen , they deal in trickery, lies and desperate measures to con people out of their money. I can’t believe America can be so stupid, I thought it was time for change. I that we as a people said good by to stupid when we elected Oboma. From Steven Montes Business Owner for over 20 years at Montes Orthopedic.

Kel

February 16, 2009 10:13 PM

The exchange rate moves about everyday. Detroit does very little on the technology front despite having all the NASA & Silicon Valley innovations at their fingertips - well before BMW, Toyota, etc license and adopt them. Strange that very few US cars are exported (except for classic models when Detroit was on its game in the 50s & 60s). Can't see any hope fromthe bail-out which will be a band-aid - would be a lot better to have a employee buy-out as how many have had great ideas shelved by overpaid management and advert execs

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