Posted by: Ian Rowley on March 16, 2009
It’s been a miserable few months for Japan’s automakers and Mazda is no exception. On Mar. 3, its stock reached a three-decade low amid concerns over its finances. Like all Japanese automakers, Mazda has been hurting due to the strong yen and slumping global demand for cars. Last month, Mazda reversed projections for a profit and said it would join Toyota, Nissan and others and make an annual loss.
Since then, though, there have has been something of a rebound. By the end of last week, Mazda’s stock had risen 20% since the recent lows. On Mar. 13 it jumped 7.5% after the Hiroshima-based automaker said it would reverse some production cuts. Today, the stock surged again, gaining 8.4%, after Deutsche Securities raised its stock rating for the company to a “buy”. Deutsche’s Tokyo auto analyst Kurt Sanger notes that the company will benefit from the imminent introduction of the new Mazda3 following the launches of new versions of its other stronger sellers, the Mazda2 and Mazda6, in the last two years. The Mazda3, known as the Axela in Japan, accounts for about a third of Mazda’s global sales. “Much of the heavy-lifting for core models is behind it leaving Mazda better able to adjust R&D and capex without threatening its near-term competitiveness,” Sanger wrote in a note to clients. Deutsche has given Mazda a target price of 180 yen, which would be its highest level since late October. It closed today at 155 yen.
Like other Japanese automakers, Mazda will also benefit from the speed with which it moved to cut production—and reduce mounting inventories—in January and February. In January, its domestic production slumped 66.2% from a year earlier to 31,130 units, while exports, at 20,207, were down 72.1%. In both cases, that’s faster than sales fell. Over the weekend, reports in the Japanese media speculated that Mazda will increase Japan production by about 10,000 vehicles a month from current levels by July. According to the Nikkei, Mazda will restart production on Fridays two times a month from April and return to regular working hours at its Japan plants in the summer.
Of course, with the global economy showing few signs of bottoming out, it’s tough to be optimistic. One big problem faced by Mazda, which has the second lowest credit rating among Japanese carmakers, is the difficulty of raising funds—the company has said it may have to tap government aid to raise finance. And another surge in the yen, which has weakened in recent weeks, would be very hard for Mazda, which has fewer plants outside Japan than rivals, to stomach. Yet with inventory levels seemingly under control and its hottest selling model on the way, a recovery of sorts seems to be underway.