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Business trends

Suzuki and Mitsubishi Motors flying high in emerging nations

Both Japanese automakers post stellar April-December earnings

Mitsubishi Motors unveils the Xpander, a model designed for emerging markets, in Indonesia on Aug. 10, 2017.

TOKYO -- Growth in mainstay emerging markets helped Japan's Suzuki Motor score record results for the nine months ended December and compatriot Mitsubishi Motors steer back into the black.

Suzuki's consolidated net profit for the April-December period jumped 23% on the year to 164.3 billion yen ($1.49 billion), while operating profit spiked 55% to 259.8 billion yen, both all-time highs. Sales climbed 21% to a best-ever 2.72 trillion yen.

The brisk earnings were primarily powered by India, where Suzuki controls nearly 50% of the market. Sales there rose 16% to 1.22 million cars, more than half the automaker's global total, which increased 12% to 2.36 million.

Suzuki did not change its forecast for the fiscal year ending March when announcing results Monday, predicting sales will expand 14% to 3.6 trillion yen and net profit will grow 13% to 180 billion yen.

"We maintained our forecast due to uncertain foreign-exchange projections," said Masahiko Nagao, a director at Suzuki. But net profit through the first nine months covered over 90% of the annual estimate, leaving room for Suzuki to surpass its own projection.

Meanwhile, Mitsubishi saw April-December sales improve 13% to 1.51 trillion yen, earnings released Monday show. Net profit returned to the black at 70 billion yen, after a 213.3 billion yen loss in the same period last fiscal year. Results were buoyed by greatly reduced costs after a fuel efficiency scandal in 2016, as well as sales growth in such emerging markets as Southeast Asia and China.

Given the strong earnings, Mitsubishi upgraded its net profit forecast for the year through March by 32 billion yen to 100 billion yen -- compared with a 198.5 billion yen loss in fiscal 2016. The automaker also raised its sales estimate for fiscal 2017 by 100 billion yen to 2.1 trillion yen, a 10% increase from a year ago. It sees operating profit rising 25 billion yen more than previously expected, producing a 19-fold jump to 95 billion yen.

The company also decided to raise its annual dividend by 7 yen, to 17 yen.

Sales of the Mitsubishi Xpander multipurpose vehicle have been so robust in Indonesia that the carmaker enhanced output at factories there a month earlier than planned. "We set a sales target of 33,000 units for the current fiscal year, but received 58,000 orders by the end of January," said Koji Ikeya, executive vice president.

But signs of trouble for emerging economies are on the horizon. Rising long-term interest rates in the U.S. "could dampen strong new-car sales by softening emerging countries' currencies and creating rapid inflation," said one securities analyst.

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