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Honda cuts profit outlook to 4-year low; unveils $915m buyback

Weakness in North America and India blamed amid quality struggles

Declining profits at Japan's third-largest automaker are hampering its ability to invest in new technologies.   © Reuters

TOKYO (Reuters) -- Honda Motor Co slashed its annual profit and global sales outlook to a four-year low, citing a firmer yen and bleak business in both India and its main market of North America, even as it unveiled plans to buy back $915 million shares.

The dour outlook comes at a time when Honda is struggling to shore up its automobile operations, with its profitability down more than half in the past two years due to a series of quality-related issues constraining its financial firepower to invest in new vehicle technologies.

Japan's third-largest automaker now expects an operating income of 690 billion yen for the year to March, lowest since the year-ended March 2016, from 770 billion yen previously.

It sees the yen averaging 107 versus the dollar over the period, from a previous assumption of 110 yen. A stronger currency eats into profits because exports become more expensive and the value of overseas earnings decreases.

Honda said it had also been hit by an almost 20% slide in motorcycle sales over the six months to September in India. The world's No. 4 auto market has gone into a tailspin this year amid tight liquidity, high taxes and a weak rural economy.

"The Indian market is contracting at a very rapid rate," said Honda Executive Vice President Seiji Kuraishi.

"I must say, we are struggling there."

While Honda's vehicle sales were overall flat in its main market of North America in the first half, it expects a "moderate" decline over the course of the fiscal year.

The company cut its outlook for global group auto sales to 4,975,000 vehicles, versus a previous forecast of 5,110,000, for the current financial year.

Honda joins compatriots Suzuki Motor Corp, Subaru Corp, Mazda Motor Corp and Mitsubishi Motors Corp in slashing profit projections in recent days.

Toyota bucked the trend and retained its forecast on Thursday. Flush with cash after a stellar second quarter, it also announced a $1.8 billion share buyback.

Honda has said it will buy back up to 33 million shares worth up to 100 billion yen over the rest of the fiscal year.

Nissan Motor is due to report results on Tuesday.

Honda shares closed 1.9% higher ahead of the results announcement. They plumbed a near 7-year low in August and are up 6.3% so far this year.

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