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UPDATE 1-Toyota says expects record annual profit, maintains outlook

Yoko Kubota
Tuesday, 4 Feb 2014 | 1:30 AM ET

TOKYO, Feb 4 (Reuters) - Toyota Motor Corp raised its operating profit forecast for the financial year by 9 percent to a record 2.4 trillion yen ($23.7 billion) as the yen, which has fallen against the dollar by some 9 percent this financial year, buoys profits of the export-oriented car maker.

The world's best-selling automaker said on Tuesday it now expects to post 2.4 trillion yen in annual operating profit, up from its previous forecast of 2.2 trillion yen and higher than its pre-Lehman crisis record of 2.27 trillion yen from six years ago.

The revision was almost in line with the 2.44 trillion yen estimated by 23 analysts.

For the October-December third quarter, Toyota posted 600.5 billion yen in operating profit, above the average estimate of 575.9 billion yen and nearly five times what it posted a year ago.

Toyota kept its crown as the world's best-selling auto maker for two years in a row in 2013, beating rivals General Motors and Volkswagen AG after having sold 9.98 million vehicles together with group companies Daihatsu Motor Co and Hino Motors Ltd. In 2014, it plans to sell 10.32 million vehicles globally.

Shares in Toyota have jumped around 20 percent since the start of April 2013, when the financial year began, roughly in line with the benchmark Nikkei average's performance. The stock closed down over 5.5 percent on Tuesday.

Toyota kept its global consolidated sales outlook for the financial year ending in March at 9.1 million vehicles. It expects to sell 50,000 more vehicles in Japan compared to an earlier forecast, while it expects sales to drop in North America by 30,000 vehicles, and drops in some other areas.

Four of the top five U.S. auto sellers on Monday blamed extreme winter weather for poorer-than-expected sales in January, as analysts and executives predicted a rebound in February and March.

U.S. automakers Ford Motor Co and General Motors Co as well as Toyota and Honda Motor Co saw U.S. auto sales plummet in January, missing analysts' estimates for the month.

Sales in the United States, Toyota's biggest market where it is the third biggest car maker after Ford and General Motors, rose 7 percent in 2013 to around 2.24 million vehicles, backed by the strong sales of the Avalon and the Lexus RX. Toyota's U.S. market share was unchanged at 14.4 percent.

While some economists and analysts expect 2014 sales to rise to between 16 million and 16.5 million vehicles - in 2013, industry sales were at 15.6 million vehicles - there is growing concern that competition will intensify, leading to higher incentives and lower profit for companies.

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