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Hitachi posts record $8.1B annual loss

Tue, 05/12/2009 - 8:10am
Tomoko A. Hosaka, The Associated Press

TOKYO (AP) – For Japanese electronics makers, the last fiscal year was one they'd like to forget.

Especially Hitachi, which on Tuesday set the wrong kind of record.

It posted the biggest-ever annual loss by a Japanese manufacturer, and warning of more red ink, said it doesn't expect the global economy to recover until next year at the earliest.

Rival NEC Corp. also booked big losses for the 12 months through March but vowed to return to profitability as soon as this year.

Hitachi, which produces everything from home appliances to medical equipment to nuclear reactors, said Tuesday it lost 787.3 billion yen ($8.1 billion) for the fiscal year through March. That was far worse than last year's 58.1 billion yen loss and marks the company's third straight year in the red.

Annual revenue tumbled 11 percent to 10 trillion yen, and operating profit – which reflects its core business – plunged 63 percent to 127.1 billion yen.

Hitachi's result is the worst annual net loss for a Japanese manufacturer, according to Shinko Research Institute Co. It is the second-largest in Japanese corporate history after an 834.6 billion yen loss reported by telecommunications giant Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp. for the fiscal year ending March 2002.

The Tokyo-based company said demand withered throughout the company's sprawling operations, particularly in its digital media and consumer product segment, as well as its power and industrial systems business. An appreciating yen, which erodes the value of overseas earnings, also hurt the bottom line.

Hitachi said the record loss stemmed from a combination of lower operating income, a 390 billion yen write-down of deferred tax assets, restructuring costs and steep equity losses.

On a quarterly basis, it booked a net loss of 430.4 billion yen for January-March on revenue of 2.4 trillion yen, according to calculations by The Associated Press. The net loss during the same period last year came to 57.6 billion yen.

Meanwhile, NEC recorded a group net loss of 297 billion yen last fiscal year, a big swing from the previous year's net profit of 22.7 billion.

It blamed expanding restructuring costs including early retirement programs. NEC said it also booked an extraordinary loss from declining market values in investment securities.

Annual sales fell 8.7 percent to 4.2 trillion yen, while operating losses totaled 6.2 billion yen compared to a profit of 156.8 billion yen a year earlier.

Among NEC's revival efforts, it will withdraw from the overseas personal computer business "in the face of the ongoing business slump and intensifying competition."

For the fiscal year through March 2010, NEC expects a net profit of 10 billion yen on sales forecast of 3.7 trillion yen.

Hitachi, on the other hand, expects the pain to continue this year, though it forecast a narrower net loss of 270 billion yen.

"The global economy ... is not expected to see a full-fledged recovery until 2010 at the earliest," Hitachi said in a statement. "The global economic outlook is being shaped by concerns about the U.S. and other industrialized nations slipping into negative economic growth, and about slowing economic growth in emerging economies and the yen's appreciation."

As part of its turnaround efforts, Hitachi has already announced it will slash 7,000 jobs, or nearly 2 percent of its global work force.

It has also named Takashi Kawamura, 69, who heads two of its subsidiaries – Hitachi Plant Technologies Ltd. and Hitachi Maxwell Ltd. – as its incoming president, chief executive and chairman, a move that will become official late June.

At a press conference in April, Kawamura outlined his plans for the company, which included a greater focus on its "social innovation business." He said he seeks to fuse Hitachi's know-how in information and power systems, boost the company's global presence and expand environment-related businesses.

Analysts, however, have been skeptical. Credit Suisse, which has issued an "underperform" rating on Hitachi's stock, questions the company's ability to change quickly.

"We doubt Hitachi has the capabilities to aggressively implement measures for expanding (its) social innovation business, given the slow management pace and financial restrictions and maintain our view that it is likely to lag income reforms within the sector," said Credit Suisse analyst Hideyuki Maekawa in a recent report.

In trading Tuesday, Hitachi shares sank 5.2 percent to 381 yen on the Tokyo Stock Exchange. The company reported earnings after markets closed.

Hitachi reports earnings based on U.S. accounting standards.

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