* Honda hacks profit forecast by 2/3, worse than feared
* Honda shares down 7.5 pct in Germany HMC.F
* GM, Chrysler await rejigged U.S. bailout plan
* Nissan cuts further 78,000 units from Japan production
* GM opens new 150,000 unit China plant with SAIC (Adds battery venture with GS Yuasa, S&P on Toyota, details)
By Chang-Ran Kim, Asia autos correspondent
TOKYO, Dec 17 (Reuters) - Japan’s Honda Motor Co (7267.T) issued its third profit warning this year, slashing its operating forecast by two-thirds as the global recession batters car sales and sends the yen soaring.
The deeper-than-expected revision at Japan’s No.2 automaker could touch off similar moves at domestic rivals Toyota Motor Corp (7203.T) and Nissan Motor Co (7201.T), also reeling from the dollar’s fall to 13-year lows against the yen JPY=.
Automakers everywhere are under enormous pressure to cut costs and save cash to weather the storm as tight credit and weak consumer sentiment hammer demand.
In the United States, General Motors Corp (GM.N) and Chrysler LLC [CBS.UL] are awaiting word from the U.S. government on billions of dollars in emergency loans they say they need to avert near-term collapse. [ID:nN16264245]
Rating agency Standard & Poor’s revised its Triple-A outlooks on Toyota’s long-term debt to negative from stable, saying it was not immune to the weakening global auto market. [ID:nWLA3773]
“The sudden change in the global auto industry from mid-September, triggered by the financial crisis, has forced all automakers to alter various plans over a short period of time,” Honda Chief Executive Takeo Fukui told a news conference.
“The situation is worsening by the day and is showing no sign of recovery.”
Honda, also the world’s largest motorcycle maker, said it now expected an operating profit of just 180 billion yen ($2 billion) in the year to March, down 67 percent from the 550 billion yen it forecast in October.
The new target is more than 80 percent below last year’s 953 billion yen operating profit and was worse than the 300 billion yen reported earlier by the Nikkei business daily.
For a graphic on Honda profits and forecasts, click:
Investors said the brutal downgrade may still not be enough.
“The new earnings projections are worse than expected but still look tough to meet,” said Toshiyuki Matsushita, chief investment officer at Bluebear Investment Managers.
“I would expect the company to issue another profit warning to reflect a stronger yen.”
Honda revised its assumption for the dollar to average 95 yen in the second half, from 100 yen in October, but this is still more favourable than the current rate of 88 yen JPY=.
Every 1-yen swing in the dollar affects Honda’s annual operating profit by about 20 billion yen ($220 million), cutting the amount of overseas earnings when translated back into yen.
Shares of Honda closed down 4.2 percent in Japan as investors braced for the profit warning after the company abruptly moved up its year-end news conference scheduled for Friday. Its Frankfurt shares HMC.F fell 7.5 percent in thin volume.
As recently as two months ago, Honda had been expected to weather the industry downturn better than its rivals with its fuel-efficient fleet, but demand for cars has shrunk indiscriminately since Lehman Brother collapsed in September, piling up inventories despite massive production cuts.
Nissan announced further production cuts of 78,000 in Japan, taking reductions this business year to 225,000, or about 6 percent of its original 3.856 million-unit forecast.
To respond to the crisis, Honda outlined a wide-ranging series of steps to save short-term cash and prioritise projects with more potential, including announcing a joint venture with battery stalwart GS Yuasa Corp (6674.T) to produce and sell lithium-ion batteries for hybrid and other cars. [ID:nT238249]
For a summary of Honda’s announcement [ID:nT225198]
Honda also said it would cut capital spending, delay new plants and product launches and reduce its third-quarter dividend. It will also review bonus payments for directors, and cut their monthly salaries by 10 percent from January. [ID:nT208548]
“I think it’s positive that they were decisive and able to come up with counter-measures in a relatively short period of time,” said Andrew Phillips, auto analyst at KBC Securities.
“It’s not that Honda did anything wrong — the situation is bad for everyone, and given where the yen is currently, there is still potential for downside in the fourth quarter.”
Honda said it now expected annual global sales of 3.65 million cars against a previous forecast of more than 4 million.
Toyota, the world’s largest automaker, is expected to cut its sales goal by at least 1 million vehicles at its year-end news conference on Dec. 22. [ID:nT171167]
The Japan Automobile Tyre Manufacturers Association forecast local vehicle production would fall nearly 9 percent in 2009 and sales would fall by more than 7 percent. [ID:nTKB003157]
But in China, GM and its local partner SAIC Motor (600104.SS) pushed ahead with the opening of a plant in the country’s northeast.
China is one market where auto sales are still growing, albeit more slowly than previously. [ID:nSHA210554] ($1=88.99 Yen) (Additional reporting by Nobuhiro Kubo, Yumiko Nishitani and Taiga Uranaka in TOKYO, Fang Yan in SHANGHAI; Graphic by Catherine Trevethan; Editing by Lincoln Feast)