TOKYO -- Nissan Motor Co. reported a 5.8 percent rise in quarterly operating profit on Thursday as Americans snapped up its big new cars and helped offset declining sales in Japan and a weaker U.S. dollar.
A day earlier, rival Honda Motor Co. said it eked out a rise in quarterly profit, helped by robust sales abroad. Toyota Motor Corp. is expected to post a big gain next Tuesday, also making up for soft domestic demand with stellar growth overseas.
Nissan's growth came despite a nine yen, or 8 percent, year-over-year fall in the dollar, which shrinks U.S. earnings when converted back to the Japanese currency. Nissan sells about 30 percent of its cars in the United States, slightly more than it sells in Japan.
Nissan, which overtook Honda as Japan's second-biggest auto maker last year, is looking to extend its streak of record profits with a 4.3 percent rise in operating profit to 860 billion yen ($7.70 billion) in the year to March.
It left the forecast unchanged.
During the April to June term, Nissan's operating profit was 186.32 billion yen ($1.67 billion), giving it a profit margin of 9.8 percent. Nissan, owned 44.4 percent by France's Renault, reported quarterly profits for the first time.
"We are in line with the performance we anticipated when we issued our full-year forecast on April 26," a Nissan spokeswoman said.
Most analysts expect Nissan to beat those forecasts.
"We were expecting this to be the most difficult quarter in terms of currency losses, so the implication is that (results) in the second quarter would be pretty good," said Christopher Richter, senior auto analyst at Merrill Lynch.
"They'll come out ahead of their full-year forecasts," added Richter, who projected Nissan's full-year operating profit at 898 billion yen.
Net profit grew 4.5 percent to 123.23 billion yen, as revenue climbed 15 percent to 1.905 trillion yen. Sales volume for the quarter grew 9.9 percent to 769,000 vehicles.
The results for the first time also consolidated half of the earnings booked by its Chinese joint venture, Dongfeng Motor Co., and contributions from a newly formed unit in Thailand.
U.S. MODEL MIX
The sharpest improvement occurred in the most profitable U.S. market, where sales were up by double digits in each of the past 14 months.
Helping profits further, margins have improved recently with Nissan launching new light trucks such as the Titan pickup and the Infiniti QX56 sport utility vehicle from its Canton, Mississippi plant. The light-truck segment remains popular there despite a surge in oil prices to record levels.
Nissan's retail sales in the key U.S. market zoomed up 17 percent in the quarter. That helped make up for the sub-par sales performance in Japan, where its 3.7 percent sales drop outpaced that of the overall market.
Analysts said continued success would depend on customers' reception of the four new models Nissan plans to launch in the United States during the rest of the year, including the Pathfinder SUV and Frontier compact truck.