Nissan Motor Co posted a 7.2 percent rise in quarterly operating profit on Thursday and said global production disrupted by Japan's March 11 earthquake will return to normal a least a month earlier than predicted by bigger home rival, Toyota Motor Corp.
A resolution to the parts bottleneck for all automakers could be closer than it appeared just a week ago, with Toyota announcing on Wednesday that production would gradually begin to normalize in June, as much as two months earlier than expected.
Renesas Electronics Corp, the chipmaker at the heart of the disruption and a major supplier of microcontroller units to Nissan, also said on Wednesday that shipments would fully recover by the end of October.
January-March operating profit at Nissan, Japan's No.2 automaker, was 88.6 billion yen ($1.1 billion), better than an average forecast of 78.9 billion yen in a survey of analysts who revised their numbers after the quake, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
Nissan, which relies far less than Toyota on home production, benefited from a rise in revenue that helped it overcome an extraordinary loss of 39.6 billion yen resulting from the quake.
Until the 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunami that destroyed much of Japan's northeastern coast, Nissan had been on a steady growth path as CEO Carlos Ghosn pushed the automaker into fast-emerging markets such as China, India and Russia. Ghosn also had been raising Nissan's profile in the green-car field with the launch of the Leaf electric car.
Analysts have lauded Nissan for its aggressive drive to build a global network for production and parts procurement, including through its alliance with Renault SA. Following its transfer of March/Micra production to Thailand last year, Nissan is Japan's top car importer so far this year, outpacing Volkswagen AG.
Like Toyota, Nissan has stressed its intention of keeping a certain level of production in Japan even in the face of a strong yen, high labor costs, a shrinking domestic car market and now the myriad risks posed by natural disasters.
Ghosn on Thursday reiterated his pre-quake pledge to maintain output in Japan at 1 million vehicles.
Without retracting that pledge, however, Nissan has still sought more ways to shift production out of Japan, including moving the Rogue crossover and Infiniti JX SUV to the United States.
Nissan offered no guidance for the business year to March 2012, citing uncertainties over the pace of recovery after the earthquake disrupted the industry's supply chain.
A consensus of 16 analysts put Nissan's operating profit at 280.0 billion yen for the 12 months. The forecasts ranged from 34 billion to 638 billion yen. Quarterly net profit was 30.8 billion yen, reversing from a year-ago loss.
Nissan, unlike Toyota and Honda Motor Co, reports under Japanese accounting rules and its profits from China are included at the operating level. Nissan's quarterly net profit was 30.8 billion yen, reversing from a year-ago loss.
Nissan's shares have held up relatively well since the quake, losing 3.9 percent as of Wednesday, compared with falls of 10.4 percent for Toyota and 7.9 percent for Honda.
Before the results were announced on Thursday, Nissan shares ended the day up 1.4 percent at 795 yen.
($1 = 81.065 Japanese Yen)
(Additional reporting by James Topham; Editing by Edmund Klamann and Matt Driskill)