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24 June 2009 - Japanese production rises again


Japanese industrial output increased 5.9% in May compared with the month before, the third consecutive monthly climb, according to official data.

The rise last month was the same as April's revised figure, though less than analysts' forecasts of 6.9%.

The output of cars, mobile phones and electronic devices was particularly strong as firms started to reverse earlier cuts in stock levels.

But analysts predict output could slow again, as the world downturn continues.

"Production has been rebounding sharply in response to earlier drastic cuts but the momentum is likely to slow in the months ahead," said Hirohi Watanabe, an economist at the Institute of Research.

Manufacturers predict industrial output to rise by a 3.1% in June and climb 0.9% in July.

Japan, which is heavily depending on exports, entered a recession in the second quarter of 2008.

Despite the recent rise, industrial output in May was about 30% lower than it was in the same month last year.

And the growth predictions for the next two months would still put output at more than 20% lower year-on-year.

Deflation worries

The latest industrial output figures showed car production rose by 24.8% in May from the month before, and electronic parts production increased by 10.5%.

Firms in both sectors had cut the number of shifts workers are doing in an attempt to lower inventory levels, but they are now beginning to reverse that trend.

However, according to separate data from Japan's Automobile Manufacturers Association, auto production in May was still down 41.4% from a year ago at 542,282 vehicles.

Last week, Ministry of Finance figures showed prices in Japan fell by the most on record last month, raising fears of a new episode of deflation.

Consumer prices fell 1.1% in May from the same month a year ago, the most since records began in 1970.


15 June 2009 - Suzuki soars on possible VW tie-up

Shares of Suzuki Motor raced to a 10-month high after a source said Volkswagen is exploring a deal to cooperate with the Japanese car maker to boost its presence in ultra-small cars.

Cooperation with Suzuki, which dominates Japan's 660cc minivehicle market along with Toyota unit Daihatsu Motor, could yield a new model for Volkswagen below the upcoming "New Small Family" range of small cars, the source said.

Such a tie-up would mark the second attempt for Europe's top automaker and Japan's No.4 car maker, which in 1992 signed an agreement to jointly develop small cars, although that deal ultimately fell through.

Volkswagen is looking to secure a cooperation deal by taking a 10 per cent stake in Suzuki, reported manager magazin, a German magazine. A spokesman for Suzuki could not comment, saying he had not heard anything about a potential tie-up, while Volkswagen declined to comment.

Investors cheered the prospects of ties between the two automakers, which have weathered the global industry downturn better than many rivals due to their heavy presence in emerging markets. Volkswagen is China's top seller, while Suzuki is No.1 in India through majority-owned unit Maruti Suzuki India.

"I think it's certainly possible," said Mitsuru Kurokawa, an analyst at IHS Global Insight.

"It could help Suzuki pick up its pace in the hybrid and electric vehicle field as those segments look set to grow faster than expected now. Meanwhile, Volkswagen could gain a partner in Asia that it always wanted and develop smaller cars as consumers downshift more and more from bigger cars," he said.

Suzuki is cooperating with former top shareholder General Motors in the field of hybrid and fuel-cell vehicles despite the US automaker's bankruptcy filing this month.

At its annual general meeting on Friday, chief executive Osamu Suzuki told shareholders Suzuki would continue to do the best it can with GM in developing cleaner cars, a spokesman said.

Still, Suzuki has repeatedly said he would welcome any calls for cooperation, acknowledging that his company lagged in hybrid and other fuel-saving technology.

Suzuki already has a broad range of projects with rivals, including an original equipment manufacturing deal with German brand Opel. It also produces diesel engines using licensed technology from Italy's Fiat.

Shares of Suzuki ended up 5.5 per cent at 2195 yen after rising as much as 7.7 per cent to a 10-month high. Tokyo's auto index gained 0.3 per cent.

Some took a more cautious view.

"If they are really going to make cars together, bringing together production facilities and linking their logistics, this could help both," said Kazuyuki Terao, director at investment fund RCM Japan. "But a capital tie-up by itself will not stimulate demand."

Vehicle demand, especially in developed markets such as North America, Japan and Europe, has yet to recover as a recession and job losses have tightened customers' purse strings.

"A deal would not be a negative, as there is a limit to doing things on one's own in an auto market like this," said Naoki Fujiwara, a fund manager at Shinkin Asset Management. "But I would have to take a look at what they actually do."

Suzuki has fared much better than its domestic rivals thanks to its focus on the relatively steady 660cc microcar segment in Japan, and its dominance in India, its biggest market.

A day earlier, Suzuki said its overseas production grew 1.4 per cent in May from the year before for the first rise in 10 months, as production in India grew for the fourth straight month.

Global output in May fell 14 per cent but that was much better than a 27 per cent to 55 per cent drop at the seven other Japanese car makers.

During the July-September quarter, Suzuki will return to a full schedule at its domestic car plants for the first time since December, a spokesman said. The factories had taken extra days off since January to work down inventory.

By Reuters


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