Toyota Motor Corp. Earnings Preview: What's the Q4 Report Have in Store for Investors?

The world's largest automaker, Toyota (NYSE: TM  ) , is all set to report its fourth-quarter results on May 8. The company had forecasted record sales of 9.1 million vehicles globally for the 2014 fiscal year that ended in March. It had also predicted an unprecedented net income of 1.9 trillion yen (roughly $18.6 billion at current exchange rates) for the 2014 fiscal year. How close is Toyota to its ambitious targets? Will it come out with a clean report card, delighting investors? Let's take a look at Toyota's sales trends and achievements in its key markets.

North America
North America is Toyota's largest market, and accounts for roughly 30% of its vehicle sales. The company targeted sales of 2.6 million vehicles in the continent in fiscal year 2014, up 5.3% from the previous year. Till the third quarter, Toyota was on track to achieve this growth, and sold nearly 2 million vehicles in the first nine months, up 5.2% from the same period in the previous fiscal year.

However, in the fourth quarter, sales were severely affected in the U.S. on account of the harsh winter conditions. According to automotive website goodcarbadcar.net, Toyota's sales in the U.S. were down by 8,447 vehicles in the January-March period. So, it's possible that Toyota could lag its earlier sales forecast in North America.

Japan
In the home market of Japan, Toyota was initially expecting a slight sales drop to 2.23 million vehicles in fiscal year 2014 from 2.28 million registered in fiscal year 2013. In the first nine months, Toyota had sold 1.64 million vehicles, about 26,000 short of its prior year's sales.

But in the third quarter, the company experienced strong demand for new models like the Harrier, Noah, and Roxy, as well as the hybrid vehicles, and increased the full-year sales projections to 2.28 million vehicles.

As things turned out, Japan witnessed windfall sales in March with consumers rushing to buy cars before the April sales tax hike of 5%-8%. The month's industry sales figures stand at an astounding 783,000, which is the highest level since 2006. So in Japan, Toyota could report sales ahead of its forecasted numbers in the fourth quarter and 2014 fiscal year.

Europe
Toyota had initially projected sales of 840,000 vehicles in Europe in fiscal year 2014, up 5% from the sales registered previous year. The company's European market comprises 56 countries, including Israel and Russia. Compared with the year-ago period, Toyota sold 27,000 more vehicles in the first nine months of the fiscal year as volumes grew 4.5% to 630,000 vehicles. But management took a more cautious stance for the rest of the year and cut full year projections by 10,000 units. The revised forecast is for 830,000 vehicles.

However, of late, management is sounding more upbeat as the outlook for Europe is slowly improving. Before the opening of the Geneva auto show, Toyota's Europe chief Didier Leroy told journalists that "Everyone agrees that the second half of 2013 was already better and 2014 will continue the same trend. But it will be a very, very slow recovery."

Toyota's hybrids are becoming popular in Europe, and offer a good opportunity for growing sales in the continent. The company's also concentrating on minicars and diesel offerings.

Asia
In Asia, Toyota's facing weak demand in Thailand, one of its key production hubs. The Japanese automaker is expecting local sales to be down by around 10% in fiscal year 2014 -- its second consecutive annual decline. This is having a big impact on the automaker's consolidated sales in Asia, which it expects to decrease to 1.64 million units from 1.68 million in the earlier year. For the calendar year 2014, Toyota has predicted Thailand local sales to drop to 400,000 vehicles from 445,000 in 2013.

However, the good news is that sales are slowly climbing up in China. Toyota and other Japanese automakers had faced the brunt of anti-Japanese protests in China over diplomatic issues that had resulted in sharp sales decline from the second half of 2012. With the tension ebbing, Toyota could sell more than 900,000 vehicles in calendar year 2013, and is gearing up for 1.1 million unit sales in 2014. So, China is likely to remain a bright spot.

Final take
Toyota is the sales champion in the global automotive market, and has many a strategies to hold on to its position. Despite the different dynamics and trends in the company's main markets, it's possible that actual results would remain close to the forecasted sales figures. Earnings, too, could hit the expected record figure, so no real worries on that account. The company looks good to deliver on its promises.

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