TOKYO — Japanese electronics giant Panasonic on Monday booked its first annual net profit in three years and reversed a huge loss suffered in the previous 12 months as it presses on with a sweeping restructuring. The Osaka-based company said net profit hit 120.44 billion yen (US$1.17 billion) in its fiscal year to March, after suffering a loss of 754.25 billion yen a year earlier, while revenue ticked up to 7.74 trillion yen from 7.30 trillion yen. Panasonic — recovering from combined losses topping US$15 billion in the previous two fiscal years — also said it expected net profit to come in at 140 billion yen over the year to March 2015. The company, along with rivals Sony and Sharp, has struggled in recent years, largely because of huge losses in their televisions units, but a sharply weaker yen over the past year has helped boost their bottom line.
The trio are also undergoing painful overhauls aimed at rescuing their battered balance sheets. Panasonic credited the weaker yen for its healthier results, and pointed to an uptick in its auto-related businesses on the back of a global recovery. It also saw better sales of household appliances as Japanese consumers splashed out on big-ticket goods before an April 1 sales tax increase. “Despite some economic slowdown in emerging countries including India, the global economy moderately continued to recover with a pick-up in Europe, a continuing stock market recovery and the robust consumer spending in the U.S. … yen depreciation and a surge in consumer spending before (a) Japanese consumption tax hike,” it said in a statement. “Meantime, (the firm is) focusing on profitability rather than sales volume.” It also pointed to company-wide cost cuts and efforts to reduce materials outlays for boosting its bottom line. But sales in digital consumer products, including its struggling television business, remained weak as Panasonic shifts its attention away from loss-making divisions as part of a wider restructuring. The firm has said it will abandon the consumer smartphone market and stop production of plasma television screens, in line with a broader industry shift away from plasma units. Hitachi and Pioneer have also exited the market in recent years. “The company has benefited from the weak yen, but its restructuring is the major contributor to its recovery,” said Mitsushige Akino, analyst at Ichiyoshi Investment Management in Tokyo. “But the television business is still struggling. Panasonic should say for the current year how it wants to revamp that sector, including the possibility of getting out the business.”