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Nissan caps buoyant earnings for Japan's top 3 auto giants

TOKYO--Nissan said Monday its nine-month net profit jumped 18.4 percent, capping a buoyant earnings season for Japan's top three automakers thanks to a cheap yen and rising sales in North America and China.

Rival Toyota, the world's biggest automaker, last week forecast a record annual profit with nine-month earnings more than doubling to US$15 billion, after Japan's number three Honda said its earnings surged almost 40 percent.

The trio have been big winners over the past year as a sharp drop in the yen inflated exporters' repatriated profits, further boosted by improved demand in key overseas markets.

Sales in China slumped in late 2012 and into last year as a Tokyo-Beijing diplomatic row sparked a consumer boycott of Japanese brands in the world's biggest vehicle market.

Relations remain tense, but Japanese manufacturers have reported sales are returning to pre-dispute levels.

Nissan was particularly vulnerable as it counts on China for about a quarter of its sales and has been fighting off rivals, including General Motors and Volkswagen, to return to its pre-boycott 7.7-percent market share.

In November the new executive in charge of Nissan's China business said the firm was struggling to catch up with rebounding demand, after a slow start in the first half of 2013.

The maker of the Altima sedan and luxury Infiniti brand has three plants in China with a local partner, and plans to open another factory this year.

On Monday Nissan said its net profit was 274.1 billion (US$2.68 billion) in the April-December period, up 18.4 percent, as profit in just the third quarter soared 57 percent.

Global revenue of 7.27 trillion yen was up 19.7 percent from a year earlier as Nissan pointed to a recovery in China as well as robust demand in Japan and North America.

'Sluggish conditions' in Europe

However, sales of 3.67 million vehicles were up just 1.0 percent, as Nissan trailed its key Japanese rivals. Its Europe market struggled while Latin America and other parts of Asia turned down.

“Sales in Japan and North America helped offset emerging market volatility and sluggish conditions in Europe,” said the company's chief executive Carlos Ghosn.

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