Mitsubishi Motors hits all-time low as ASEAN sales slump casts doubt on recovery

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan’s Mitsubishi Motors 7211.T faced doubts about a quick recovery after posting dismal quarterly sales in its key Southeast Asia market partly due to the coronavirus outbreak, sending its shares down 13% to a record low on Tuesday.

FILE PHOTO: A Mitsubishi Motors signage is pictured next to a Mitsubishi Motors electric car at the Tokyo Motor Show, in Tokyo, Japan October 24, 2019. REUTERS/Edgar Su

A day earlier, Mitsubishi Motors, a junior member of the auto alliance of Nissan Motor 7201.T and Renault SA RENA.PA, reported that sales in Southeast Asian countries, which normally account for a quarter of its global sales, plunged by a sharper-than-expected 68% to make up just 17% of total sales during April-June.

The automaker has bet on growth in Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam where it has dominated bigger rivals, and which have felt the brunt of the coronavirus pandemic later than China and other countries.

As a result, some experts say that Mitsubishi’s sales recovery may lag other automakers’ and complicate a restructuring plan that it detailed on Monday.

The automaker also projected an operating loss of 140 billion yen ($1.33 billion) for the year ending on March 31, 2021, its biggest loss in at least 18 years.

Mitsubishi Motors’ results were “shocking”, said analyst Mio Kato of LightStream Research, who publishes on the Smartkarma platform, noting that Southeast Asia was particularly concerning.

“ASEAN was meant to be its growth driver and was even positioned as its key attractive point to the Renault-Nissan Alliance. ASEAN sales have collapsed and it is now generating losses,” Kato said in a note to clients, referring to Southeast Asia.

Globally it sold just 139,000 vehicles in the April-June quarter, a 53% tumble from a year ago. To preserve cash, the automaker said it would not pay a dividend this year.

Mitsubishi’s shares closed down 12.6% at 235 yen after falling as low as 234 yen, a lifetime low since their 1988 listing. The shares have nearly halved this year.

Hisashi Arakawa, deputy head of investment management at Aberdeen Standard Investments in Tokyo, said Mitsubishi Motors’ difficulties also stood in contrast to those of some other Japanese car makers, especially Toyota Motor Corp 7203.T, which were doing relatively well in the pandemic by increasing market share in several markets.

“On top of big losses, cuts in dividend may have contributed to the fall in its shares,” he added.

Some analysts were sanguine about the company’s longer-term outlook and backed its recovery strategy.

“In the short term Southeast Asia is not going to work that well for them, but in the longer term it’s the right thing for them to do,” said Chris Richter, deputy head of Japan research at CLSA.

Reporting by Naomi Tajitsu, Hideyuki Sano, David Dolan; Writing by Chang-Ran Kim; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman