Toyota's troubles in rear view mirror

@CNNMoney May 9, 2012: 12:06 PM ET

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- Toyota Motor took a step in putting recent problems behind it Wednesday, reporting a big jump in quarterly earnings and predicting a bigger profit for the fiscal year recently underway.

But the comparisons, both for the recent quarter results and the upcoming year, are relatively easy. The earlier periods included the impact of the devastating earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan in March 2011 and disrupted Toyota's supply chain and production for much of the past year.

Toyota (TM), which lost its lead in the global sales race to U.S. rival General Motors (GM, Fortune 500) last year, was also dealing with the effects of the yen's relatively high value, which made cars built in Japan more expensive when sold elsewhere in the world.

And it was trying to recover from damage to its reputation suffered from a global recall problem in 2010.

Even if it is putting those problems are behind it, Toyota must deal with a remade U.S. auto industry, which is more competitive after bankruptcy reorganizations at GM and Chrysler Group in 2009.

It also faces increased competition from Volkswagen, which also sold more cars globally than it did last year, as well as Ford Motor (F, Fortune 500), which passed Toyota in terms of U.S. sales in 2010, and fast-growing Korean automaker Hyundai Motor.

Still Toyota enjoyed decades of increasing sales and market share before the problems of recent years, and it is still a major player in all of the major auto markets around the globe.

For the fiscal fourth quarter that ended March 31, Toyota reported earnings of ¥121 billion, or $1.52 billion, a nearly five-fold increase from a year earlier when it earned ¥24.5 billion. It was the first quarter since the fall of 2010 that Toyota posted a year-over year increase in earnings.

"It was a brutal year, yet they closed the fiscal year pretty strong," said Michelle Krebs, senior analyst with

The company said it expects earnings in the current fiscal year of ¥760 billion, or $9.55 billion, up from the ¥283.5 billion it earned in the year ended March 31. By comparison, GM is expected to earn about $7.8 billion in the year ending Dec. 31.

Krebs said that while putting past problems behind is the key factor in the improved Toyota outlook, some of the optimism is due to strong new products, such as a Camry that is selling well.

"Throughout these last few years as they were having trouble, we were pointing out that part of the problem is they didn't have a lot of new product either," Krebs said. "Now they're getting that."

Krebs said Toyota hasn't made the radical changes in its operations that U.S. automakers has made in recent years, but that was because it didn't have to. But she said the company can't count on the steady gains in global sales and market share it used to routinely enjoy because the competitive landscape has changed so much.

"Their biggest challenge is really stronger competitors," she said. "They face those now, not just in the U.S., but everywhere else in the world." To top of page

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