Lost in Translation: Biz Press Reports Dollar Amounts of Toyota's Losses, Not Its Sales

Here are the first two paragraphs of Toyota Motor Corporation's press release announcing its financial results for the year ended March 31, 2009 (most Japanese companies end their fiscal years on March 31; bolds are mine):

Tokyo - TOYOTA MOTOR CORPORATION (TMC) today announced operating results for the fiscal year ended March 31, 2009.

On a consolidated basis, net revenues for the fiscal year ended March 31, 2009 totaled 20.53 trillion yen, a decrease of 21.9 percent compared to the last fiscal year. Operating income decreased from 2.27 trillion yen to a loss of 461 billion yen, and income before income taxes, minority interest and equity in earnings of affiliated companies was a loss of 560.4 billion yen. Net income decreased from 1.72 trillion yen to a loss of 437 billion yen.

Across the board, the financial press reports I read translated the company's reported losses expressed in yen into dollars ($4.4 billion in $US for the year, and $7.7 billion in the fourth quarter), but not its revenues (about $207 billion and $35 billion, respectively).

Why is that?

It may have something to do with the fact that Toyota, despite its considerable recent troubles, especially during most recent quarter, is leaving rivals Ford and General Motors in the rear-view mirror. That certainly distracts from the bailout blather about how GM's and Chrysler's crises were "unavoidable."

Just two years ago, Toyota passed GM and became the world's largest carmaker. In the most recent quarter, Toyota's top line far exceeded Ford's and GM's ($24.8 billion and $22.4 billion, respectively).

If the fact that Ford outsold GM in the first quarter of 2009 is news to you, you're not alone. The press has ignored the fact that Ford leapfrogged GM in the first quarter to become Number One in Detroit.

As to Toyota's results, despite the figure's presence in yen in the first sentence of its press release, none of the half-dozen reports I reviewed translated the company's revenues into dollars:

  • Dow Jones translated the company's quarterly and annual net losses. While it noted final-quarter revenues in yen, it didn't translate the number.
  • MarketWatch also translated the company's losses, and not its revenues.
  • AFP only noted that Toyota's "revenues slumped 21.9 percent" for the year, and laugably claimed (as did MarketWatch) that "Toyota fared even worse in the quarter to March than General Motors, which said Thursday it lost six billion dollars." GM's quarterly loss was about 27% of sales; Toyota's historic loss was about 22%. GM burned through $10.2 billion in cash during the quarter. Toyota also happens to have about $30 billion in cash and cash-equivalents on hand, $8 billion higher than a year ago.
  • The UK Telegraph noted a decline in unit sales, but did not deal with revenues.
  • A BreakingViews.com story carried at CNNMoney.com did not mention revenue dollars, but did uniquely point to the company's stash of cash, and reminded readers that "Toyota is in much better shape than General Motors."
  • A New York Times report by HIroko Tabuchi noted annual sales, but only in yen, while translating the company's quarterly and annual net losses.

While there's no denying that the largest loss in the 72-year history of the company is big news, it's hard to believe that the growing disparity between its sales volume and that of its rivals is not. Maybe it will be news if, as seems pretty likely, Toyota outsells Ford and GM combined within the next few years.

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.

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