* Japan quake, Thai floods hit Honda harder than others
* Q3 op profit seen down 35 pct y/y - Reuters poll
* Investors eager for Honda to renew earnings guidance
* Consensus sees FY profit down 50%, better than previous guidance
* Shares outperform as investors focus on recovery ahead
By Chang-Ran Kim
TOKYO, Jan 31 (Reuters) - Honda Motor Co is expected to report a double-digit slide in quarterly operating profit on Tuesday and forecast a still larger drop for the full year, as natural disasters in Japan and Thailand hit it harder than rivals.
Japan’s No.3 automaker was the slowest to recover from supply-chain disruptions after the earthquake and tsunami in March, while it was alone in having a car factory inundated by the historic floods in Thailand, Southeast Asia’s export hub.
That is expected to push Honda’s October-December operating profit down 35 percent to 81 billion yen ($1.06 billion), according to a poll of nine analysts by Reuters.
Honda’s announcement is being closely watched after the company withdrew its guidance in October citing uncertainty over when production could resume in Thailand. Honda is the first Japanese automaker to report third-quarter earnings, and is also expected to provide an update on Thai production on Tuesday.
In 2011, Honda’s global output dropped by a fifth to 2.909 million cars, slipping below 3 million for the first time in eight years. All other Japanese automakers, except Nissan Motor Co, built fewer cars also, but the falls were much smaller than at Honda.
For the year to March 31, 2012, forecasts from 24 analysts polled by Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S put Honda’s annual operating profit at 283 billion yen, down 50 percent from 2010-11 when it was hit by the yen’s rise against the dollar and euro.
The consensus forecast is slightly higher than the 270 billion yen Honda projected in August.
With production steadily recovering in the final months of 2011, investors have turned their attention to an anticipated jump in sales as Honda restocks its depleted inventory.
So far this year, its shares are the best performer among Japanese automakers, rising 14.2 percent as of Monday. Tokyo’s auto sector index has gained 8.9 percent.
Still, concern has lingered over whether Honda might be losing its edge after a new version of its top-selling Civic was heavily criticised for its styling and interior in the United States, its biggest market, last year.
Competition in the United States is set to heat up this year as resurgent local giants Ford Motor Co and General Motors Co and South Korea’s fast-rising Hyundai Motor Co flex their muscles in the sedan segment previously dominated by Honda and Toyota Motor Corp.
While acknowledging the criticisms of the revamped Civic, Honda Chief Executive Takanobu Ito stressed this month that the car had topped the country’s compact sedan segment in the latest quarter, outselling Toyota’s Corolla.
Honda is targeting a 25 percent jump in its U.S. sales this calendar year. To this aim, it is shoring up its struggling Acura premium brand.
Honda is scheduled to announce its results at 3 p.m. (0600 GMT) in Tokyo.
Domestic rivals Toyota and Nissan are scheduled to announce third-quarter earnings on Feb. 7 and 8, respectively.