MUMBAI (Reuters) - Tata Motors (TAMO.BO), India's biggest vehicle maker, reported a return to operating profit for its British Jaguar Land Rover unit on Friday, as cost cuts begin to bear fruit and new models attract buyers.
Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) has weighed on the firm's results since its takeover last year, fanning fears the Tata group, the Indian business empire that controls Tata Motors, had overstretched itself just as the global financial crisis hit.
But on Friday Tata Motors said it made a consolidated net profit of 217.8 million rupees ($4.7 million) in its fiscal second quarter, helped by investment gains and higher sales volumes, having lost 9.42 billion rupees in the same July-September period last year.
JLR made an operating profit of 41.3 million pounds ($68 million) in the three months and its net loss narrowed to 60 million pounds from 240 million pounds a year ago.
"There is a recovery happening in Europe, one of (JLR's) key markets. They also have a better product mix now with the new launches," said K.K. Mittal, head of portfolio management services at Globa Capital. "We are bullish on the stock."
Earlier this month, Ford (F.N), Renault (RENA.PA), Peugeot (PEUP.PA), Toyota (7203.T) and BMW (BMWG.DE) signaled the automotive sector was stabilizing, but most stopped short of predicting a rebound next year.
September quarter sales volume at JLR rose 23 percent to 44,300 vehicles from 35,900 in the preceding quarter, and Tata Motors said there were signs of improved demand for other key units after a global slump in the auto sector.
"It is a surprise result. We did not expect the turnaround to happen so fast," said Surjit Arora, auto analyst with Prabhudas Lilladher.
New JLR products such as the upgraded Land Rover, Range Rover Sports and Discovery 4 were getting a good reception and aggressive cost cuts were also paying off, Tata Motors said.
"Many of the cost reductions underway at Jaguar and Land Rover should benefit us in the coming quarters," Chief Financial Officer R. Ramakrishnan told reporters.
Debts at JLR stood at 90 billion rupees ($1.9 billion), and Tata Motors' debt at September 30 stood at 210 billion rupees.
Ahead of the results, Citigroup had said it expected JLR to become profitable at an operating profit level by the fiscal third quarter through cost-cutting efforts and better pricing.
The result came a day after group firm Tata Steel (TISC.BO), which bought European steelmaker Corus in 2007, said it expected a sharp improvement in the fiscal second half on reviving demand, including in Europe.
Auto sales have also been improving in India for most of this fiscal year, compared with a 1 percent rise in sales in 2008/09. Car sales are expected to rise by a double-digit percentage this year, according to industry estimates.
Tata Motors, which has about 60 percent of India's truck and bus market, the world's fifth-biggest,
The company made a second-quarter net loss from ordinary activities of 21.5 million, but investment returns of 196.9 million rupees and its share of minority interests brought the overall result back into profit.
In October Tata Motors reported a second-quarter standalone net profit, excluding results from JLR, of 7.29 billion rupees.
The results on Friday were released in the final minutes of share trading, with shares in Tata Motors, valued at $7.3 billion, ending down 0.8 percent at 629.50 rupees while the Mumbai market index .BSESN was down 1.3 percent.
The shares have quadrupled in value this year, far outstripping a rise of more than 70 percent in the main index.
Editing by Greg Mahlich