Nikon drops sales forecast as high-end camera market stalls

TOKYO, Nov 7 (Reuters) - Nikon Corp cut its full-year unit sales forecast for high-end cameras for the second quarter in a row on Thursday, as a dramatic fall in demand among photography hobbyists that began last year accelerated faster than expected.

The company posted a 41 percent drop in operating profit to 21.9 billion yen ($222 million) for the six months ended September, saying overseas demand for pricy single-lens reflex models had remained depressed.

It cut its unit sales projection for interchangeable lens cameras to 6.20 million from a previous forecast of 6.55 million, which had predicted the first fall in sales of the format since Nikon’s first digital SLR in 1999.

A sharp downturn in the single-lens reflex camera market this year has come as a blow to companies such as Nikon and market leader Canon Inc, after the shrivelling of the compact camera market as consumers switched to smartphones for taking photos. Nikon’s imaging unit’s operating profit slid 26 percent in the first half to 30.9 billion yen.

Nikon also cut its sales forecast for steppers, multi-million dollar lithography machines that are a vital part of the semiconductor manufacturing process, to 36 from an earlier forecast of 37 machines, saying it had felt the impact of a drop in capex among chipmakers. Operating profit in its precision instruments unit fell 48.2 percent to 3.7 billion yen.

The Japanese firm now claims less than a fifth of the market, down from less than 40 percent a decade ago, as Dutch rival ASML Holdings NV has gained a share of over 80 percent.

$1 = 98.6500 Japanese yen Reporting by Sophie Knight; Editing by Stephen Coates