New models lift Renault profit despite Russia writedown

PARIS (Reuters) - Renault's RENA.PA full-year profit rose almost 50 percent in 2015 on strong sales of new models, though the French carmaker slashed the value of its stake in Lada-maker AvtoVAZ by 225 million euros amid a Russian car market slump.

Employees work at Renault's assembly plant in Wuhan, Hubei province, China, in this February 1, 2016 file photo. Renault is expected to report full-year results this week. REUTERS/Darley Shen/Files

Renault shares initially rose 5 percent before giving up most of their gains after Chief Executive Carlos Ghosn dampened any hopes of structural change to the Renault-Nissan alliance. At 4.37 a.m. ET, the stock was up 0.2 percent at 69 euros.

An eight-month standoff over French government voting rights, which was resolved in December, showed the alliance’s reciprocal shareholdings are unlikely to change imminently unless there is “strategic purpose”, Ghosn said.

Renault’s net income for 2015 rose to 2.82 billion euros ($3.2 billion) from 1.89 billion a year earlier as revenue climbed 10.4 percent to 45.3 billion euros, it said on Friday. The operating margin rose from 3.9 percent to 5.1 percent of sales, beating the company’s 5 percent mid-term goal.

The results “mark a decisive step towards the achievement of our plan”, Ghosn said.

Profit nonetheless suffered a 620 million euro hit from Renault's 37 percent indirect stake in AvtoVAZ AVAZ.MM, and the bill is likely to rise as it injects more capital to shore up the carmaker in the face of collapsing Russian demand.

Discussions with other shareholders are ongoing, Chief Financial Officer Dominique Thormann said.

Besides writing down the value of its holding - from 321 million euros to 96 million - Renault booked 395 million euros of AvtoVAZ losses. Renault expects the Russian market, which has roughly halved since 2012, to fall another 12 percent this year.

“I don’t expect good news from Russia in 2016,” Ghosn said.

At a global level, Renault’s 3.3 percent increase in registrations, announced last month, reflected runaway sales of the new Captur and Kadjar SUVs, as well as solid gains for its updated Trafic van and Logan budget sedan.

But the revamped lineup failed to deliver improvements to profitability from pricing, which instead wiped 379 million euros from earnings as a result of discounts to shift outgoing models, combined with the costs of meeting Euro 6 engine standards.

Automotive profit still jumped 74 percent to 1.5 billion euros, thanks to 527 million euros in cost cuts in purchasing and other areas, as well as a 1.9 billion euro increase in sales of vehicles and engines to Daimler DAIGn.DE and Nissan 7201.T, Renault's 43.4 percent-owned alliance partner.

Against a backdrop of a weak emerging market outlook for 2016, with Brazilian demand also expected to shrink a further 6 percent, Renault reiterated its pledge to increase revenue and profitability for the year.

“We should be able to grow or at least maintain our sales positions in all regions,” Ghosn said.

Editing by David Clarke