Nissan's North America Sales Are Strong, but Weakness in China, Japan Dent Profits

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Nissan (NSANY) posted a 13% drop in quarterly operating profit as it contended with slower sales in China and Japan, and higher costs in the U.S., but the Japanese automaker expects profits to rise and sales to grow in the current fiscal year as it looks to trim costs.

Carlos Ghosn, CEO of the Yokohama, Japan-based automaker, said he expects operating profit to rise 15% in the current fiscal year. The company benefited last year from a favorable currency exchange and robust sales in North America. 

In terms of unit sales in North America, Nissan gained 12% for the year to 1.65 million cars, light trucks and crossovers, a record. Operating profit for the year was up 54%. Ghosn, speaking in Yokohama, highlighted the performance of "core models," notably the Altima, Rogue and Sentra. He also credited "better discipline" with incentives and discounts for the increase in operating profit. 

Ghosn was cautious in responding to questions by reporters about France's proposal to buy more shares and double its voting rights for its stake in Renault (RNSDF), which holds a 43% stake in Nissan. Nissan owns a 15% non-voting stake in Renault. The alliance between the two automakers, which was formed in 1999 when Renault rescued a floundering Nissan, has flourished. 

The CEO said the French government's proposal had caused a "very sensitive situation" affecting "the balance of the alliance, the health of the alliance, so I'm not going to make any comment." Analysts have pointed out that if the French government increases its influence over Renault it will, by extension, increase its influence over Nissan. That could upset the Japanese automaker. 

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