Archive for June, 2011

Mazda sees growth with lean gas engines, not EVs

Thursday, June 30th, 2011 | Finance News

TOKYO – Mazda's president believes gasoline engines will still power 80 to 90 percent of the world's autos even in 20 years time, and remains confident the carmaker can grow without electric vehicles.

The comments Thursday from Mazda Motor Corp. President Takashi Yamanouchi contrast with the strategy at Japanese rival Nissan Motor Co., which is banking heavily on its Leaf electric car, one of the first mass-produced EVs on the market.

Yamanouchi said Mazda's efficient gas engine called "Skyactiv" will be a pillar of its growth strategy as the Hiroshima-based manufacturer seeks to boost sales in emerging markets, where electric vehicles and hybrids aren't expected to be as popular as in developed nations.

"Skyactiv will be one of the drivers of our growth," Yamanouchi told reporters at a Tokyo hotel, where Mazda showed a new subcompact.

Mazda currently has no hybrid vehicle in its lineup. It plans to start selling a hybrid by 2013.

Hybrids still require gas engines, and Yamanouchi said they can be counted as part of what will be the 80 or 90 percent of cars that aren't electric.

Nissan has sold about 8,000 of its Leaf electric vehicles around the world, more than half in Japan, since its gradual global rollout started in December.

That's a tiny fraction of the world auto market. But Yokohama-based Nissan is targeting production of 250,000 electric vehicles a year globally by 2015, stressing that concerns about global warming and pollution are growing.

Mazda began selling the Demio, known as Mazda2 overseas, in Japan on Thursday, offering a version packed with Skyactiv technology. It is targeting 6,000 overall Demio sales a month.

The automaker said it was not planning to sell the Skyactiv Demio overseas, but was planning the green technology for bigger models.

The Skyactiv Demio gets as much as 30 kilometers a liter (71 miles per gallon), according to Mazda. Other features, such as "idling stop," in which the engine turns off automatically while at a traffic light and other temporary stops, helps boost mileage.

Mazda is building engine and vehicle assembly plants in Mexico for small cars, such as Mazda2 and Mazda3, for markets in Central America and South America.

It has said it will stop building the midsize Mazda6 sedan at its 50-50 joint venture with Ford Motor Co. in Flat Rock, Michigan, but did not specify exactly when that would be, leaving the fate of the plant unclear. Mazda's output there has been at about 40,000 vehicles a year.

Mazda, which has lost money for the last three fiscal years, is struggling to assert its brand without counting on its longtime partnership with Ford.

No replacement partnership has been announced, and Mazda has repeatedly said Ford remains a key partner.

Dearborn-based Ford bought 25 percent of the Japanese carmaker in 1979, raising it to 33.4 percent in 1996. But Ford began cutting ties in 2008, and last year lowered its ownership to 3.5 percent.

Like other Japanese automakers, Mazda has been hurt by supplier disruptions from the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in northeastern Japan. It is also hurt more than others by the surging yen because it sells vehicles made at overseas plants in Japan.

Yamanouchi reiterated the company's target for annual global sales of 1.7 million vehicles by the fiscal year ending March 2016. Mazda sold 1.1 million vehicles for the fiscal year ended March 2011.


Yuri Kageyama can be reached at


Oil prices slide after recent bounce

Thursday, June 30th, 2011 | Finance News

LONDON (AFP) – World oil prices slid on Thursday on profit-taking after soaring the previous day on easing concerns over Greece and signs of strengthening energy demand in the United States.

Brent North Sea crude for delivery in August sank $1.01 to $111.39 in early London trade, having rocketed by $3.62 the previous day.

New York's main contract, West Texas Intermediate for August, fell 37 cents to $94.40 a barrel.

Crude futures had surged on Wednesday after a vote in the Greek parliament eased worries about a destabilising default, while new data from the United States showed that US crude inventories had fallen.

The rally came after Greek lawmakers approved an unpopular austerity plan demanded by international creditors, staving off the threat of a default that could have knock-on effects throughout the eurozone.

The news cheered investors and caused the European single currency to rise against the dollar, which in turn buoyed the price of oil, analysts said.

The oil market has now regained most of the ground they lost after last Thursday's surprise announcement by the International Energy Agency that it was tapping strategic reserves to make up for lost Libyan output.

Separately on Wednesday, official data showed that US crude oil inventories fell by 4.4 million barrels last week, exceeding market expectations for a drop of 1.6 million barrels.

Falling oil inventories in the United States, the world' largest economy, indicate that US demand for energy is on the rise.


Exclusive: U.S. small business borrowing surges

Thursday, June 30th, 2011 | Finance News

CHICAGO (Reuters) – Borrowing by small U.S. businesses rose at a record pace in May, data released by PayNet Inc on Thursday showed, a sign that economic growth is poised to pick up in coming months.

The Thomson Reuters/PayNet Small Business Lending Index, which measures the overall volume of financing to U.S. small businesses, rose 26 percent in May from a year earlier, PayNet said.

The index is now at its highest since July 2008, two months before the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the near derailment of the world financial system.

Borrowing by small businesses is seen as a harbinger for the broader economy because they account for as much as 80 percent of new hiring. The loans PayNet tracks are typically used to buy or update plants and equipment.

The Federal Reserve has kept rates near zero since December 2008 to try to pull the economy from the worst downturn since the 1930s.

Last week Fed officials reiterated their promise to keep rates low for an extended period, but predicted a slower-than-expected Spring would give way to faster growth later this year.

Dallas Fed President Richard Fisher on Tuesday said he expects 4 percent growth in the second half, more than twice the 1.9 percent pace in the first quarter.

Thursday's data on small business borrowing bears up that optimistic view. Changes in the index typically signal developments in the overall economy two to five months in advance.

"If small businesses are taking these kind of chances, taking risks, making long term investments, they are seeing some long-term opportunities on the horizon," PayNet founder Bill Phelan said in an interview. "That's got to be a big positive sign for the economy."

Separate data also released on Thursday showed small business loan defaults at their lowest in five years, tying records set in April and May 2006.

Accounts in moderate delinquency, or those behind by 30 days or more, fell in May to 1.95 percent from 2.06 percent in April, PayNet said on Thursday.

Accounts 90 days or more behind in payment, or in severe delinquency, fell to 0.59 percent in May from 0.63 percent in April.

Banks with improving asset quality outnumbered banks with deteriorating asset quality by four to one, Phelan said.

Accounts behind 180 days or more, or in default and unlikely to ever get paid, fell to 0.75 percent of total receivables in May, from 0.77 percent in April, according to PayNet, which provides risk-management tools to the commercial lending industry.