Nikon Q1 profits leap; stepper sales seen up

Nikon Q1 profits leap; stepper sales seen up

Tokyo: Japan’s Nikon Corp reported a more than 15-fold rise in quarterly profit on Thursday on healthy camera sales and improved demand for steppers and scanners used to make chips and liquid crystal displays.

The operating profit of ¥11.3 billion for the April-June soundly beat a consensus forecast of ¥6.8 billion in a survey of three analysts by Thomson Reuters. A year earlier, the company eked out a profit of just ¥730 million as demand slid in the aftermath of the global financial crisis.

The company left its full year operating profit forecast of ¥52 billion unchanged, amid uncertainty about the US and European economies in the second half of the year.

Steppers and scanners are multi-million dollar machines used to etch circuitry onto silicon wafers and LCD panels. Nikon’s biggest competitor in chip steppers, Netherlands-based ASML, raised its full year sales outlook by at least 10% last month on robust demand.

Data from research firm Gartner showed in June that spending on semiconductor capital equipment would more than double this year to $35.4 billion, driven by an increase in demand for chips used in smartphones such as the iPhone and tablet computers.

But there are concerns that demand will taper off in 2011.

Nikon raised its annual sales forecast for new chip steppers and scanners to 54 units from 48 units and its annual sales forecast for LCD steppers and scanners to 62 units from 58 units.

Nikon is also the world’s third-largest maker of digital cameras after Canon Inc and Sony Corp.

The company raised its annual single-lens reflex camera sales forecast to 4.25 million units from 4.2 million units and its sales forecast for compact digital cameras to 13.5 million units from 12.5 million.

After Sony and others stirred up the camera market by launching “mirrorless" models, which offer some of the advantages of professional-style single-lens reflex cameras in a lightweight package, markets have been focusing on when Nikon will offer its own version.

Nikon shares closed up 1.5% on the day, ahead of the results.