Tokyo: Japanese consumer electronics giant Panasonic Corp said it would cut another 17,000 jobs, equal to 5% of its workforce, over the next two years in a bid to pare costs and keep up with Asian rivals.

The maker of Viera TVs and Lumix cameras said it was aiming to trim its workforce of 367,000 at the end of last month to 350,000 by March 2013. The cull comes on top of nearly 18,000 job cuts made in the past business year, for a total of around 35,000 over three years.

“The figure is huge, but so is the company, and for an old-fashioned one like Panasonic, this is a big move," said Toru Hashizume, chief investment officer at Stats Investment Management in Tokyo.

“In the mid-term, the stock is priced low, it is around the level it was after Lehman, even though the current conditions are more favourable for Panasonic," he added, referring to the collapse of Lehman Brothers in the global financial crisis.

Panasonic said it planned to axe about 10% of its 350 global manufacturing bases and set aside ¥110 billion ($1.3 billion) in restructuring expenses for the current financial year. It did not give the locations of the factories facing closure.

Once unrivalled, Japan’s consumer electronic firms are facing increasing competition from cheaper Korean and Chinese producers in particular.

Panasonic is seeking to shift its focus to environmental and energy-related businesses such as rechargeable batteries in order to duck competition from Samsung Electronics, LG Electronics and others in consumer technology.

As part of that strategy, it announced last year it would pay $9.4 billion to make Panasonic Electric Works and Sanyo Electric Co wholly owned units.

Panasonic absorbed a combined 1 60 ,000 workers in that move and was now seeking to shed staff in overlapping businesses, particularly abroad, said the Nikkei newspaper, which first reported the job cuts .

The units make a wide range of products including rechargeable batteries, factory robots, electronic components, lighting and solar panels.

Shares of the electronics conglomerate closed up 2.4% in Tokyo, outpacing a 1.6% gain in the benchmark Nikkei 225 index .

Quake Hits Profits

Unlike their western counterparts, Japanese companies tend to avoid dumping large numbers of workers, particularly at home.

The latest staff cuts overshadow past Panasonic restructurings including 26,000 workers shed after the information-technology bubble burst, and about 15,000 in the aftermath of the Lehman shock.

It is equal to about all the jobs lost in the United States in March according to data released by Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc, an outplacement firm that compiles monthly US employment numbers.

On top of the stiff competition and a strong yen, which saps export earnings, Japanese electronics companies have had to deal with the impact of last month’s devastating earthquake and tsunami, which has hit earnings hard.

Panasonic said its operating profit for the fourth quarter ended March fell by almost a third to ¥41 billion.

It did not give a forecast for the current year because of uncertainties following the quake.

Operating profit was ¥305.3 billion ($3.7 billion) for the year just ended, slightly better than a consensus of ¥297 billion, based on Thomson Reuters SmartEstimate, which places greater weight on recent estimates by highly rated analysts.

The SmartEstimate for the current year to March 2012 is for a profit fall to ¥260 billion as the company struggles with production woes and weak domestic demand following the earthquake.

Panasonic said without the impact of the quake, its forecast for this year would have been for an operating profit of ¥310 billion.