| YOKOHAMA, Japan
YOKOHAMA, Japan Nissan Motor Co (7201.T) forecast a better-than-expected 14.4 percent fall in annual operating profit on Thursday, defying a quake-induced setback in the past few months and projecting another year of record sales.
Japan's No. 2 automaker forecast an operating profit of 460 billion yen (3.5 billion pounds) for the year to March 2012, above an average forecast of 432 billion yen in a survey of 21 analysts by Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
Chief Executive Carlos Ghosn had flagged a positive surprise for sales a day earlier, saying the numbers would call for "significantly higher" volumes this year.
Speaking at a Thomson Reuters Newsmaker event on Wednesday, Ghosn had also said Nissan was "very near" normal production levels after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami disrupted the industry's supply chain on an unprecedented scale.
Nissan expects net profit of 270 billion yen, down 15.4 percent from last year, assuming an average dollar rate of 80 yen and euro of 115 yen. Revenue is seen rising 7.1 percent to 9.4 trillion yen, and Nissan plans to double its dividend to 20 yen this year.
Before the forecasts, Nissan's shares ended up 1.3 percent, taking a cue from Ghosn's bullish comments on Wednesday.
Nissan has been charging ahead in China and has been laying the groundwork for industry-beating growth in other emerging markets such as India and Russia. Plans to accelerate growth in Brazil are also in the pipeline and will be announced soon, Ghosn said on Wednesday.
For the 2011/12 business year, Nissan expects sales to rise 9.9 percent to 4.60 million vehicles, and for production to climb 11.2 percent to 4.613 million vehicles.
"The volume is stronger than what anyone expected," said Kurt Sanger, analyst at Deutsche Securities.
Nissan's operating profit exceeds the guidance provided by domestic rivals Toyota Motor Corp (7203.T) and Honda Motor Co (7267.T), which expect 300 billion yen and 200 billion yen respectively. Toyota and Honda, unlike Nissan, report under U.S. accounting standards, meaning their profits made in China are excluded from the operating line.
"What is emerging since the quake is that everyone's reality is different. You could say that Honda may be erring on the side of conservatism, but then you also have to note that they still can't build the Civic, their core product, and that's 20 percent of their U.S. sales," Sanger said.
By region, Nissan sees sales in China, its biggest market, rising 12.3 percent to 1.150 million vehicles, and growing 7.7 percent in the United States to 1.04 million vehicles.
In Europe, it expects growth of 10.4 percent to 670,000 cars, while sales in Japan are seen rising 1.7 percent to 610,000.
Ghosn, also CEO of Nissan partner Renault SA (RENA.PA), is due to outline a roadmap for the next six years at Nissan on Monday.
Earlier, Japanese automaker Suzuki Motor Corp (7269.T) also unveiled consensus-beating forecasts, sending its shares up 3.1 percent by the close.
(Additional reporting by Mayumi Negishi; Editing by Chris Gallagher)