* Raises FY op profit view by 6.5 pct to 570 bln yen
* Currency movement adds 55 bln yen to forecast
* Q3 op profit 156 bln yen vs 121 bln yen analyst estimates
* Q3 op profit margin 5.3 pct, targets 8 pct by 2017 (Recasts, adds forex contribution, shares)
By Chang-Ran Kim
YOKOHAMA, Feb 9 (Reuters) - Nissan Motor Co Ltd has nudged up its profit forecast for what is already set to be the automaker’s best year since 2008, saying a surge in the dollar is pushing up the value of earnings in the United States, its biggest market.
Japan’s No. 2 automaker by sales after Toyota Motor Corp has enjoyed strong growth in the United States over recent quarters, achieved partly by offering buying incentives well above the industry’s 2014 average of $2,784 per vehicle.
In the third quarter alone, when Nissan’s earnings eclipsed analyst estimates, discounts cost the automaker around $3,500 per vehicle, according to researcher Autodata. But the strength of dollar sales in yen terms drove up income, helping Nissan offset weaker-than-expected demand in China and Russia.
“We anticipate good full-year results as our product offensive and positive momentum in North America ... offsets volatility in other markets,” Chief Executive Officer Carlos Ghosn said in a statement on Monday.
Nissan raised its operating profit forecast by 6.5 percent to 570 billion yen ($4.79 billion) for the business year ending March 31. That compared with the 589.9 billion yen average estimate of 29 analysts polled by Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
It also changed its U.S. dollar exchange rate assumption to 108.8 yen for the year from 104 yen. Currency movement accounted for 55 billion yen of the revised profit forecast, Corporate Vice President Joji Tagawa said at an earnings briefing.
At the same time, Nissan lowered its global sales projection by 2.8 percent to 5.3 million vehicles, primarily because of overall market conditions in China and Russia.
For October-December, profit nearly doubled to 156.0 billion yen versus the 121.42 billion yen estimate of 12 analysts, helped by a low base of comparison from the year-earlier quarter when Nissan booked higher marketing expenses.
Nissan also reported an operating profit margin of 5.3 percent for the quarter. That was half of Toyota’s 10.6 percent, and was even lower than the 5.4 percent of Honda Motor Co , which is grappling multi-million-vehicle recalls for air bag problems.
“Our profitability in the United States still lags,” Tagawa said. “We’ll aim to improve this by controlling costs and incentives more, as well as improving product pricing.”
Nissan’s near-term priority is to achieve a margin of 8 percent by the year ending March 2017 according to its in-house calculation. Under that standard, Nissan has reached a margin of 5.9 percent so far this business year.
Shares of Nissan closed 1.4 percent higher ahead of the earnings, versus a 0.4 percent decline in the broader market .
$1 = 118.9300 yen Additional reporting by Tripti Kalro and Shilpa Murthy; Editing by Christopher Cushing