Interview with the President
Progress of Medium-term Management Plan 2014
We have achieved rising earnings and steady results. Our challenge now is to gain speed.
Improving asset quality and raising the strength of our financial foundation one level higher to be a strong company that can take on even greater challenges – this is the main thrust of Medium-term Management Plan 2014 – Change for Challenge.
We completed the second year of the plan in the year ended March 31, 2014. The solid trend toward higher earnings and successes in the various initiatives of Medium-term Management Plan 2014 are among the reasons we have renewed confidence in our targeted directions. Our challenge now is to gain speed.
Initiatives to enhance asset quality are an important indicator of progress, and a key point of Medium-term Management Plan 2014. Sojitz is raising asset quality and efficiency through Group-wide asset replacement without significantly changing the scale of its assets. Asset replacement is also crucial in terms of increasing profitability, generating capital and strengthening our finances.
We have significantly enhanced both asset quality and our financial foundation.
We have compressed assets by a total of ¥130.0 billion over the past two years, which has enabled us to largely meet our target for asset compression under Medium-term Management Plan 2014. We have also recovered capital totaling ¥102.0 billion, which has substantially exceeded plan. At the same time, we have made new investments and loans totaling ¥98.0 billion over the past two years. We fortified earnings by expanding our portfolio of nonresource projects that are resilient to economic conditions, with investments in the IPP business in the Middle East, the solar power generation business in Japan, and the marine chemicals business in India, which produces industrial salt and sulphate of potash fertilizer. During the year ended March 31, 2014, we also invested in agriculture, grain collection, storage and terminal operations in Brazil, and built on our strength in the coal business by investing in coal interests in Indonesia. All of these assets have growth potential and have significantly raised the quality of our portfolio.
Quantitatively, the Consumer Lifestyle Business Division drove continued growth in profit for the year despite factors such as the impact of depressed resource prices and losses in the Central and South American automotive business. With total assets essentially unchanged, return on assets (ROA) also rose steadily. Factors such as accumulated earnings, the depreciation of the yen and the recovery in stock prices strengthened our balance sheet by increasing equity. Our net debt to equity ratio (DER) of 1.4 times was well within our target of less than 2.0 times, which substantially enhanced our financial foundation.
The Final Year of Medium-term Management Plan 2014
We will accelerate growth initiatives and forecast a steady increase in earnings during the year ending March 31, 2015.
For the year ending March 31, 2015, we forecast that profit for the year attributable to owners of the Company will increase 20% year on year to ¥33.0 billion, with ROA of 1.5% and ROE of 7.0%. Regrettably, we do not expect to meet the initial earnings target of Medium-term Management Plan 2014 due to the impact of factors including depressed prices for mineral resources and the Central and South American automotive business.
However, we forecast that earnings will continue to increase steadily during the year ending March 31, 2015 because of factors including the contribution to earnings from the automobile dealership we acquired in the United States in April 2014, our plant project portfolio, and firm growth in chemical trading in Asia. Moreover, the impairment losses of the year ended March 31, 2014 will not recur. The quality of earnings is steadily improving, and on the balance sheet we plan for equity of ¥480.0 billion and a net DER of 1.4 times, which will ensure continued financial soundness.
Our basic dividend policy includes a commitment to stable, continuous dividends, and a target payout ratio of approximately 20% of profit attributable to owners of the Company during Medium-term Management Plan 2014. Accordingly, we plan to increase annual cash dividends by ¥1.0 per share to ¥5.0 per share for the year ending March 31, 2015, for a payout ratio of 19%.
We intend to bring Medium-term Management Plan 2014 to a close in the year ending March 31, 2015 by accelerating growth initiatives backed by an even stronger financial foundation. We will also commit an additional ¥85.0 billion in new investments and loans during the year ending March 31, 2015 to achieve the Medium-term Management Plan 2014 target of ¥180.0 billion.
First, we must quickly achieve the 2% ROA milestone.
We will focus even more intensely on growth. First, we will quickly achieve the targets of ¥45.0 billion for net income (Japanese GAAP) and 2% for ROA that we set at the beginning of Medium-term Management Plan 2014. We must achieve these numerical milestones in order to grow further. We will therefore concentrate on areas in which we are strong and add prime assets. A quality balance sheet generates sound earnings and stable cash flow, which are the lifeblood of this company. My approach to management will reflect my conviction that this virtuous cycle will surely lead Sojitz to its next phase of growth.
We have many untapped business opportunities, primarily in Asia. Sojitz will achieve rapid growth.
We have many untapped business opportunities in emerging countries around the world, especially in Asia. The dizzying pace of change in our operating environment is increasing the areas in which we can produce value by supporting national and regional development. For example, Asia will require airport-related infrastructure improvement because of the increased distribution volume and number of travelers that will result from its vibrant industrialization. Higher living standards will also diversify lifestyles and needs, which will necessitate more sophisticated retail, distribution and logistics functions. We will precisely link such business opportunities to growth by concentrating on making more new investments and loans than in the past.
At the same time, accelerating the acquisition of prime assets to quickly expand and enhance our earnings foundation is crucial because of the rapid changes in our operating environment. We have therefore established Controller Offices in each business division as prescribed in Medium-term Management Plan 2014, which has brought risk management to the front lines and dramatically increased the speed at which we formulate project proposals. This has created a framework that enables risk analysis and advice from Corporate to be synchronized with business department schedules, and we look forward to seeing the results during the year ending March 31, 2015. In addition, we intend to achieve rapid growth through flexible, focused allocation of people and other resources to businesses with a strong probability of success.
We will fully leverage our value chains and regional advantages to prevail against competition.
We will comprehensively refine our strengths and sow the seeds for future growth. Sojitz will emphasize the aerospace business; infrastructure businesses such as power generation, transportation and renewable energy; the food resources and distribution businesses; and methanol and other chemical businesses that help vitalize industry. We will need time to monetize these non-resource investment projects, so we will also use mergers and acquisitions as exemplified by our acquisition of an automobile dealership in the United States.
Moreover, we will fully leverage our value chains and regional advantages to prevail against competition. The new investments and loans in the agriculture, grain collection, storage and terminal business in Brazil that I mentioned earlier are a good example. We have established port, flour milling and distribution businesses to address growing demand in Asia for food, so securing upstream food businesses in Brazil will complete a value chain that links South America and Asia. We are also looking at leveraging our strength in the fertilizer business by developing it in Brazil, which we expect will help us further expand our earnings foundation. I have directed members of the Finance & Investment Deliberation Council and the presidents of business divisions not to look at businesses discretely, but rather to promote projects that also emphasize value creation in peripheral areas and the Group as a whole. The Gas Task Force is a collaborative initiative between the LNG business and the chemicals business that is representative of the growing number of projects involving interdivisional cooperation. We intend to escalate such initiatives.
We will concentrate more than ever on cultivating global human resources to reinforce these initiatives. We will focus on business operations overseas, so we have a pressing need to increase management personnel and enhance the in-market capabilities of overseas bases. We are therefore proactively conducting initiatives that include renewing programs to nurture personnel, reforming personnel systems at overseas bases and enhancing training.
The Next 10 Years
Focused on profitability and corporate value, we will make Sojitz a company where more people can accomplish more.
Our first 10 years have passed, and our next 10 years have begun.
The merger of Nichimen Corporation and Nissho Iwai Corporation created Sojitz, and during the past 10 years we have built a company that is well able to grow. Restructuring began with extensive asset compression and write-offs, and the financial crisis of 2008 hit us just when we had achieved record earnings. We reviewed our asset portfolio and risk management system and innovated our earnings structure while inculcating balance-sheet-based management. I am pleased that even though we made mistakes, we avoided repeating them, overcoming the problems that confronted us through ongoing initiatives to eliminate future losses.
At the same time, the value we have created over the past 10 years is not enough. The gap separating us from top trading companies has widened. We must further enhance our worth and presence in the industry to make the next 10 years a time of rapid growth. That is why I will focus intently on growth.
However, our focus on profitability and corporate value in generating growth rather than on growth for its own sake has not changed. I also want this growth to make Sojitz people proud of their businesses and the Company, and make Sojitz a company where more people can accomplish more. To do so, we must steadily achieve the objectives we have set for ourselves one by one in order to continue acquiring the strength that allows us to take on new challenges.
We will rapidly escalate growth by fulfilling our responsibilities and exercising our capabilities.
We were able to grow over the past 10 years because of the generous support of our customers, business partners, shareholders and other stakeholders, as well as the efforts of our employees. Our mission going forward is to continue building trust.
To do so, we must truly and sincerely fulfill our responsibilities and exercise our capabilities. Trading companies played a key role in making Japan a prosperous nation by meeting the needs of domestic corporations in ways such as securing resources and procuring and supplying a diverse array of goods. The globalization of our business activities has enabled us to expand our scope and contribute to creating prosperity worldwide as well as in Japan.
Sojitz has multiple functions as a general trading company. These range from finance, logistics and information to the partnerships we have built with businesses and local companies in regions around the world. We are also able to accommodate changes in our operating environment, and our approach to group management enables comprehensive strengths and specialized skills. We will fulfill our role in creating prosperity by exercising all of these functions even more fully.
Each of the employees who exercise these capabilities and strengths must be constantly aware of the factors that shape our operating environment, so that we can meet the expectations of shareholders by creating businesses that are needed in the regions we serve together with our business partners. I want these kinds of initiatives to make Sojitz a company that creates prosperity for the countries and people who provide the arenas in which we work.
We will rapidly escalate growth by fulfilling our responsibilities and exercising our capabilities, and invite you to share our faith in the future.
President & CEO