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Yes, Even Toyota Is Losing Money

Toyota Motor today reported that it will lose $1.7 billion for this fiscal year. It's not only the biggest loss since the company's founding in 1938. It's the only one.

Analysts said Toyota’s downward revision, its second in two months, showed that the worst financial crisis since the Depression is threatening not just the Big Three but even relatively healthy automakers in Japan, South Korea and Europe. Many other companies will also soon be reporting losses.

Worse, analysts said that they expect next year to be even more painful, amid forecasts that the global economy will continue to slide until at least the summer. This could cause a significant shakeout, driving cash-strapped smaller and weaker companies into the arms of a smaller number of bigger, richer players.

“It is just a matter of time before all major automakers are losing money,” an auto analyst in Tokyo for Credit Suisse Securities, Koji Endo, said. “And things will just get worse next year, when companies start losing money for the second consecutive year.”

Toyota, which just a few months ago seemed unstoppable after eight years of record profits, said it suffered from plunging vehicle sales not only in North America but even in once-promising markets like India and China, which many had hoped would prove immune to the United States malaise. Toyota’s group includes automaker Daihatsu and truck builder Hino.

This does not mean Toyota is in the same fragile state of America's automakers. The company as a whole will post a small profit, because of dividends from investments. And even if its investments weren't making money, Toyota still has $18.5 billion in cash--a nest egg that is testimony to the company's strength and long history of success.

But the news from Toyota is a reminder of why Detroit is on the verge of collapse: Nobody is buying cars. If not for this severe downturn, both Ford and GM (though probably not Chrysler) would have had a chance to complete the radical restructurings they were already undertaking--and, quite likely, emerge as healthy companies. 

--Jonathan Cohn