TOKYO: Japan's trading houses are riding a commodities boom as major economies recover from the pandemic, with Itochu this week reporting record quarterly profit and three others raising their earnings forecasts.
The first-quarter results highlight how commodity price swings dictate the bottom line for Japan's general trading houses, known as sogo shousha, which have been boosted by higher prices for raw materials.
At the height of the pandemic last year, strict lockdowns depressed demand and led to oversupply that weighed heavily on commodity markets from oil and liquefied natural gas (LNG) to nickel and other metals.
The situation is being reversed as major economies, including the United States, China and Europe, revive and increase demand for cars, trucks, trains, ships and construction that use vast amounts of commodities.
With billions of people in poorer countries yet to be vaccinated, however, global recovery is unlikely to be smooth.
Sumitomo, Japan's fifth-biggest trading house by revenue, on Wednesday boosted its profit forecast by more than a quarter, as it returned from a loss last year, with a quarterly profit just shy of US$1 billion dollars.
Itochu Corp, the second-biggest sogo shousha by turnover, said it had a record profit of 267 billion yen (US$2.5 billion), its turnover surging 22 per cent, as it also benefited from diversifying into retail and consumer areas that are jumping back with the easing of lockdowns.
Itochu cited higher market prices for gains in its metals, energy and chemical units, citing in particular "higher iron ore prices", while other business lines, including grains and food, general products and realty were boosted by a rebound in U.S. building activity, the company said.
Mitsui & Co and Maurbeni kicked off the earnings bonanza on Tuesday, with Mitsui, the third-biggest trading house, announcing profit had tripled and Marubeni, the fourth-biggest, saying net income had doubled.
Mitsubishi, the biggest sogo shousha, rounded out the earnings on Tuesday with a two-fifths jump in revenue fuelling a quadrupling of profit to nearly 190 billion yen.