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Bridgestone reclaims top global spot

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AKRON (Aug. 31, 2009)—Bridgestone Corp. regained the No. 1 spot last year among the world's tire makers, despite reporting lower tire division sales in its yen-denominated accounts.

Currency swings played a measurable role in the rankings this year, as Bridgestone's $23.4 billion in tire-related sales outpaced Group Michelin's $22.8 billion after Michelin had grabbed the top spot a year ago by a slim percentage point.

It marks the fourth time in the past five years and sixth time in the past decade that Bridgestone has been No. 1 on Tire Business' global tire rankings.

Bridgestone's claim to the top spot is strengthened by its 43-percent stake in Turkey's BRISA Bridgstone-Sabanci Tire Mfg., which stands 34th in the ranking with sales of $591.3 million. Bridgestone also owns 16 percent of Finland's Nokian Tyres P.L.C., which is 17th this year with tire sales of $1.42 billion.

Overall, the estimated size of the global marketplace was up about 9 percent to $140 billion, in part due to the swings in currency values and the addition of several Chinese companies to the rankings. The average yen/dollar exchange rate throughout 2008, for example, changed 12.2 percent vs. a change of only 6.6 percent for the euro/dollar ratio.

Among the top-tier companies, it was status quo for the rest of the top 10, but Taiwan's Maxxis International/Cheng Shin Rubber Co. Ltd. slipped past Japan's Toyo Tire & Rubber Co. Ltd. for 11th with $2.54 billion in sales vs. Toyo's $2.41 billion. Maxxis' sales grew nearly 20 percent during the year.

There are now 22 billion-dollar tire makers on the list, with India's JK Tyre & Industries Ltd. joining the club, based in large part on the first-time inclusion of sales from Mexico's Hulera Tornel, which the New Delhi-based tire maker bought in May 2008.

There are 20 Chinese companies in the ranking this year, the most of any country. Hangzhou Zhongce Rubber Co. Ltd. of Hangzhou is the largest of these, ranked 13th with sales of $2.13 billion. The Chinese firms' combined sales are $14.6 billion, or more than 10 percent of the estimated world total.

India's Apollo Tyres Ltd.—No. 20 with sales of $1.07 billion—should gain a few places next year with the addition of $450 million or so in sales from Vredestein N.V., the Dutch tire maker Apollo bought from Amtel-Vredestein N.V. in May. The purchase is Apollo's second international expansion in three years; in 2006 it bought Dunlop Tyres International in South Africa.

Apollo and JK Tyre are two of eight Indian companies in the rankings. MRF Ltd. is the largest of these, with sales of $1.38 billion.

The U.S. has six companies in the ranking, followed by Taiwan with five, Japan and Russia with four each, South Korea with three, and Indonesia, Iran, Italy, Turkey and Thailand with two each.

Fiscal 2008 was a rough year for most of the companies, with nine of the 20 companies monitored reporting net losses and the other 11 all reporting lower earnings vs. 2007. Nineteen of the 20 reported lower operating earnings, as well. Nokian Tyres was the lone exception.

Together the 20 firms were $1.8 billion in the red on a net basis. Their collective operating income was $6.89 billion, or 4.5 percent of sales, down measurably from 8.4 percent last year and 6.1 percent in 2006.

Nokian was the most profitable, percentage-wise, on an operating basis, generating an earnings ratio of 22.9 percent. It was measurably ahead of Cheng Shin/Maxxis International and Continental A.G. at 8.8 and 7.5 percent, respectively.

Conti's tire business units, though, outperformed its parent with a 10.1-percent ratio.

Toyo Tire & Rubber Co. Ltd. again topped the list of sales per employee, at $468,531, followed by Nokian with $415,163 and Nexen Tire Corp. with $398,857.

The average for the 20 companies tracked was $236,561, up 4.2 percent over the average for fiscal 2007.

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