Friday, March 6, 2009

Reuters: Ikon clients switching from rival gear to Ricoh's smoothly...accounted for 90 percent of sales at Ikon in January

TOKYO, March 5 - Ricoh Co Ltd said its products accounted for 90 percent of sales at Ikon in January, up from 30 percent before the office equipment distributor was acquired by the Japanese copier maker last year, underlining a smooth consolidation of the key U.S. unit.

Ricoh, the world's largest copier maker, said it aimed to raise its profits in the year from April despite a tough business environment, thanks to bigger contributions from Ikon and its high-end printer business.

Ricoh bought Ikon Office Solutions for $1.6 billion in October, delivering a heavy blow to rival Canon Inc, whose machines had represented 60 percent of the products Ikon handled before the October acquisition.

Investors have been keeping a close eye on Ikon's performance during the transition from an independent distributor to a Ricoh unit due to concerns that some of its existing clients may leave Ikon to keep using rival products.

"We ourselves have been worried about that, too. But all of its clients said they have no problem with Ricoh machines except for one company, which did not give us a clear answer," Ricoh Chief Executive Shiro Kondo told Reuters in an interview.

Ricoh competes with Canon, Xerox Corp, Konica Minolta Holdings Inc in printers and copiers.

The Tokyo-based company held a 19.7 percent share in the global copier market in value terms in 2008, according to research firm Gartner, ahead of Xerox's 19.2 percent and Canon's 18.9 percent.


Kondo said he aims for sales and profit growth in the year starting April 1 as it benefits from a full-year profit contribution from Ikon, and its commercial printing business will likely take off in the new business year.

Ricoh in 2007 bought International Business Machines Corp's digital commercial printer business for $725 million.

Digital commercial printers are used to print such documents as product manuals and direct mail quickly and in large volume, and are a fast-growing segment of the printer market.

"We have conducted various acquisitions such as the Ikon purchase and joined new business areas," Kondo said on Thursday.

"And we are now entering a period of reaping profits, although it is not very fortunate for us that the timing of profit-reaping coincides with this tough business environment."

Ricoh forecast a 45 percent fall in operating profit to 100 billion yen ($1 billion) in the year ending this month due to slumping demand and a firmer yen.

For the new year starting April, analysts on average expect Ricoh to post an operating profit of 62 billion yen, according to Reuters Estimates, making Kondo's target look challenging.

He also said Ricoh planned to stick to its mid-term target to boost operating profit to 250 billion yen in the year ending March 2011 despite a widening recession.

Prior to Kondo's comments, shares in Ricoh closed up 0.9 percent at 1,085 yen, underperforming the benchmark Nikkei average, which gained 2 percent. ($1=99.17 Yen)

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