Toshiba books $531 million profit in January-March

Toshiba Corp. returned to profit in the January-March quarter, driven by growing global demand for the flash memory chips used in devices from cameras to music players.

The Japanese conglomerate — whose vast business spans household appliances to nuclear power systems — said Friday it booked a fourth quarter net profit of 48.6 billion yen ($531 million) on revenue of 1.85 trillion yen ($20.2 billion). Operating profit came to 104.3 billion yen.

During the same period last year, Toshiba posted a net loss of 184 billion yen and an operating loss of 74 billion yen.

The Tokyo-based company cited better conditions for most of its businesses but singled out semiconductors for fueling a threefold jump in revenue at its electronic devices unit.

Toshiba is one of the world’s largest producers of NAND-flash memory, the chips used for storage on portable music players, mobile phones and digital cameras. Demand for flash memory is expected to continue growing this year, along with sales of the gadgets that house them.

To keep up, Toshiba said in March that it will start building a new flash memory factory in Yokkaichi, central Japan this summer. It had hoped to expand capacity earlier but put those plans on hold when recession hit. The company expects to complete the new facility next spring.

For the full fiscal year through March 31, Toshiba stayed in the red for a second year, though the Tokyo-based company managed to slash losses through cost cuts and restructuring. Toshiba posted a net loss of 19.7 billion yen compared with a 343.6 billion net loss the previous year.

It turned a steep operating loss last year to a 117.2 billion yen operating profit. Revenue fell 4 percent to 6.38 trillion yen due to an appreciating yen and recessionary pressures in the first half, Toshiba said.

“The overall condition of the global economy remained severe (last fiscal year) as the recession continued to make its impact felt, but the second half of the fiscal year showed some positive signs of a gradual recovery,” Toshiba said in its earnings report.

For the full fiscal year through March 2011, Toshiba expects to return completely to the black. It forecasts a net profit of 70 billion yen on 7 trillion yen in sales.

In trading Friday, Toshiba shares fell 1.1 percent, better than the benchmark Nikkei 225 stock index’s 3.1 percent tumble.

Toshiba reports earnings based on Japanese accounting standards.

Associated Press