TOKYO -- As strong sales in North America and cost-cutting offset a strong yen, Honda (IW 1000/30) said Thursday that its net profit for the nine months to December 2012 more than doubled to $3.2 billion.

However, the maker of the Civic and Accord trimmed its 370 billion yen year-to-March forecast, from a previous 375 billion yen, as Tokyo's ongoing territorial spat with China weighed on Japanese automakers.

This week Japan's vehicle giants -- Toyota, Nissan and Honda -- announced record sales for 2012, underscoring their recovery from the 2011 quake-tsunami that hit demand and production, while also highlighting strength in Asian and U.S. markets.

Honda said it logged sales of 3.81 million vehicles for calendar 2012, up from 3.09 million in 2011.

That helped offset weakness in debt-hit Europe and a downturn in China stemming from the diplomatic row that sparked a consumer boycott of Japanese goods in China, the world's biggest vehicle market.

On Thursday, Honda said its nine-month net profit of 291.4 billion yen was up from 139.9 billion yen in the same period the previous year, while sales jumped 28.7% to 7.13 trillion yen.

Rivals Toyota and Nissan are to report their financial results next week.

The long-standing row flared in September when Tokyo nationalized some of a tiny East China Sea archipelago that is also claimed by Beijing, setting off huge demonstrations across China and the boycott.

Japanese factories and businesses across China temporarily closed or scaled back operations over fears of being targeted by angry mobs.

Honda, Japan's third-biggest automaker, on Thursday said it sold 603,000 vehicles in China during 2012, missing a target of 620,000 units. That target was already 17% lower than a previous estimate.

But it said it expected a recovery in China this year, with a sales target of 750,000 vehicles.

In a bright spot for Japanese manufacturers, the yen has weakened as a new conservative government swept to power with promises to fix the economy and press the central bank for aggressive easing measures.

Analysts say Japanese automakers would likely see a boost in their results as the weaker currency makes their products more competitive overseas and affects the value of income earned overseas.

"The recent yen depreciation is sizeable enough to allow major Japanese carmakers to boost profit," said Tatsuya Mizuno, auto analyst at Mizuno Credit Advisory in Tokyo.

-Shingo Ito, AFP

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2013