Aided no doubt by the depreciation of the yen, Hoya raised its sales of vision care products by 18.8 percent in the 4th quarter of its financial year ended last March 31, reaching a level of 33.1 billion yen (€203.3m-$276.5m), but the operating margin of the segment declined to 17.4 percent from 18.7 percent in the same period a year ago. While sales on the domestic market increased by 1.2 percent, sales overseas jumped by 26.9 percent and came to represent 73.4 percent of the total turnover in the segment.

For the full financial year, Hoya Vision Care showed an overall sales increase of 14.7 percent to 119.8 billion yen (€735.8m-$1,000.7m), although the operating margin fell to 17.7 percent from 19.5 percent. Here again, domestic sales were up by 1.3 percent, while foreign sales showed a 23.1 percent increase that led them to represent 70.3 percent of the global turnover.

In commenting on these results, the Japanese group cited stiff competition in the low-end segment of the market for eyeglass lenses, both in Japan and abroad. Most of the growth took place for Hoya in the value-added segment through the introduction of high-function coatings and newly designed progressive lenses and high-index products. Sales outside Japan increased also on a volume basis.

Hoya cited a recovery in Europe, particularly in Germany, the largest foreign market for the company's vision care products. An article in the German press indicates that Hoya raised its sales by 13 percent in Germany, consolidating its leadership in organic progressive lenses. Exports from Germany, where Hoya's laboratory has been expanded, grew by 20 percent.

Hoya's health care segment, which is responsible for its contact lenses and intraocular devices, remained largely a domestic affair, with 95.4 percent of sales generated in Japan in the latest quarter and 96.2 percent for the full year. Overall sales in this segment increased by 15.1 percent for the year to 40.8 billion yen (€250.6m-$340.8m), and its operating margin jumped to 22.6 percent from 19.3 percent for the previous year.

This was close to the operating margin of the whole group, which nevertheless declined to 27.5 percent from the previous score of 29.4 percent. Hoya's total consolidated sales increased by 13.3 percent to 390 billion yen (€2.39b-$3.25b), and net income rose by 10.3 percent to €83.4 million (€0.51m-$0.69m).

Hoya's revenues in the health care segment could come close to those in vision care if the company succeeds in its project to merge with Pentax, the big Japanese manufacturer of cameras, as it would add an important expertise in endoscopes. Pentax previously sold its ophthalmic lens division to Seiko.

Hoya made an offer last December to merge with Pentax through an exchange of shares that would have valued the camera firm at 91 billion yen (€596m-$787m). The deal was approved by Pentax' board of directors, but it was strongly criticized by its shareholders, leading to the resignation of the company's president, Fumio Urano. Sparx Asset Management, which owns 24 percent of Pentax, is now proposing its re-election and a resumption of the merger negotiations. Shareholders will be asked to take a stance on this at Pentax' annual meeting next June 22.

Meanwhile Hoya Vision Care of North America has bought Volunteer Optical, a full-service prescription laboratory in Knoxville, Tennessee. The purchase price was not disclosed. The lab has 26 employees and sells to customers mainly in Tennessee and Kentucky. Hoya now has 21 optical labs in North America and more than 120 authorized distributors.