* Operating profit forecast at 335 bln yen in 2017/2018
* Signs of profit from auto invest a boost to CEO Tsuga (Adds background)
TOKYO May 11 Panasonic Corp said on Thursday it expects operating profit to rise by one-fifth year-on-year this financial year as investments in advanced automotive parts begin to pay off.
Panasonic forecasts operating profit to increase to 335 billion yen ($2.93 billion) in the year to March 2018 from 276.8 billion yen a year ago. The outlook is slightly lower than the 346.28 yen average estimate compiled by Thomson Reuters.
Panasonic, which marks its 100th anniversary next year, is shifting its focus to corporate clients such as automakers to escape price competition in lower-margin consumer electronics.
To bolster its push into the automotive field, Panasonic this year decided to take control of Spanish automotive mirror manufacturer Ficosa International and began mass production of battery cells with Tesla Motors at the electric car maker's $5 billion "Gigafactory".
Signs of a steady profit from the automotive business would give a vote of confidence to Chief Executive Officer Kazuhiro Tsuga, who embarked on a drastic business overhaul when he took the helm of the sprawling conglomerate five years ago.
Panasonic expects its automotive and industrial division to reap sales of 2.66 trillion yen in the current business year, up 10 percent from a year prior, as it begins to ship advanced infotainment systems that incorporate electronic mirrors and other safety features. ($1 = 114.1400 yen) (Reporting by Makiko Yamazaki; Editing by Miral Fahmy)
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