Mitsubishi Motors was likely to have swung to a group operating profit of about JPY13bn (US$158.3m) in the nine months to the end of December after growth in south east Asia, reports said.

Reuters, citing the Nikkei business newspaper, said this would be the first April-December operating profit in two years for the automaker which posted a JPY19.8bn loss a year ago.

The firm's operating profit seems to have recovered to over 60% of its April-December 2008 result, the newspaper added.

For the fiscal year ending 31 March, Mitsubishi Motors is likely to leave its operating profit forecast unchanged at JPY45bn, the business daily said.

The firm saw healthy sales of pickup trucks and its Pajero Sport SUV in the key southeast Asia market, the Nikkei said.

But October-December operating profit apparently fell by about half from JPY12.6bn a year ago - below JPY10.6bn in July-September, the paper reported.