Hyundai Motor posts 21% drop in Q1 profit

An autonomous vehicle by South Korean carmaker Hyundai Motor is seen displayed at the 17th Shanghai International Automobile Industry Exhibition, on April 24, 2017

South Korea's biggest automaker Hyundai Motor posted a 21 percent drop in first-quarter profits on Wednesday, hammered by the fallout from a diplomatic spat between Seoul and Beijing over a US missile defence system.

In a statement, Hyundai said it posted 1.46 trillion won (US$1.3 billion) in net profits during the January to March period, its 13th consecutive quarter of profit downturn.

"Partial suspensions at factories increased cost burdens while bigger marketing fees were spent to overcome the global economic slowdown," the company said.

The firm said it recorded strong sales in emerging markets like Russia and Brazil but added that "weak demand" by Chinese consumers resulted in a drop in overseas sales.

Sales in China plunged 44 percent last month. Beijing has been infuriated by the deployment of the THAAD missile defence system in the South and has imposed a series of measures seen as economic retaliation.

Seoul and Washington say the system is intended to guard against missile threats from the nuclear-armed North.

But China fears it will weaken its own ballistic capabilities and says it upsets the regional security balance.

Worldwide, Hyundai sold fewer than 1.1 million cars in the first quarter, 1.6 percent fewer than the same period last year.

The company forecast more challenges ahead in the face of slow global growth and spreading trade protectionism.