Panasonic to launch Sanyo bid this week

OSAKA (Kyodo) Electronics giant Panasonic Corp. will launch a tender offer for Sanyo Electric Co. this week because the acquisition is all but assured of clearing antitrust probes overseas, sources said Saturday.

Although the buyout plan is still being scrutinized by the U.S. government, approval by Washington is almost certain, the sources said, and China has already given conditional approval as well.

Panasonic will call a board meeting Wednesday to decide on the timing of the offer, which is expected to start Thursday, the sources said.

The tender offer is likely to continue until early December, they said, adding that Sanyo’s major shareholders, including Goldman Sachs, have decided to sell their stakes to Panasonic.

The tender emerged after Panasonic President Fumio Otsubo hinted Friday during earnings announcements that the deal was set to clear the final hurdle.

“The mountain’s summit, which is the final solution (of the antitrust examinations), has come into sight,” Otsubo said.

“We will make a decision by taking into account how far U.S. examiners will proceed” in their antitrust probe following action by Chinese antitrust authorities, he said.

On Friday, the Chinese Commerce Ministry said it has decided to conditionally approve Panasonic’s bid to take over Sanyo because Beijing has found no problem with regard to its antimonopoly regulations.

As one condition, the ministry said it wants Panasonic to sell its rechargeable hybrid car battery operations in Chigasaki, Kanagawa Prefecture, to a third party.

Otsubo said Panasonic wants to create synergistic effects by collaborating with Sanyo on environmental and energy technologies.

Panasonic officials have said the group is hoping to acquire a wide range of energy technologies from Sanyo ranging from fuel cell-based power generation to energy-conserving technologies, including rechargeable lithium-ion batteries.

“We will be able to gain strong favorable effects if we sell Sanyo’s solar cells through our marketing network,” Otsubo said.

“Manufacturing efficiency for solar cells could also be strengthened” by combining the two companies’ solar cell operations, he said.

He said Panasonic is almost sure that U.S. antitrust authorities will approve the Sanyo deal. On Tuesday, the European Commission said it conditionally approved the move.

Panasonic and Sanyo filed applications with authorities in 11 countries and territories to get approval for the plan, which was announced last December.

Panasonic plans to reduce its equity stake in Panasonic EV Energy Co., a joint venture with Toyota Motor Corp. for hybrid vehicle batteries, to less than 20 percent from 40 percent at present to expedite Sanyo’s conversion to a subsidiary, according to sources.

Panasonic on Friday sharply revised its group operating profit projection for the full year to ¥120 billion from an earlier-forecast ¥75 billion, citing the effects of its restructuring efforts. That represents a 64.7 percent upsurge from the preceding year.