The government is discussing a timetable for selling its shares in Japan Tobacco Inc. to help pay for earthquake rebuilding and limit expansion of the world’s biggest public debt, according to two Finance Ministry officials.
A combination of a market sale and a buyback by JT is possible, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of ministry policy. The government wants to avoid going to market at the same time as Japan Airlines Co., the officials said.
Japan Tobacco is considering buying back shares if the government sells, spokesman Hideyuki Yamamoto said Tuesday. JT can’t comment on the timing of a share sale, Yamamoto said.
Based on Tuesday’s closing share price, the government would raise about ¥2.33 trillion were it to sell its entire 50.01 percent stake. A law passed last year allows for the sale of about one-third of the government’s holding, according to the Finance Ministry’s website.
JT is the fastest growing of the world’s five largest listed cigarette makers in terms of revenue, Bloomberg data show. Challenges for the company include an Australian law that will require cigarettes to be sold in plain packages as of Dec. 1, a move opposed by Philip Morris, Imperial Tobacco Group, British American Tobacco and Japan Tobacco.
JT’s stock is down almost 50 percent since the last share sale by the government in June 2004, when the price stood at ¥843,000. Any repurchases of stock by the company will help prevent dilution of share value if the government decides to cut its holding, Executive Deputy President Masakazu Shimizu said Feb. 8.
The Democratic Party of Japan proposed in September selling the government’s majority stake to help pay for recovery work after last year’s earthquake and tsunami.