Business / Corporate

Toshiba mulls sale of majority stake in Westinghouse

by Kazuaki Nagata

Staff writer

Struggling Toshiba Corp. said Tuesday it is considering selling a majority stake in its U.S. nuclear unit, Westinghouse Electric Co., aiming to stem further losses from its troubled nuclear business.

“How we can shut down the risk from the overseas nuclear business is a big issue for us,” Toshiba President Satoshi Tsunakawa said during a news conference at the company’s headquarters in Tokyo.

Chinese firms are likely to show interest in Westinghouse because more reactors are expected to be built in China, some experts have said. It’s unclear, however, whether the U.S. government would allow such a sale.

When asked, Tsunakawa suggested there are potential buyers for the troubled nuclear subsidiary, adding that the U.S. nuclear unit has, other than plant construction, businesses that are stable and profitable.

Toshiba’s sale of its controlling stake in Westinghouse would mark a major shift for the Tokyo-based conglomerate, which had repeatedly championed a promising future for the nuclear business since its ¥600 billion acquisition of Westinghouse in 2006 — a hope that has turned out to be a massive headache.

Last month, Toshiba announced that it would post a ¥700 billion impairment loss tied to Westinghouse as construction delays for AP1000 modular reactors in Georgia and South Carolina have resulted in significant costs.

The landscape of the industry changed drastically after the nuclear crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 plant in 2011, adding challenges to constructing new reactors in some countries.

On the question of whether Westinghouse may file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, a possibility reported in the media, Tsunakawa said nothing has been decided.

Toshiba’s announcement came as it once again missed a deadline for releasing its earnings report for the April-December period. It submitted a request for postponement until April 11, which was approved by the Kanto Local Finance Bureau.

It was just a month ago that the firm extended the deadline to disclose its earnings, saying it needed more time to investigate a whistleblower’s claim that there was “inappropriate pressure” from the management at Westinghouse over the purchase of a U.S. nuclear plant construction company.

Toshiba said the investigation so far has confirmed there was such pressure, but a further probe and more time are needed before it can release the earnings report.

If Toshiba misses the April 11 deadline, it is likely to be delisted from the Tokyo Stock Exchange.

On Feb. 14, Toshiba gave an estimate of its April-December financial results, projecting a massive net loss of ¥500 billion due to the impairment loss at Westinghouse.

To offset its negative equity position, Toshiba said it will be spinning off its flash memory unit as a new company in April, shares of which will then be sold to others.

Flash memory, commonly used in smartphones, has been a major profit driver for Toshiba with huge growth potential. The unit’s sale is expected to generate hundreds of billions of yen.

While Toshiba aims to gain cash by selling the flash memory business to improve its vulnerable financial situation and minimize the risk of the overseas nuclear business, it will be tackling reconstruction, according to Tsunakawa.

He said the company will be focusing mainly on infrastructure, energy other than the overseas nuclear business and electronic devices, saying the new Toshiba group is expected to see ¥4 trillion in sales and ¥210 billion operating profit in fiscal 2019.

“We will put ourselves back on a growth path,” he said.