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After chip unit sale, Toshiba faced with tough challenge of finding new growth drivers

by Junko Horiuchi

Kyodo

Toshiba Corp. on Friday finalized the sale of its chip business, releasing the embattled company from its worst-ever crisis but selling off its crown jewels. Now the scandal-hit electronics firm must ask itself a big question: What has it got left to drive growth?

Analysts say the energy and infrastructure divisions could eventually replace the chip business as core operations leading to a stable growth path, but when and to what degree this can happen remains unclear.

“With the sale of Toshiba Memory (Corp.), Toshiba has escaped a financial crisis and will move toward fiscal stabilization for now,” said Mitsuo Shimizu, equity strategist at Japan Asia Securities Co.

“But it needs to find fresh sources of growth, a process that is expected to take considerable time.”

Toshiba Corp. on Friday said it had completed the sale of its chip unit to a Japan-U.S.-South Korean consortium for ¥2 trillion ($18.1 billion) in an effort to raise cash to bolster its financial standing.

The deal to sell Toshiba Memory Corp. to the group, which includes U.S. private equity firm Bain Capital and South Korean chipmaker SK Hynix Inc., cleared the final hurdle last month when Chinese antitrust regulators gave it the green light.

After the sale, Toshiba will retain a 40.2 percent stake in Toshiba Memory, with the remainder owned by the consortium, which also includes Japanese optical glass-maker Hoya Corp.

The deal to sell the lucrative chip unit was reached last September to raise cash needed to cover huge losses from U.S. nuclear power company Westinghouse Electric Co., which filed for bankruptcy protection in March 2017.

Toshiba’s most recent business strategy, announced in March 2016, centers on three pillars: the chip, nuclear and social infrastructure divisions. But the plan came unstuck after the firm suffered huge losses from now-bankrupt U.S. nuclear power subsidiary Westinghouse Electric Co.

The sale of the chip unit was another setback for its profitability after the sale of its cash-cow medical equipment unit to Canon Inc. earlier.

The collapse of Westinghouse Electric in the U.S. market led Toshiba to pull out of the overseas nuclear power business.

Some reform measures helped the Tokyo-based company return to profitability for the first time in four years in the last fiscal year, which ended March 31. A special profit of ¥970 billion from the sale of its chip unit will lift its group net profit 33.1 percent to ¥1.07 trillion in the current business year.

However, the company lost a part of its three mainstay businesses through the spate of restructuring measures and is left with few growth drivers to keep the momentum going, analysts say.

About 90 percent of the company’s annual overall operating profit came from the chip and device division. Infrastructure made up less than 10 percent of the total, while the energy division was unprofitable in the last fiscal year.

Toshiba plans to unveil a new growth strategy covering the next five years through March 2024 by the end of the year.

Chief Executive Officer Nobuaki Kurumatani provided few details about the five-year plan at a news conference in May, but he said overhauling the energy business is an urgent task.

“Toshiba’s measures to rebuild its earnings structure and competitive advantages of each of its businesses, and to improve its governance are being closely watched, as well as the impact of the company’s future shareholder return policy on its financial standing,” said Toru Murase, senior analyst at Rating and Investment Information Inc.

In the home market, Toshiba remains involved in the nuclear business, including as part of a government-backed project to scrap the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power complex, crippled by the March 2011 disaster.

“I visited the site of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear complex and renewed my will to follow through on this state project,” Kurumatani told the news conference. A nuclear reactor system developed by Toshiba was used in the reactors of the Fukushima plant.

But slow progress in restarting domestic nuclear reactors after a nationwide halt triggered by the 3/11 crisis and a series of lawsuits seeking to block their restarts could hinder the nuclear industry from expanding in Japan.

“Toshiba is not technically inferior but given the extremely difficult situation, we need to take steps so that we can make profits in this sector,” Kurumatani said.

Growth in the social infrastructure sector, meanwhile, including air conditioners and elevators, has been sluggish in recent years. The company posted a 22 percent fall in operating profit to ¥48 billion in the last fiscal year and expects a 30 percent drop in the current year.

Even though Toshiba has advanced technology, fierce domestic competition puts the company “in no situation to expect Toshiba alone can achieve high profit margins,” Murase said.