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Toshiba accepts US$15bil buyout offer from JIP

Tan KW
Publish date: Fri, 24 Mar 2023, 09:57 AM
Tan KW
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TOKYO: Toshiba Corp has accepted a US$15.3bil buyout offer from a Japanese consortium, according to the Nikkei newspaper, as the iconic conglomerate moves a step closer to ending a troubled chapter in its more-than-140-year history.

The company’s board approved yesterday a bid of about two trillion yen from a group led by domestic private equity firm Japan Industrial Partners (JIP) Inc, the report said, without attribution.

The move could bring down the curtain on years of turbulence at the storied Japanese firm after a series of scandals plunged it into difficulty and set it on the path to a sale.

Toshiba’s management, the Japanese government and the company’s unusually large proportion of vocal foreign shareholders have been at odds over the company’s future, with activist investors seeking to maximise returns while the state prioritised keeping sensitive technologies and businesses out of foreign hands.

A list of prominent activist investors saw an opportunity and took stakes in Toshiba, shining a spotlight on the situation and helping turn it into a test case for Japanese corporate governance.

They included billionaire Paul Singer’s Elliott Management Corp, Seth Fischer’s Oasis Management Co and Singapore-based funds Effissimo Capital Management Pte and 3D Investment Partners Pte.

And some of the world’s biggest private equity firms considered making buyout offers, including Bain Capital, CVC Capital Partners and KKR & Co.

Toshiba’s nuclear power business is deemed important to national security. It’s involved in decommissioning the Fukushima Dai-Ichi atomic power plant, which was wrecked in the earthquake, tsunamis and nuclear meltdowns of 2011. That made it hard for the government to accept a transfer of ownership to an overseas firm.

If the sale goes through, it will be one of the largest Asian transactions this year at a time when deal volumes have plunged. It will also be one of the biggest ever private equity-led buyouts in Japan.

The path to the board’s acceptance was far from smooth. The process faced multiple delays, with Bloomberg News reporting that the JIP-led group faced headwinds securing financing as banks became more cautious about providing funds for large deals in a less favourable economic environment.

Toshiba has lurched from one disaster to another over the past eight years, starting with an accounting scandal in 2015 that devastated profits and led to a company-wide restructuring.

The subsequent unravelling of a costly foray into nuclear power business in the United States led to a US$6.3bil writedown and saw it teeter on the edge of delisting. It was forced to sell its crown jewel memory-chip unit and offer stock that was snapped up by foreign investors.

Since then, stock owners and executives have clashed over the company’s future.

When Effissimo sought in 2020 to put one of its co-founders and other candidates on Toshiba’s board, shareholders rejected it.

Suspicious about how the vote was conducted, Effissimo proposed that independent investigators be appointed to look into it, winning a landmark shareholder vote in 2021. The report from the probe alleged that Toshiba management worked hand in hand with government allies to sway the outcome.

Early last year, stockholders rejected a proposal by management to split the company in two.

 - Bloomberg

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