Toshiba’s Chaotic earnings raises doubts over grip on business

Toshiba

Toshiba Corp. had promised Tuesday would be the day it explained the depth of trouble in its nuclear business. Instead, the company provided hours of chaos that shook investor confidence and raised new questions about the company’s future.

It began with Toshiba confirming plans to report earnings at noon in Tokyo, including a looming multibillion-dollar loss in its nuclear operations. That deadline came and went with no word, until two-plus hours later, the company said it would ask regulators for another month to finalize earnings. Then abruptly, Toshiba reported provisional figures late in the afternoon, including a 712.5 billion yen ($6.3 billion) writedown in the nuclear unit, as well as the resignation of Chairman Shigenori Shiga.

The company also raised the possibility that its main businesses could be sold. For those following Toshiba’s tribulations over the past few years, during which its stock price has more than halved, the bungled communication with investors and the public is looking like the norm. While the company had been steadily rebuilding itself after an earlier accounting scandal, investors are now spooked by the prospect that Toshiba may not be able to survive the latest crisis, and the shares dropped 9.2 percent on Tuesday to a 38-week low.

“It’s just getting really difficult to trust this company,” said Yoshihiro Nakatani, a senior fund manager at Asahi Life Asset Management Co. “The fact that they can’t stick to a schedule makes you wonder what is going on. It just seems like the company doesn’t have a grip on the situation.”

Buried in Tuesday’s presentation materials, however, was a piece of information that points to deeper troubles. Toshiba is now considering selling a majority stake in its memory chip business, a reversal of its previous plan to limit the sale to 20 percent. NAND flash memory, used in smartphones and solid state disk drives, is one of Toshiba’s few bright spots. Toshiba President Satoshi Tsunakawa said at a briefing on Tuesday that a sale of the entire unit was possible.

Toshiba also said it may pull out of nuclear plant construction and only provide equipment and engineering, which would make it extremely difficult to sell nuclear projects to customers. All options are on the table for the nuclear business, including a possible sale of Westinghouse Electric Co., its U.S. nuclear unit, Tsunakawa said.

Click here for an explanation of how the nuclear unit ended up in trouble

The nuclear operations and chip division were Toshiba’s two remaining pillars, but with those enterprises now at risk of stagnating or being sold off, the company is facing a hollowing out of its core growth businesses. That’s a humiliating turn of events for one of Japan’s oldest businesses, which made the country’s first light bulb and grew into a behemoth that made everything from washing machines and medical equipment to computers and nuclear power plants.

“Toshiba is being torn apart. All the big assets will go and Toshiba will be a shadow of itself,” said Amir Anvarzadeh, head of Japanese equity sales at BGC Partners Inc. in Singapore. “It’s going to survive, it’s not going to go bankrupt. But it’s the end of Toshiba as a company with any hopes to grow.”

The massive charge will result in a provisional 500 billion yen loss for the nine months through Dec. 31, the company said in a statement Tuesday. As a result, shareholder equity will drop to negative 150 billion yen for the current year ending in March, Toshiba forecast.

This isn’t the first time Toshiba has delayed earnings. In August of 2015, when Toshiba was mired in a profit-padding scandal, the company suddenly delayed its fiscal year earnings release because it wasn’t able to complete an investigation into accounting issues. About $8 billion in market value has been erased since December, when Toshiba first warned of a writedown.

“With this state of affairs, I would like to offer my sincerest apologies to our shareholders for the trouble,” said Tsunakawa, who along with other executives will see their paychecks cut to take responsibility for the writedown.

At the center of Toshiba’s headaches is an acquisition made by Westinghouse. The Japanese company on Tuesday that it had received whistleblower reports in January regarding the accounting methods used when Westinghouse bought contractor CB&I Stone & Webster Inc. in 2015. The losses are related to a dispute between Westinghouse and CB&I over the cost of construction delays in nuclear projects and who should pay for them.

Toshiba’s $5.4 billion acquisition of Westinghouse in 2006 was a bet on the future of nuclear power and a way to balance volatility of chip operations with steady revenues. The company was counting on the AP1000, a next-generation modular reactor design that had been pitched as easier and faster to execute. Instead, it proved too difficult to implement, pressuring the company just as cheaper natural gas has made new reactors increasingly expensive.

Toshiba now has until March 14 to report its results for the latest quarter, which ended Dec. 31. For the full fiscal year ending March 31, Toshiba forecast a net loss of 390 billion yen, reversing its November outlook for a 145 billion yen profit. That compares with a projected loss of 262.7 billion yen, the average of analysts’ projections compiled by Bloomberg.

“The questions surrounding Toshiba are so numerous, where do you even begin,” said Masahiko Ishino, an analyst at Tokai Tokyo Securities. “Investors want to know what will happen to nuclear and chip businesses, whether elevator operations and some of Toshiba’s listed subsidiaries will sold off. There is also the question of why the nuclear writedown happened in the first place.”

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