Toshiba delays earnings again, considers US unit sale

Miwa SUZUKI
Toshiba said last week it had picked the Bain Capital-led consortium as the leading candidate to buy its prized chip business in a deal reportedly worth some $18 billion

Toshiba on Tuesday won approval again to delay releasing its earnings, averting an embarrassing delisting, while it said it would try to sell a US nuclear division hit by massive losses and allegations of accounting fraud.

Japanese financial regulators have given the company until April 11 to publish results for the October-December quarter, which were originally due in mid-February.

Toshiba said it needed more time to probe claims of misconduct by senior managers at Westinghouse Electric and gauge the impact on its finances.

"An additional four weeks will be necessary to finalise the investigation," Toshiba said.

The company's top executive also said it will move to offload its controlling stake in Westinghouse, but did not elaborate.

President Satoshi Tsunakawa also declined to comment on earlier reports that it was mulling bankruptcy protection for the troubled nuclear business.

"Nothing has been decided yet," he told a news briefing Tuesday.

The Tokyo-listed stock dived nearly nine percent in early afternoon trade, as news that Toshiba would not release its numbers Tuesday raised fears it could be yanked from Japan's premier stock exchange.

The green light from regulators pushing back the deadline eased concerns about a delisting and Toshiba recovered to end at 215.9 yen ($1.90), up 0.46 percent.

However, after markets closed, the Tokyo bourse said Toshiba still risked being delisted unless it improved internal controls.

Toshiba shares have been hammered this year, losing more than half their value since late December when it first warned of multi-billion-dollar losses at Westinghouse.

The probe was started after a whistleblower complained that one or more Westinghouse executives exerted "inappropriate pressure" on its accounting.

The crisis comes less than two years after Toshiba's reputation was badly damaged by separate revelations that top company executives had pressured underlings to cover up weak results for years after the 2008 global financial metldown.

Investors "will be watching how the group plans to turn itself around and how quickly. They've been in a mess for years now so they need to act quickly," Mari Iwashita, chief market strategist at SMBC Friend Securities, told AFP.

Toshiba has previously warned it was on track to report a net loss of 390 billion yen in the fiscal year to March, as it faced a writedown topping 700 billion yen at Westinghouse.

The vast conglomerate -- which has about 188,000 employees globally and annual revenue topping 5.6 trillion yen -- once touted its overseas nuclear business as a future growth driver, filling a hole left after the 2011 Fukushima crisis slammed the brakes on new atomic projects in Japan.

But cost overruns have hit Westinghouse's finances hard.

Toshiba is now dramatically reducing its nuclear ambitions overseas and plans to stop building new atomic power plants, but said it will keep making related equipment.

The cash-strapped company has sold off a number of assets, including a medical devices unit and most of its home appliance business. Its prized memory chip business is now on the block.