Toshiba returns to net profit, welcomes ‘credible’ buyout offers

TOKYO (AFP) – Toshiba on Friday announced a return to an annual net profit and stressed it would consider “credible” buyout offers, after a proposal from a private equity fund stirred turmoil within the storied Japanese firm.

The conglomerate – once a shining symbol of Japan’s advanced technology and economic power – has been rocked by turbulence, facing scandals and losses before staging a recovery.

It rejoined the prestigious first section of the Tokyo Stock Exchange in January after sweeping restructuring and on Friday logged a net profit of JPY114.0 billion for 2020-21, beating its target.

“In Japan, though the pandemic has suppressed consumer spending, capital investment has been improving and exports have increased,” the firm said.

In 2019-20 it had reported a net loss of JPY114.6 billion, still an improvement from the painful lows seen in recent years.

On Friday, Toshiba announced plans to create a “strategic review committee”, independent from management, to strengthen governance and communicate board decisions – including discussions over buyout proposals – to shareholders.

Nobuaki Kurumatani stepped down as Chief Executive Officer (CEO) last month in a shock move as board members raised questions about the buyout offer from private equity fund CVC Capital Partners, reportedly in excess of USD20 billion.

Pedestrians stand before the logo of Japan’s Toshiba displayed at the company’s headquarters in Tokyo. PHOTO: AFP

Kurumatani had previously headed Japanese operations at CVC – although Toshiba said claims of a conflict of interest are not related to his departure.

Following Kurumatani’s resignation, Toshiba said on April 20 that it was “not possible” to evaluate CVC’s initial proposal because it lacked detail.

Toshiba on Friday reiterated a pledge to evaluate solid buyout offers, saying, “the board will seriously consider and evaluate any credible offers, objectively viewed, a bona-fide and concrete offer of acquisition.”

“We believe the process and content of such a proposal must satisfy our many stakeholders, including shareholders.”

The company has worked to right the ship after a major accounting scandal in 2015 and the 2017 bankruptcy of its United States (US) nuclear subsidiary Westinghouse Electric.

Its board is now composed of mostly external directors, but the group faces pressure from activist shareholders who want to see faster growth and a clearer long-term strategy.

Toshiba last month said CVC had informed them it would “step aside to await our guidance as to whether a privatisation of Toshiba would suit management’s and the board of directors’ strategic objectives”.

Delisting Toshiba could produce faster decision-making by its management and could also allow the group to concentrate resources on renewable energies and other core businesses.

But any buyout offer is likely to face significant challenges, including securing financing and regulatory approval.