Toshiba plans to split into three companies as early as 2023, a report said Tuesday, after a series of crises at the firm including the ouster of the board’s chairman and a contentious buyout offer.
The Nikkei business daily said the three units would focus on infrastructure, devices and semiconductor memory and are expected to be listed, possibly within two years.
Toshiba told AFP the option of splitting its business up was under consideration but said nothing had been decided yet.
The Nikkei, which did not cite sources, said the move could be announced Friday when Toshiba reports earnings and unveils a new mid-term business plan.
“We are drafting a mid-term business plan to enhance our corporate value, and dividing our businesses is one of the options, but there is nothing officially decided at this point,” Toshiba spokesman Tatsuro Oishi told AFP.
“We will swiftly announce if we decide anything that should be disclosed,” he said.
The decision, if confirmed, would cap a period of enormous upheaval for the firm, once a symbol of Japan’s advanced technology and economic power.
In June, shareholders voted to oust the board’s chairman after a series of scandals and losses, in a rare victory for activist investors in corporate Japan.
The move followed the damaging revelations of an independent probe that concluded Toshiba attempted to block shareholders from exercising their proposal and voting rights.
The investigation’s report detailed how the firm had pursued an intervention from Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry to help sway a board vote.
The revelations came after an unexpected buyout offer in April from a private equity fund associated with then-CEO Nobuaki Kurumatani.
The offer sparked uproar, with allegations it was intended to blunt the influence of activist investors.
Other offers emerged subsequently, and Kurumatani resigned in April, though he insisted it was not related to the buyout controversy.
The decision to split Toshiba’s businesses “is a consequence of listening to activist shareholders”, said Hideki Yasuda, an analyst with Ace Research Institute.
The move would be seen by proponents as maximising the combined market value of Toshiba’s operations.
But he warned there could be downsides.
“While the market value could be maximised… you can’t cover losses in one business with profits in other businesses,” making individual segments of Toshiba’s operation potentially more vulnerable, he said.
The Nikkei noted that splitting up conglomerates had been a successful strategy for some firms in the United States, including Hewlett-Packard.
But for others, such as chemical giant DuPont, which separated into three firms under shareholder pressure, overall market capitalisation is now lower, the daily pointed out.
The move is relatively rare in Japan, and Toshiba would be the first major conglomerate to split into completely independent listed companies, the Nikkei said.
Yasuda said Toshiba faces unique pressure from its shareholders, putting it in a different position to other major Japanese companies.
But, he added, “if (the split) proves to be successful, others would follow suit”.
Toshiba’s stock shares rose more than two percent in opening Tokyo trade but finished the morning in negative territory.