By Hiroshi Hiyama (AFP) – May 29, 2012
TOKYO — Scandal-hit Japanese camera maker Olympus is in separate talks with Sony and Panasonic for a possible tie-up as it looks to rescue itself after a huge losses cover-up, a report said Wednesday.
In a revamp, the company, which also manufactures medical equipment, is also looking to slash 2,500 jobs, the Asahi Shimbun said, without naming its sources.
Olympus will pick its new partner, which will take at least 10 percent of the firm and is likely to become the top shareholder, next month as it seeks to restore its financial health, the paper said.
The firm's balance sheet has deteriorated after its British former chief executive blew the whistle over $1.7 billion worth of losses the company had moved off its balance sheets.
The revelation triggered international criminal investigations and lawsuits from investors.
The firm initially denied allegations it had used past acquisitions and outsized consultant fees to hide huge losses dating back to the 1990s, but eventually admitted wrongdoing.
In March, the company and three former senior executives -- including ex-president Tsuyoshi Kikukawa -- were charged over their role in the scandal.
Olympus is now preparing to announce as early as June 8 a new five-year business plan, under which it will slash 2,500 jobs of out its 34,000-strong workforce, while expanding its mainstay endoscope business, the Asahi said.
Under the draft plan, Olympus is looking at a 30 percent increase in overall sales in the five years to 1.1 trillion yen ($13.8 billion) by March 2017, the Asahi said.
In a short statement, Olympus said nothing had been officially decided yet.
Dow Jones Newswires reported on Friday, citing unnamed sources, that Olympus would probably not seek outside help as it explores ways to shore up its balance sheet.
But many analysts had said a tie-up would be necessary as Olympus' capital adequacy ratio had fallen to 4.6 percent by March, far below the more than 30 percent that is regarded as common for the industry.
Sony has kept mum on speculation that it wanted to invest in Olympus.
But the iconic Japanese electronics maker has previously said it regarded the medical market as a driving force for future growth, as it struggles to return to profitability after spending four straight years in the red.
Panasonic, which is also reportedly mulling huge job cuts, has previously said it was not considering investing in Olympus.
Japanese media had earlier speculated that FujiFilm and medical equipment firm Terumo were also interested in a stake in Olympus.
Investors welcomed the Asahi report with shares in the company up 6.17 percent in early trade, swimming against the tide of a falling Nikkei index.
Analysts said, however, that it was difficult to see how potential suitors might turn any tie-up to their advantage.
"It's an ostensible positive for Olympus in terms of headline appeal, but frankly, neither Sony or Panasonic are in very good shape, either," an analyst at a foreign brokerage told Dow Jones Newswires.
"Nothing is really clear on how either Sony or Panasonic would benefit from an Olympus partnership," the analyst said.
Sony shares dropped 1.68 percent, while Panasonic fell 2.05 percent.
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