Picture: REUTERS
Picture: REUTERS

San Francisco/Tokyo — Toshiba and Western Digital are close to settling their legal dispute under an agreement that the US company will drop efforts to block Toshiba’s $18bn sale of its flash-memory business in exchange for the extension of their joint-venture agreements, according to people familiar with the matter.

Western Digital plans to end arbitration claims in the US to stop Toshiba from selling the chip business to a consortium led by Bain Capital as part of the settlement, said the people, asking not to be identified because the matter is private. The US company would get a guaranteed supply of newer chips from a more advanced plant in Japan being built by Toshiba that it will invest in. The two sides still have to work out several key details and it’s possible a final deal will not be reached, the people said.

The partners have been locked in a fierce legal battle since early this year after Toshiba said it would sell the chip business to pay for enormous losses in its US nuclear business. The US company had argued Toshiba needed its consent to sell the business, an assertion the Japanese company disputed. The Japanese company needs to raise capital to avoid seeing its shares de-listed from the Tokyo Stock Exchange.

Toshiba didn’t immediately provide comment. Western Digital declined to comment.

Toshiba has stepped up pressure on Western Digital in recent weeks. This month, the Tokyo-based company said it will accelerate investments in its new Fab 6 chip facility in Yokkaichi, blocking Western Digital from participating and raising the prospect the US company wouldn’t get supplies of newer chips that it will need to remain competitive.

Toshiba also unveiled plans to raise ¥600bn in a stock sale, a deal that will help it avoid de-listing even if the chip business sale isn’t completed on time.

Western Digital has suffered in the meantime. Its shares have dropped 15% this week as research firms, including Morgan Stanley, have expressed concern about its outlook.

Toshiba’s earnings results this month underscored the importance of the semi-conductor unit. Profit in the memory business quadrupled to ¥205bn in the first half of the fiscal year, helped by demand for data storage in smartphones and solid-state disks. The division accounted for 88% of the company’s operating income.

This month, Toshiba said that spending on the chip business will total ¥600bn in the year ending March 2018, 50% more than previously planned. Toshiba and SanDisk, which was acquired by Western Digital last year, have, until now, split most of the spending. The Japanese company has asked SanDisk whether it intends to participate, according to a statement at the time.

"The relationship we have with Toshiba and Toshiba Memory Corporation is critically important for both companies," Western Digital CEO Steve Milligan said at the Nikkei Global Management Forum in Tokyo this month. "I can assure all of you that we are fully committed that it carries fully into the future."

Bloomberg

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