Toshiba slashes 7,000 jobs, pulls out of British nuke plant

Toshiba chairman and CEO Nobuaki Kurumatani attends a press conference in Tokyo on Tursday. Struggling Japanese engineering firm Toshiba downgraded its annual forecasts as it pulls out of foreign investments as part of a broad restructuring program that reports said would see thousands laid off. — AFP

TOKYO — Japan's engineering giant Toshiba announced plans Thursday to slash 7,000 jobs and liquidate a unit building a UK nuclear power plant, leaving its fate in doubt.

Toshiba also expects to scrap or consolidate some factories and reduce its subsidiaries by 25 percent — announcing the withdrawal from a US-based liquid natural gas business.

The liquidation of NuGen, a nuclear subsidiary in Britain, could complicate UK efforts to shift away from polluting power plants that rely on coal, a number of which are slated to close.

"After considering the additional costs entailed in continuing to operate NuGen, Toshiba recognizes that the economically rational decision is to withdraw from the UK nuclear power plant construction project and has resolved to take steps to wind up NuGen," Toshiba said in a statement.

The NuGen project in Cumbria in northwest England was to comprise three reactors and was due to start producing energy from 2025.

Toshiba CEO Nobuaki Kurumatani told reporters in Tokyo the decision was reached after "sincere discussions" with the British government.

A spokesman for Britain's business ministry said Toshiba's decision would not sidetrack the government's decision to push ahead with nuclear expansion, including at another plant at Hinkley Point.

"This government remains committed to new nuclear through the Industrial Strategy Nuclear Sector Deal as well as consenting the first new nuclear power station in a generation at Hinkley Point C," the spokesman said.

The former Japanese behemoth is going through a sweeping reform effort to revive itself following its disastrous acquisition of US nuclear energy firm Westinghouse, which racked up billions of dollars in losses before being placed under bankruptcy protection.

The 7,000 jobs will be cut over five years, many coming from early or planned retirement.

For the year to March 2019, the firm said it expected a net profit of 920 billion yen ($8.1 billion), down from an earlier projection of 1,070 billion yen.

Annual operating profit outlook is now 60 billion yen, down from a previous 70 billion yen forecast, while the sales estimates were kept at 3,600 billion yen.

Still, the firm's share price soared, closing up more than 12 percent on the Tokyo stock exchange, mainly due to the announcement of a share buy-back program.

To stay afloat, the cash-strapped group sold its lucrative chip business for $21 billion to K.K. Pangea, a special-purpose company controlled by a consortium led by US investor Bain Capital.

The sales of the memory unit continued to boost Toshiba's net profit, although the firm's operations remained under pressure. For the six months to September, the company's net profit stood at 1.08 trillion yen, reversing a net loss of 49.8 billion yen seen a year earlier.

But its six-month operating profit fell to 6.98 billion yen, more than 80 percent down from a year ago when the company took emergency cost-cutting steps such as the dramatic reduction of seasonal bonuses to its workers. First-half sales came to 1.78 trillion yen, down 5.1 percent from a year ago. — AFP