Takata said to avoid bankruptcy as it seeks buyers

Masatsugu Horie, Yuki Hagiwara and Ma Jie
Bloomberg News

Takata Corp. has ruled out using bankruptcy as a way of mitigating liabilities from its record air-bag recalls and is instead seeking buyers that could take a controlling stake and carry the company through its crisis, according to a person with knowledge of the restructuring process.

Lazard Ltd., Takata’s financial adviser, will meet manufacturers as well as financial firms with the aim to find buyers by the fall, said the person, who asked not to be named because the discussions are private. Takata’s plan is to remain listed and maintain its core seat-belt, air-bag and steering-wheel businesses, while selling off non-core operations, the person said. Takata spokeswoman Akiko Watanabe declined to comment.

Any Takata suitor will be betting it can still make a return even after resolving claims from automakers, which until now have shouldered the vast majority of the costs of replacing air bags tied to the auto industry’s unprecedented safety crisis. Recalls of the devices, which can deploy with too much force and spray metal and plastic at passengers, are expanding by as much as 40 million units in the U.S., after 13 fatalities worldwide.

Avoiding bankruptcy and aiming to restructure Takata’s business while keeping it listed is positive for bond holders, Nobuhiko Ambiru, an analyst at Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley, wrote in a Japanese-language report.

In exchange for injecting capital, the founding family’s stake will be diluted, the person said. The company has targeted having new management in place this year, replacing executives including President Shigehisa Takada, the person said. A consortium of investors is also an option to raise funds.

Talks with potential buyers are at the preliminary stage and no offers have been made, the person said. Takata is negotiating with customers led by Honda Motor Co. over how much of the multi-billion-dollar recall bill it will have to pay. Takata’s shares have declined 68 percent during the past year, cutting its market value to about 36.4 billion yen ($327 million), or less than one-tenth the company’s 2007 peak.

Takata is willing to be flexible with the restructuring plan as long as its top objective of supplying replacement air bags in a stable manner is met, the person said. Japan last week ordered the replacement of air bags in 7 million more vehicles, expanding the total number recalled in the country to about 19.6 million. Regulators earlier this month forced carmakers to roughly double the number of air bags recalled in the U.S., to as much as 69 million.

“Now, the focus is on how Takata and automakers share the costs of air-bag recalls,” said Shintaro Niiimura, an analyst with Nomura Holdings Inc. “If Takata has to owe the majority of it, it would make it difficult for them to secure enough funds.”