TOKYO Toshiba Corp (6502.T) is in talks to sell a 36 percent stake in its U.S. nuclear power unit Westinghouse, though the Japanese firm is in no rush to divest that portion of the company, Toshiba's top executive said.
The Japanese industrial electronics manufacturer's cash flow has fallen in recent quarters as a result of buyouts like that of Swiss firm Landis+Gyr, and it wants to cut its stake in the U.S. reactor maker to bring in cash for investment elsewhere.
"We are in talks with six separate groups for the (Westinghouse) stake," Toshiba CEO Norio Sasaki told Reuters on Friday, without giving details of how much Toshiba might make from the sales.
Toshiba partnered with compatriot engineering firm IHI Corp (7013.T) to buy Westinghouse for $5.4 billion in 2006, at the height of the nuclear industry boom. Toshiba intended to keep its stake at 51 percent, but was forced to pay an extra $1 billion to raise it after trader Marubeni Corp (8002.T) pulled out of the deal.
Since Toshiba bought the stake, nuclear power has grown less popular among many governments, especially in the wake of Japan's Fukushima radiation crisis last year, which prompted some countries to freeze their nuclear energy expansion plans.
Ideally, Sasaki said, another American firm would take the 20 percent of Westinghouse that Louisiana-based Shaw Group Inc SHAW.N is scheduled to sell back to Toshiba for $1.6 billion in January.
Sasaki said Toshiba did not plan to carry out any equity financing to pay for those shares.
U.S-based Chicago Bridge and Iron Company NV (CBI.N) might buy that tranche of Westinghouse, but formal negotiations will not start until CB&I completes its planned acquisition of Shaw.
"Without that deal closing successfully there is no point in them holding Westinghouse shares," said Sasaki.
Toshiba is negotiating with three parties for the sale of Shaw's stake, and three different entities to sell an additional 16 percent of Westinghouse, Sasaki said. Toshiba will hold 51 of Westinghouse if the sales are completed.
In May, Toshiba said it aimed to more than double its annual operating profit in three years by expanding its social infrastructure business, which makes products including elevators, medical systems and nuclear power plants, and by boosting sales of electronic devices.
Facing an intense anti-nuclear backlash among Japanese consumers in response to the Fukushima disaster, reactor makers like Toshiba and Hitachi Ltd (6501.T) are searching for opportunities overseas.
Toshiba is competing with French nuclear firm Areva SA (AREVA.PA) on a bid for the Fennovoima nuclear power project in Pyhajoki, Finland, after German shareholder E.ON AG (EONGn.DE) walked away. The chief of the Finnish nuclear consortium told Reuters in October the reactor supplier for its plant could also be an investor in it.
Sasaki said he would be open to such a discussion, but has had no request from Fennovoima.
Toshiba cut its full year operating profit forecast by 13 percent to 260 billion yen ($3 billion) in October as a result of continued uncertainty in the global economy and a drop in orders for its flagship NAND memory chips.
Sasaki said Toshiba, which is Japan's biggest chipmaker and the main challenger to South Korea's Samsung Electronics Co Ltd (005930.KS) in the memory chip market, would return to full production of NAND flash memory chips by next March.
"In the first quarter there was an imbalance between supply and demand ... but the production cut helped that and pushed prices higher", Sasaki said. "So by the second quarter we were able to cover those price declines and that situation has continued in the third quarter."
Toshiba cut production at its main Yokkaichi plant by 30 percent in July, responding to oversupply and lower prices.
Shares in Toshiba ended up 5 percent to 337 yen on Friday, against a 0.7 percent rise on the benchmark Nikkei .N225. ($1 = 85.9250 Japanese yen)
(Editing by Daniel Magnowski)