Japanese firms look abroad

19 April 2012

TOKYO: Growing numbers of Japanese brand owners are seeking to bolster their positions by expanding overseas, a strategy gaining ground as the domestic economy continues to struggle.

Toshiba Tec, the electronics group, has recently announced it is buying IBM's Retail Store Solutions unit, which makes point-of-sales terminals that process transactions, help manage inventory and provide data to analyse shopper trends.

According to Bloomberg, this part of IBM's business, which has 1,000 staff, yielded revenues of $1.2bn last year. The takeover constitutes Toshiba Tec's largest purchase to date.

Norio Sasaki, Toshiba's CEO, said: "Toshiba Tec enjoys a strong presence in retail store solutions in Asia-Pacific, including Japan, and we are confident that this acquisition will support expansion in North America, Europe and the emerging economies."

Dealogic, the insights provider, estimated that outbound deals from Japan have now reached a value of $23bn in 2011, equivalent to a 30% improvement year on year.

"There are many, many new companies coming into the M&A space and looking to do substantial deals," Kenneth Siegel, a managing partner at law firm, Morrison & Foerster LLP in Tokyo, told the Wall Street Journal. "We can barely get our work done."

Earlier this year, Asahi Kasei, the chemicals group, paid $2.2bn to purchase Zoll, the US medical devices manufacturer. Taketsugu Fujiwara, president of the Japanese corporation, cited international growth as a key goal.

"In the medical devices business, the US market leads the world, not only in size and scope, but also in technological innovation, so establishing a strong infrastructure in the US is an important step for Asahi Kasei," he said.

Elsewhere in the healthcare field, Takeda Pharmaceutical is to buy URL Pharma for $800m, one of five US acquisitions in this industry that Japanese firms have made in 2012.

In the financial sector, the Mitsubishi UFJ Trust and Banking also has a $1.9bn budget to invest in a similar way over three years. It already holds stakes in Aberdeen Asset Management in the UK, SYWG in China and AMP in Australia.

"We have done a lot of homework to identify attractive overseas partners, and are in touch with several companies," said Tatsuo Wakabayashi, president of the Mitsubishi UFJ Trust.

Meanwhile, Lawson, the convenience store chain, has laid out specific aspirations in China. "There will be a huge opportunity to acquire businesses in China," Takeshi Niinami, its CEO, said."We are negotiating with more than three or four parties."

Data sourced from Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, Financial Times; additional content by Warc staff