Toshiba Warns Solvency In Jeopardy After Massive Nuclear Unit Writedown; Chairman Resigns

The last time the market was especially concerned about used to be one of the core pillars of "Japan, Inc.", Toshiba, was in late December when in its second major accounting scandal announcement in as many years, Toshiba said cost overruns at U.S. nuclear reactors it is building were likely to force a write-down of as much as several billion dollars, crushing its turnaround plan after a previous accounting scandal revealed in 2015, and claiming the jobs of the company's then CEO. The company said it may have to book several billion dollars in charges related to a U.S. nuclear power plant construction company acquisition, rekindling "concerns about its accounting acumen."

At the time, Toshiba's new CEO, Satoshi Tsunakawa, who only took the helm in June, also took the "apologetic" way out, and became the latest boss of the company to bow before the cameras after the 2015 scandal, which led to a clean sweep of top management after the company acknowledged it had padded its financial results for years. “I apologize to shareholders, business partners and all stakeholders for the trouble we have caused,” Mr. Tsunakawa said in a news conference at the company Tokyo headquarters.

Tsunakawa: "Sorry we couldn't do math"

Fast forward to Tuesday, when Toshiba confirmed that it wasn't kidding, and said that a 712.5 billion yen ($6.3 billion) impairment charge on its nuclear operations will lead to a 499.9 billion yen net loss for the nine months through December. The company also downgraded its earnings projection for the full year through March to a 390 billion yen loss, from the previous estimate of a 145 billion yen profit.

The numbers are not officially audited earnings as the company postponed the official announcement earlier in the day, requesting a one month extension.  

And, in keeping with tradition, Toshiba also announced the resignation of Chairman Shigenori Shiga, effective on Wednesday.

The impairment loss came from a U.S. nuclear plant construction company, which Toshiba subsidiary Westinghouse Electric acquired in 2015. The company earlier explained that the labor and material costs for planned U.S. plant projects will be higher than expected, resulting in a downgrade of its entire nuclear business value.

As a result, shareholders' equity stood at negative 191.2 billion yen as of the end of December. Which means that to avoid technical insolvency at the end of this fiscal year, Toshiba needs to repay debts by selling assets, or add equity through financing or turning a profit by the end of March. It has already decided to spin off its core chip business and said today it is considering selling a majority stake, for which multiple potential investors have made offers.

Speaking at a press conference at the company's Tokyo headquarters, President Satoshi Tsunakawa said that a complete sell-off of its chip business "is a possibility."

The company's shares fell 8% as Toshiba sought a one-month extension of its earnings deadline to complete an auditor review of its results, after failing to publish the financial figures at noon in Tokyo as originally planned.