Japan's insular ministries have moved in recent weeks to block several efforts by private equity firms and U.S. companies to acquire ailing Japanese tech counterparts.
But when investment bankers broached the subject at Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), officials there rejected the deal. Said one bureaucrat, according to an investment banker, “If you came here to ask us about foreign ownership of Olympus, the answer is 'NO.' We don’t even want to know the name of the foreign companies interested in Olympus.”
Rather than Samsung or GE, Sony -- with little medical equipment expertise -- agreed in September to pump 50 billion yen ($642 million) into cash-strapped Olympus, making Sony the largest shareholder with around a 10 percent stake.
Some Japanese industry sources believe METI bureaucrats engineered the deal to save Sony. After all, the Japanese consumer electronics giant is in dire straits. It needs new businesses well beyond its traditional TV and video camera products. By investing in Olympus, Sony gets instant access to its strong technology and market share in the endoscope business.
A third example of bureaucratic meddling: Speculation abounds in Japan concerning the future of the Hon Hai-Sharp relationship. Rumor has it that METI is looking for a way to rescue Sharp as Japan Inc. bailed out Renesas. The goal is to deny Taiwan’s Hon Hai (better known in the west as Foxconn) a controlling share in Sharp and it's technology. It’s uncertain how Japan Inc.’s response to the existing Hon Hai-Sharp deal will unfold. There appears to be an effort afoot among Japanese officials to prevent the Taiwanese EMS behemoth from devouring Sharp.
Trying to save people’s jobs and keep Japan’s indigenous technologies from moving offshore in the name of economic security may have been admirable in the 1970’s and 1980’s. In 2012, it looks almost suicidal.
Many foreign observers are mystified about why Japan seems to think it has plenty of time to fix its deepening problems. An even bigger mystery is: Why do the Japanese seem to believe that only domestic players can solve its economic and technology problems?
The Japanese ship of state is taking on water. There is no shame in sending an SOS to every ship within range, even if they’re flying foreign flags.
This doesn't really come as a surprise, and strikes me as a side-effect of Japanese culture. The motive - to preserve Japan for the Japanese and keep it pure and uncontaminated by outsiders - is understandable and even admirable. The issue is whether that's *possible* in the emerging world, which is increasingly interconnected.
There's an underlying issue that is poised to bite as well: demographics. Japan has a very *low* birth rate, and Japanese simply aren't replacing themselves. Hidenori Sakanaka, a former bureaucrat in Japan's Justice Ministry, is stating that Japan's future requires large scale immigration to provide the people needed: http://www.japantimes.co.jp/text/fl20121021x3.html
There will be enormously strong pressure *against* this idea, and it if happens at all I can see a nasty class division occurring, with foreign immigrants being at best second-class citizens, tolerated because they are necessary, but expected to know their place and not seek to move beyond it.
I can understand Japan blocking KKR's investment in Renesas, since the motives of KKR and others like them tend to be short-term payoffs with less concern for the long-term health of the company invested in. But blocking foreign investment period does seem suicidal. Just as Japan is looking at simply not having enough people, it will also confront not having sufficient capital to fund all its investment needs, and will have no choice but to allow outside investment. The question is how bad things will have to get, and how much damage will be done to Japan in the process, before the hard-line nationalists are forced to accept reality.
Businesses have to change, sometimes radically, to survive in changing economies. It's evident Japan as a nation will have to change dramatically, too, with the Japan of 50 or 100 years from now bearing little relationship to what it is today. The questions are whether it can, and what will happen if it doesn't.
We may all have different opinions as to whether having KKR take over a company is a good thing. (It's a good thing for KKR if they can get a short-term gain, but probably not so much for others, as you pointed out.)
The issue is not just about KKR, though. I am finding it difficult to understand Japanese stubborn refusal to get any foreign capital investment at a time whe it badly needs it.
Tatsuo, I do remember your comments predicting good chances for KKR's deal to fall through.
So you called it.
The thing that bothers me is not so much about the government bailout part, but more to do with the lack of clarity when one of Renesas' biggest customers becomes the company's major shareholder...or as you suggest, someone from Toyota becoming Renesas President.
To me, it's not only the conflict of interest, but it's a sure way to confuse Renesas' business model in the future.
I had predicted almost 1.5 months back that there is a good probability of KKR bid not succeeding. With Innovation Network of Japan (INJ) coming in, Renesas will now become a government company. Someone from Toyota or Nissan will become Renesas president. INJ will break Renesas in 2-3 parts. SoC business of Renesas will be merged with the SoC businesses of Fujitsu and Panasonic. However, that new SoC company will not survive for very long because a large part of SoC business has become non-viable for Japan. Renesas will focus on Microcontrollers and Analog products. It will have a revenue of 4-5 billion USD and it will mainly cater to Japanese customers. Renesas employees will be a happy lot as they can continue working in the lethargic manner without having to fear for KKR WHIP and harsh measures anymore. Ultimately tax payers money will be wasted to satisfy the ego of few bureaucrats.
Amen. Maybe Japan inc. has a few problems, but allowing KKR and its ilk to get involved doesn't benefit anybody (outside of KKR). They won't introduce any desirable reforms, but they will attempt to get rich by plundering a company needing help.
The Japanese bureaucrats are smart to keep KKR out of Japan.