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Scandal-Hit Kobe Steel Seeks Loans, Shareholder Offers Support

Kobe Steel Ltd is seeking 50 billion yen ($440 million) in loans from banks, a banking source said on Monday, while a shareholder said it was ready to offer support as the company grapples with a scandal over falsified product specifications.

Kobe Steel Ltd is seeking 50 billion yen ($440 million) in loans from banks, a banking source said on Monday, while a shareholder said it was ready to offer support as the company grapples with a scandal over falsified product specifications.

Japan's third-largest steelmaker also pulled its forecast for a first annual profit in three years as it deals with the financial impact of one of Japan's biggest corporate scandals.

Kobe Steel is losing customers and said on Friday it had a government-sanctioned seal of quality revoked on some of its products.

The steelmaker's admission this month that it had found widespread tampering in specifications has sent companies in global supply chains scrambling to check whether the safety or performance of their products has been compromised.

While no safety issues have been identified, Kobe Steel's parts and materials are used across the world in cars, trains, aircraft and nuclear plants.

The company, which has said it cannot fully quantify the impact on its finances from the scandal, is seeking loans from Mizuho Bank and other lenders, a banker with direct knowledge of the situation told Reuters, requesting anonymity because the discussions are not public.

The Nikkei business daily reported that Mizuho Bank, Sumitomo Mitsui Banking and Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ are considering loans to the steelmaker.

Kobe Steel Managing Executive Officer Kazuaki Kawahara confirmed at an earnings briefing later on Monday that the company was in loan talks with its main banks and other lenders, without providing further details.

Executive Vice President Naoto Umehara said that Kobe Steel will continue generating cash on its own to cover expenses stemming from the data falsification scandal as well as for capital investment.

He said the misconduct would likely reduce its recurring profit by 10 billion yen in the full 2017/18 financial year. The company cut its forecast for recurring profit in the year by 5 billion yen to 50 billion yen.

Umehara said the 10 billion yen covers costs for slower production, disposal of products that do not meet specifications and reduced orders as customers switch suppliers.

"We understand our customers are taking a harsh view of the data fabrication," Umehara said. "We cannot tell how much the cost will be but expect to see more impact as time goes by."

There are still more questions than answers, said Mitsushige Akino, executive officer at Ichiyoshi Asset Management, with unresolved issues including confirming the safety of all products and establishing what went wrong.

"The company must show how it will change," he said.

Kobe Steel said on Thursday that 88 out of 525 affected customers had yet to confirm its products were safe in the light of widespread tampering of specifications, but that it had not received any requests for recalls.

The company is due to file a detailed report to Japan's industry ministry on the cheating and its measures to avoid any reoccurrence within about two weeks.

Japan's biggest steelmaker, Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp said on Monday it will provide support to its smaller rival if requested. Nippon Steel has a 2.95 percent stake in Kobe Steel.

"We will consider and respond if we receive any requests from Kobe Steel for help," Nippon Steel President Kosei Shindo told a news conference, adding that his company has not received any such request.

Kobe Steel has a 0.71 percent stake in Nippon Steel and the companies have an alliance that involves cooperating on steel supplies during shortages or maintenance of factories.

However, Kobe Steel's Umehara said there were no plans to seek support from Nippon Steel.

Kobe Steel repaid a 20 billion yen bond that came due on Friday, a spokesman said on Monday.

But it cancelled plans to pay a dividend on its first-half results. The company said it had net profit of nearly 40 billion yen in the April to September period. The results do not include any financial impact from the scandal.

Kobe Steel in July had forecast a net profit of 35 billion yen for the year to March 31, after two years of losses.

Kobe Steel shares rose 2.2 percent on Monday, while the Nikkei 225 fell 0.1 percent.

Kobe Steel's market value has slumped by about $1.5 billion since announcing in early October that it had found widespread tampering of product specifications in its aluminium and copper business. The cheating has since been found across its businesses.

($1 = 113.5800 yen)

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Kobe Steel loans scandal steel