Memory business sale 'absolutely key' for Toshiba to turn things around

Toshiba's memory business was stronger than expected: Analyst
Toshiba's memory business was stronger than expected: Analyst

Toshiba might be able to turn its fortunes around if it can successfully sell its prized memory business, analysts told CNBC on Wednesday.

A day earlier, the troubled Japanese conglomerate finally released twice-delayed earnings for the first nine months of the fiscal year ending March 31, 2017, without auditor endorsement that could increase the likelihood of Toshiba being de-listed from the Tokyo Stock Exchange.

"The disposal of the memory business is absolutely key to turn around the (broader) business," Damian Thong, a senior analyst at Macquarie Securities Japan told CNBC's "The Rundown."

Shareholders gave the go-ahead at the end of March for Toshiba, the world's second biggest producer of NAND flash memory behind Samsung, to spin off that business unit.

In the October to December quarter last year, Toshiba held a 17.4 percent market share by revenue, behind leader Samsung's 36.1 percent, IHS Markit data showed. IHS noted recently that the NAND market will continue to expand due to prices rising in early 2017 and seasonal tailwinds expected in the second half of the year — that trend makes Toshiba's memory business lucrative to potential buyers.

Toshifumi Kitamura | AFP | Getty Images

In February, the Nikkei business daily reported that Toshiba asked bidders to peg the memory unit's operations' value at 2 trillion yen (about $18.26 billion) or more.

Kazunori Ito, a senior equity analyst at Ibbotson Associates Japan, told CNBC's "Squawk Box" the base case scenario could see Toshiba bring in at least 1.7 trillion yen from the sale. "I think this is enough to make up for the losses on the balance sheet," Ito said.

Thong agreed: "The future of Toshiba will not have memory. Memory business, regardless of how it will come out, will be sold in some form to some entity, whether it's foreign or Japanese."

He said the sale should solve the hole in Toshiba's balance sheet, pay off its debts, resolve liabilities related to its Westinghouse Electric nuclear business in the U.S. — which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in late March — and put the company in the clear.

Toshiba booked a net loss of 532.5 billion yen ($4.86 billion) in the nine months to December and warned about concerns over its survival. "There are material events and conditions that raise the substantial doubt about the Company's ability to continue as a going concern," Toshiba said. Shareholders' equity was negative 225.7 billion yen ($-1.9 billion) by the end of December.

Several suitors are eyeing the NAND memory business, and Ito said it was likely the unit would be sold within a year.

Nikkei reported in late-March that U.S. private-equity firm Silver Lake Partners and chipmaker offered Toshiba about 2 trillion yen for the unit. South Korea's SK Hynix also submitted a bid according to Reuters. The Wall Street Journal reported on Monday Taiwanese manufacturer Foxconn offered up to 3 trillion yen for the business.

Meanwhile, Reuters reported that Toshiba's CEO, Satoshi Tsunakawa, said at a press briefing in Tokyo on Tuesday that the company will do everything to avoid being de-listed.