Western Digital, through its SanDisk subsidiary, is seeking arbitration to prevent Toshiba from selling off its stake in their flash memory joint venture without the consent of Western Digital. Toshiba has been suffering financially due to crippling losses incurred by its nuclear power division, and to offset those losses Toshiba has been working to sell off its memory business. Toshiba's memory business is one of the most successful parts of the company and the Toshiba-SanDisk flash memory joint venture is one of the four major manufacturers of NAND flash memory.

When Toshiba announced in March their intentions to raise cash by selling a stake in their memory business, a bidding war emerged. Western Digital, Micron and SK Hynix all sought to expand their share of the NAND flash market, but Toshiba was reluctant to sell to a competitor, hoping to avoid a prolonged anti-trust regulatory approval process. The Japanese government also does not want to see the NAND flash business sold to a Chinese-controlled company. This left private equity firms as the bidders Toshiba was most receptive to, but other technology companies like Broadcom and Foxconn are bidding.

After failing to meet their goal of selling a 20% stake by the end of March, and as revised estimates made it clear that 20% would not cover Toshiba's nuclear losses, Toshiba's plans shifted toward a complete spin-off and sale of their Toshiba Memory division. As of February, Toshiba valued this unit at around $18B. In late March it was reported that Broadcom and Silver Lake Partners had jointly bid to buy Toshiba Memory for about that amount, then in early April Foxconn reportedly offered $27B. Broadcom has since increased their bid to $28B. SK Hynix and Bain Capital are reported to be jointly bidding up to $13.5B for a majority stake in Toshiba Memory.

The bids for Toshiba Memory have reached prices that are difficult but not necessarily impossible for Western Digital to match. Western Digital would need to fund an acquisition with significant debt, and other analysts have speculated that it may be better for Western Digital to pursue acquiring a majority stake in Toshiba Memory rather than a complete acquisition.

Western Digital does have leverage in their preexisting relationship with Toshiba as co-owner of their flash memory joint venture. Western Digital is alleging that Toshiba is required to obtain Western Digital's consent before spinning off or selling Toshiba Memory, and that Toshiba's actions so far have violated their agreements with Western Digital. Western Digital has initiated arbitration proceedings against Toshiba, seeking to block further action without Western Digital's consent and to reverse the Toshiba Memory spin-off.

These arbitration proceedings are undoubtedly a major frustration to Toshiba, who badly want to close a deal two months ago. Instead, they are now faced with complicated litigation over the terms of at least three joint venture agreements with SanDisk that are now controlled by Western Digital. So far, Toshiba does not appear to have responded to the arbitration demand and Western Digital claims that Toshiba has indicated they have no intention to obtain consent before selling Toshiba Memory to the highest bidder. It is not clear how long this dispute could take to settle, but there is an initial 30-day window for Toshiba to respond before the conflict escalates. If Toshiba does agree to Western Digital's arbitration request, estimates range from six months to two years for that process to resolve.

By stalling or blocking competing bids, Western Digital seems to be running out the clock on Toshiba with the goal of forcing them to accept a bid from Western Digital that would not be able to win in an open auction. The longer Western Digital can prevent Toshiba from closing a deal, the more desperate Toshiba will get to raise enough cash to keep the company as a whole afloat. Western Digital has not said whether they will file for an injunction if Toshiba does not agree to participate in arbitration, so there is still a lot of uncertainty about how severe this dispute will get and how long it will last. Analysts at J.P. Morgan are optimistic about Western Digital's prospects in this dispute and are among several analysts to have upgraded their ratings of Western Digital in recent months.

Despite the dispute over corporate ownership rights, the day to day operations of the Toshiba/Western Digital NAND joint venture have been largely unaffected. Both Toshiba and Western Digital are in the process of bringing products to market using their 64-layer 3D NAND flash, which has a lower cost per bit and much higher density than their 15nm planar NAND. Western Digital predicts that 40% of their wafer output this year will be 3D NAND and 75% of that will be the 64-layer generation. Due to the ongoing industry-wide NAND flash shortage, all of the NAND produced by Toshiba and Western Digital is quite profitable and the companies are being judicious in allocating supply to the most lucrative market segments. There has been some speculation that as the dispute escalates Toshiba might deny Western Digital employees access to their fabs in Yokkaichi, Japan, but Western Digital says Toshiba has not taken any such action and Western Digital employees are continuing to work alongside Toshiba employees in research and development, manufacturing, and testing.

Source: Western Digital

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  • plopke - Tuesday, May 23, 2017 - link

    I have 0% knowledge of Toshiba or business leading experience but am scratching my head that their solution is to sell off their best earning division?
    Are they that much in trouble?
    They can not let the other division go bankrupt?
    Is it like Japanse pride/stubbornness to let one division destroy a entire company or laws?

    Many many questions.
    And on a side note that is some cold hard business strategy from WD, not sure if i would have the stomach for it but smart move I guess. When are the regulators going to stop WD from buying up eveything? HGST was already so so ...

    The entire HD/SSD market could make their own game of thrones tv show xD. Just needs a fancy title.
  • Death666Angel - Tuesday, May 23, 2017 - link

    "They can not let the other division go bankrupt?"
    It already is in chapter 11 bankruptcy, but that does not mean, that the whole thing is just solved for Toshiba. Westinghouse is reportedly nearly 10 billion in debt and Toshiba lost 9 billion in their last financial year. And my guess is that this being their nuclear division, they have extensive contracts that cannot just be ignored because their subsidiary went bankrupt.
  • vladx - Tuesday, May 23, 2017 - link

    Memory is one of the most successful not the most, that's key there. But corporate politics is at work too of course, probably the biggest stockholders have a bigger personal investment in other areas of the company.
  • bill.rookard - Tuesday, May 23, 2017 - link

    It could be a bit tricky depending on just how profitable it is, and what the agreements are like with Western Digital. WD definitely has some rights here when it comes to this joint venture - it's their money and IP mixed in with Toshiba's, and they (Toshiba) can't just take their marbles and go home without some consideration going to WD.
  • rahvin - Tuesday, May 23, 2017 - link

    Yes Toshiba the company has a guaranteed delivery contract (the utility guaranteed to pay $X regardless of cost and if Toshiba brings it in under the make extra profit and if it comes in over they get stuck with the costs) on several nuclear reactors that are about 10 Billion over budget currently and by the time they are done it will cost Toshiba about $20 billion.

    That's why the decided to sell the whole division, they needed $20 billion yesterday or the entire company is insolvent.
  • meacupla - Wednesday, May 24, 2017 - link

    I think it is because Toshiba's other divisions/subsidiaries don't have any market value, so selling those off wouldn't fix their money problems.

    Put another way, why would anyone buy the rotten parts?
  • Bullwinkle J Moose - Tuesday, May 23, 2017 - link

    "I have 0% knowledge of Toshiba or business leading experience but am scratching my head that their solution is to sell off their best earning division?
    Are they that much in trouble?"

    and mostly due to the scumbaggery of upper management


    Finding out that the Foxconn and Broadcom bids were fake or rigged by Toshiba Management would not surprise me in the least

    I'm sure there are a few more surprises in store before this sale goes through

    Never bid above market value for a company like this one
  • edcoolio - Wednesday, May 24, 2017 - link

    This is the only card they have left to play.

    Toshiba is now paying the price for sticking their toes into what seems like every single industrial sector possible. Their nuclear power division in the U.S. (Westinghouse Electric) is bleeding cash and they need money quick. Lots of it. Like billions.

    The only division that can come up with that amount of scratch is the chip/NAND division.

    I hope Micron gets it, but I'd be OK with SK Hynix winning out also. First, we shall see what becomes of this legal boondoggle.

    Toshiba seems to be saying...

    "I say we take off and nuke the entire site from orbit. It's the only way to be sure."
    -Ellen Ripley
  • Lord of the Bored - Monday, May 29, 2017 - link

    Man, I really hope a company with an actual nuclear power division isn't planning to go Ripley Protocol.
  • Nexing - Thursday, May 25, 2017 - link

    When WD bought their stake at Toshiba Nand's business, it was the Japanese company who led the way for the American who came late to this game.
    Now it looks like the later is throwing its heavy weight to block their helper's way out, in a hostile manner at a very inappropriate moment.
    ///Something reminiscent of other moves from big companies of the same origin.

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