Kobe Steel wins respite after Toyota, Honda clear aluminium parts

Europe's aviation regulator has advised aircraft manufacturers to stop using parts supplied by Kobe Steel until their safety can be verified, following product data manipulation by the Japanese company. PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO (BLOOMBERG) - Toyota Motor cleared aluminium parts supplied by Kobe Steel of safety concerns, giving the embattled steelmaker a respite as companies around the world rush to check the safety of their products following revelations of data falsification.

Shares of Kobe Steel rose, erasing earlier losses, after Toyota said aluminium plates received directly from the steelmaker and from other suppliers met both internal and statutory standards. The plates were used in parts such as hoods and rear hatches, it said.

Honda Motor and Mazda Motor also gave an all-clear on aluminium parts supplied by Kobe Steel.

Japan's biggest automaker is broadening its investigation beyond aluminium, to include copper tubes, steel wires and steel powder used in its vehicles, the company said.

American manufacturers, including automotive giants Ford Motor and General Motors and the nation's biggest plane maker, Boeing, are among some 500 companies worldwide affected by a supply chain tainted by admissions that Kobe falsified certifications on the strength and durability of metals going back to at least 2007.

A Kobe Steel executive said late on Wednesday (Oct 18) that the company expects to issue a new safety inspection report as early as next week.

The executive, who asked not to be named because the information is not public, also said there have not been any fresh reports of data irregularities.

Last Friday, the company added nine items to its list of affected products, making 16, and said it was still checking the safety of five of them with customers. It had already deemed the other four safe. The units implicated in the crisis make the steel, copper, aluminium and other materials that account for over half the company's revenue.

The US Department of Justice has asked for documents related to the faked data, but the agency has not set a timeline for Kobe Steel's submission and did not identify specific products in its request, the executive said. The Japanese company has said it will cooperate fully with US authorities.

Later on Thursday, Japan's Transport Ministry will hold a meeting with department officials responsible for airplanes, automobiles, trains, marine vessels and construction, according to officials from the ministry who asked not to be identified because the meeting is not public.

Japan's third-biggest steelmaker will report second-quarter results on Oct 30, and has said it cannot yet quantify the impact of the scandal on its earnings. Shares are down almost 40 per cent in Tokyo since the crisis began at the start of last week, although there have not been any reports of product recalls or specific safety concerns raised by its customers. The stock gained 3.8 per cent to 858 yen (S$10) as of 12.58pm in Tokyo.

Europe's air-safety regulator has recommended that companies using material from Kobe Steel review their supply chains and - if alternative suppliers are available - suspend purchases from the Japanese company. Aircraft engine maker Rolls-Royce Holdings is among the latest firms to say it is studying suppliers to assess its exposure to Kobe products.

Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry has also asked the company for a report on the scandal, including causes and remedies.

In other developments, two Japanese brokerages, Imamura Securities and Hokuhoku Tokai Tokyo Securities, said they cancelled sales of structured notes linked to Kobe Steel in the light of the risks related the company.

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