As the countdown echoing around the Uchinoura Space Center in Kagoshima Prefecture in southern Japan reached "zero" at 8:33 a.m. on January 15, a rocket blasted off straight and true into the brilliantly clear sky. The takeoff went without a hitch, but just 20 seconds later, success instantly turned into failure.
The telemetry data—including data on such factors as position, altitude and speed—sent from the rocket to the space center suddenly cut out. Ignition of the rocket's second-stage engine was intended to be triggered by transmissions sent from the space center. But with the telemetry disrupted, ground controllers were unable to confirm the condition of the rocket, and pushing ahead with the ignition carried the risk of sending the craft into an unexpected flight path. The ignition was aborted and the entire rocket plunged into the sea where the first stage had been expected to come down.
Having gambled its future on marketing Opdivo, an anticancer immunotherapeutic drug, Ono Pharmaceutical Co. Ltd. is now grapping with problems on three different fronts. "It's triple trouble," bemoaned a senior official of the firm.
The company's main concern relates to negative side effects associated with the drug. Recently, there has been a series of reports regarding serious symptoms with suspected links to the administration of Opdivo. The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry announced Oct. 18 that six patients given the drug developed heart muscle inflammation, saying a causal relation was undeniable in half of the cases, in which one person died. The ministry also revealed instances of other side effects, though these were not fatal. According to the latest reports received by the ministry, three of the patients given the drug developed primary immune thrombocytopenia, or purpura, caused by a decrease in platelets. Rhabdomyolysis, in which muscle cells are destroyed, occurred in four of the patients.
Japan's Isetan Mitsukoshi Holdings recently announced plans to shutter its Chiba Mitsukoshi department store due to the outlet's continued poor performance. The store, which has a sales floor space of 24,700 square meters, will close on March 20, 2017. Some of the outlet's functions—such as its external sales and service section—will then be transferred to an upscale shop set to open nearby, before the Chiba Mitsukoshi store closes down completely.
"A new station building at JR Chiba Station and new in-station stores were scheduled to open in November this year, and redevelopment of Chiba's downtown area was supposed to be led by the Mitsukoshi department store, among others," said an exasperated Toshiaki Ishii, president of the Chiba Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and corporate advisor to Chiba Bank. "The decision was a real bolt from the blue; totally surprising. I want to talk directly to the officials concerned."
When the Nihon Keizai Shimbun (Nikkei) daily reported on June 8 that Bank of Tokyo Mitsubishi UFJ (BTMU) is set to relinquish its status as a primary dealer of Japanese government bonds, speculation swirled among market players that Japan's largest bank is trying to get even with the Bank of Japan for unexpectedly introducing negative interest rates in February as part of its fight against deflation.
There was good reason to suspect BTMU's motives. At a lecture meeting in Tokyo in April, BTMU Chairman Nobuyuki Hirano (who also is president and group CEO of Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group) publicly expressed dissatisfaction with the Japanese central bank: "Because banks will be unable to pass on negative interest to customers, [negative interest rates] will reduce their net interest margins and sap their financial strength. The short-term effects are clearly negative."
In May, Nissan Motor Corp. moved with lightning speed to bail out the embattled Mitsubishi Motors Corp., which was plunged into yet another battle for survival—its third to date—after admitting three weeks earlier it had falsified fuel efficiency test data.
Nissan will take de facto control of Mitsubishi with a 34 percent stake in the company after it completes its acquisition of 506.6 million shares at a cost of ¥237 billion by the year's end. Nissan will become Mitsubishi's largest shareholder—boasting a larger stake than any other top Mitsubishi Group company—thus effectively obtaining management rights. Four of Mitsubishi's 11 board members are expected to hail from Nissan.
As embattled Toshiba Corp. accelerated sales of its assets in March, Nomura Securities Co. Ltd. invoked outrage in parts of the financial sector over its shrewd and brazen "dismantling" of its struggling client. "I wonder exactly how much is going to be stripped from Toshiba?" is typical of the remarks currently reverberating through certain financial circles—often voiced with a tinge of envy.
The greater part of Toshiba's white goods business, developed by Toshiba Lifestyle Products and Services Corp., has been sold to Midea Group, a major Chinese consumer electronics firm. Furthermore, Toshiba Medical Systems Corp. (TMSC), a medical equipment subsidiary company based in Otawara city, Toshigi Prefecture, has been offloaded to Canon Inc. for a total of ¥665.5 billion. Hereafter, it seems likely that Toshiba's personal computer business, cross-held shares, factories, land, and various other of the company's assets will be jettisoned, too. "[The company is being] sold off piece by piece," said an informed source with ties to a large electrical goods firm.
It is no great secret that three of Japan's five major trading houses have long been respected for specific attributes: Mitsubishi Corp. boasts strong organizational abilities; Mitsui & Co. is blessed with superb manpower, and Sumitomo Corp. is envied for its intra-company unity. Recently, however, Sumitomo is being mockingly celebrated for an additional corporate trait, viz., leaders escape censure even if they commit two major blunders.
On January 13, Sumitomo announced a write-down of ¥77 billion ($73 million) after low resource prices battered its nickel development and refinery project in the African nation of Madagascar. It also withdrew its net income forecast for the year through March 2016, which was set at ¥230 billion, and said its forecast was "undecided."