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Published: Tuesday, 11/1/2005

Pilkington in talks for buyout by Tokyo firm

Pilkington operates a 290-employee glass factory in the Toledo suburb of Rossford.
Pilkington operates a 290-employee glass factory in the Toledo suburb of Rossford.

TOKYO - The British parent of Toledo-headquartered Pilkington North America may be taken over by a Japanese company.

Nippon Sheet Glass Co., Japan's second-biggest glassmaker, said it may bid for Pilkington PLC, the world's largest maker of car windshields, as demand for auto glass surges in markets such as China.

Discussions are at "a very preliminary stage," Nippon said in a statement. The Japanese firm already owns 20 percent of Pilkington.

It's too early to tell whether a takeover would have any affect on Pilkington's operations in the Toledo area, a spokesman in the United Kingdom said.

Pilkington, of St. Helens, England, has about 145 employees at its North American headquarters on Madison Avenue in downtown Toledo, 290 employees at a factory in Rossford, and 150 employees at a technology center in Northwood.

All are remnants of the former Libbey-Owens-Ford Co. of Toledo, which was purchased by Pilkington in 1986.

The relationship among Nippon, L-O-F, and Pilkington stretches for decades.

Nippon got its start in 1918 by buying technology from the Toledo firm to make float glass, and it invested in L-O-F in 1990 and in its British parent a decade later. The Tokyo company has other operations in the United States.

Pilkington shares surged yesterday the most in at least 17 years, giving the company a market value of $3.6 billion.

Its stock has advanced 39 percent this year.

Nippon said in June it planned to maximize cost benefits from a relationship with Pilkington that includes a research alliance on auto glass.

"I don't see much value in this for NSG," said Rhiannon Evans, an analyst at Morgan Stanley in London.

"I thought their strategic alliance on research was enough, but clearly they're more ambitious. I also think they want access into China, which Pilkington can give them."

Pilkington has four plants in China supplying glass for cars built by manufacturers including Toyota Motor Corp. and Volkswagen AG.

Pilkington, which invented float-glass manufacturing in the 1950s, ranks No. 2 in the flat-glass market, with 15 percent of global capacity or 19 percent when its associates are included in the tally, according to the company's 2004 annual report.

Nippon has the 11th slot, the report says.

The Japanese company, which has lower sales than Pilkington, may be able to draw on support from one of its main shareholders, Sumitomo Corp., Japan's third-biggest trading company.

Cie. de Saint-Gobain, based near Paris, had been earlier touted as a possible buyer for Pilkington.

A spokesman for the French business said European antitrust laws might make such a takeover "an impossible transaction."

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