EU Said to Fine Ball-Bearings Makers to Settle Cartel Probe

The European Union will fine automotive ball-bearings makers as soon as tomorrow in an antitrust settlement, said three people familiar with the case that led three firms to make provisions totaling more than $1 billion.

About six ball-bearings makers have agreed to settle the case, said the people who asked not to be named because the decision isn’t yet public. EU Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia told EU lawmakers today that he would announce a price-fixing decision in a car-parts investigation tomorrow.

Cartels to fix the prices of car parts “are devastating for both Japanese and European car manufacturers and consumers” who pay too much for components and the final vehicles, Alexander Italianer, the head of the EU’s competition service, said last year. Bearings are just one out of about a hundred car components the EU is probing, he said.

SKF AB (SKFB), the world’s largest maker of ball bearings, said in December it set aside 3 billion krona ($473 million) for a potential EU fine. Schaeffler AG also took a 380 million-euro ($528 million) provision last year for an expected EU fine. NTN Corp. (6472) set aside 27 billion yen ($266 million) for an EU fine, it said in January.

Ingalill Ostman, a spokeswoman for Gothenburg, Sweden-based SKF, declined to comment ahead of a statement from regulators. Christoph Beumelburg, a Schaeffler spokesman, declined to comment. NTN didn’t immediately respond to an e-mail and a call seeking comment.

Fines Reduction

Companies that agree to settle EU cartel cases receive a reduction of 10 percent of their fine, with additional discounts for aiding regulators. The first to inform the EU of the cartel is usually exempted from fines.

NTN, NSK Ltd. (6471) and Nachi-Fujikoshi Corp. (6474) were fined by Japan’s antitrust authority last year for fixing prices of bearings in an investigation where Jtekt Corp. (6473) was exempted from fines. Jtekt, NSK, NTN and Nachi-Fujikoshi are also being probed by Singapore’s competition regulator.

NSK, Jtekt and Nachi Fujikoshi didn’t immediately respond to an e-mail and a call seeking comment on the EU process.

To contact the reporters on this story: Aoife White in Brussels at awhite62@bloomberg.net; Gaspard Sebag in Brussels at gsebag@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Anthony Aarons at aaarons@bloomberg.net Peter Chapman

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