China Fines Japan Bearing Makers for Antitrust Violations

China’s antitrust regulator fined Japanese bearing makers NSK Ltd. and NTN Corp. a combined 4.8 billion yen ($47 million) for violating rules amid a probe into industry pricing practices.

NSK and NTN were fined 2.9 billion yen and 1.9 billion yen, respectively, by China’s National Development and Reform Commission, according to the companies’ statements to the Tokyo Stock Exchange.

China is stepping up an anti-monopoly investigation that has so far pressured at least seven foreign carmakers into cutting prices. The NDRC, which has primary responsibility for oversight of pricing, had said this month that it completed an investigation into 12 Japanese companies and would penalize violators.

“China has been cooperating globally in terms of international issues like cartels,” said Toshiaki Yamaguchi, an Osaka, Japan-based lawyer specializing in corporate compliance. “This should be a wake-up call for companies not to engage in suspicious behavior that may be regarded as a cartel.”

China’s anti-monopoly law allows the government to impose fines of as much as 10 percent of a company’s annual revenue. Companies that cooperate can get lighter penalties.

NSK said today it will take “comprehensive measures” to ensure it strictly complied with the laws and will disclose any revision to its full-year forecast as a result of the fine.

Antitrust Violations

The violations were for the period from 2000 to June 2011, company spokesman Taketoshi Tanoue said, without being more specific about the offenses. The company was fined by Japan’s antitrust authority last year for fixing prices of bearings.

NSK’s stock rose 0.1 percent to 1,384 yen at the close of trading in Tokyo today. NTN’s shares were unchanged at 443 yen.

Besides component manufacturers, the NDRC investigation has looked at pricing practices of vehicles, after-sales maintenance and spare parts. Volkswagen AG’s Audi, Daimler AG’s Mercedes-Benz and Toyota Motor Corp. are among carmakers that have announced price cuts since July in the wake of the probe into more than a dozen automakers.

Tensions in China’s foreign community has escalated with the probes.

The European Union Chamber of Commerce in China, which has about 1,800 members in the country, said in an Aug. 13 statement that Chinese investigators were picking on foreign companies, pressuring them into accepting punishments and depriving them of full hearings.

The American Chamber of Commerce in China called for dialogue with U.S. and Chinese officials about rising concerns among its members.

Looking Closely

“We are absolutely looking very closely at all that’s going on in the investment environment in China,” Greg Gilligan, chairman of the group, said in an interview in Beijing today. “There is increased concern among our membership about a number of things that are happening across a number of industries.”

Ministry of Commerce spokesman Shen Danyang said yesterday that “there is no xenophobia” behind the investigations. The NDRC has said it is pursuing the investigations to uphold market order and protect consumer interests.