August 20, 2014 5:35 am JST

China's antitrust watchdog fines 2 Japanese bearing makers

TOKYO/BEIJING -- Japanese automotive bearing manufacturers NSK and NTN have been fined by Chinese authorities for violating antitrust regulations, the companies said Tuesday.

     NSK was hit with a 174 million yuan ($28 million) penalty while NTN faces a 119 million yuan fine. The National Development and Reform Commission apparently decided the two manufacturers colluded with others to set high prices for their products. Both companies are expected to pay up.

     Industry peer Nachi-Fujikoshi was also notified of a violation, but managed to escape a fine by cooperating with probes. The three have not disclosed details of the violations.

     NSK and NTN said they take the situation seriously and will step up efforts to ensure thorough compliance. They also noted that if earnings projections need to be modified, they will disclose such information promptly.

     NSK and another Japanese bearing maker, Jtekt, were also found to have been in violation of antitrust rules by European and U.S. authorities in the past. Chinese authorities are investigating 12 Japanese automotive companies.

     Japanese bearing makers control 30% of the global market. Their dominance, some point out, has created a hotbed for pricing cartels.

     Chinese authorities' scrutiny of foreign companies extends to leading automakers too, such as Germany's Audi, America's Chrysler and Japan's Toyota. The commission is investigating prices of parts and imported cars under these brands.

     The government-backed English-language paper China Daily says more than 1,000 companies in the auto industry, including manufacturers and dealerships, are being investigated. This is the biggest such inquiry since the antitrust laws took effect in 2008, the paper added.

     Service parts used for repair and routine car inspections are the focus of the probe. Authorities have pointed out that prices set for China by leading foreign manufacturers considerably differ from those in other markets. In response, Chrysler, Mercedes-Benz and Toyota have already lowered prices. Some say Audi alone will be fined 1.8 billion yuan.

(Nikkei)

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