UPDATE 1-EU antitrust watchdog fines Schaeffler, four others $1.3 bln

Wed Mar 19, 2014 7:23am EDT

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By Foo Yun Chee

BRUSSELS, March 19 (Reuters) - European Union antitrust regulators fined German engineering group Schaeffler (IPO-SHF.F), Sweden's SKF and three Japanese car parts makers a total 953.3 million euros ($1.3 billion) for taking part in a ball bearings cartel.

The sanctions, announced on Wednesday, are the latest from the European Commission which is investigating price-fixing of more than 100 car parts by more than 70 companies in the auto industry.

Regulators in the United States, Japan and Canada have also fined several car parts makers in recent years for fixing prices of products ranging from seatbelts, radiators and windshield wipers to air-conditioning systems.

The EU antitrust authority said the cartel lasted for more than seven years between April 2004 and July 2011 in Europe where the ball bearings market is worth at least 2 billion euros annually.

Schaeffler received the biggest fine, 370.5 million euros, while SKF's was 315.1 million euros, the second-largest. Ball bearings are used to reduce friction in products from aircraft to hairdryers.

The fines for Japanese firms NTN, NSK and NFC were 201.35 million euros, 62.4 million and 3.96 million respectively. The five companies acknowledged taking part in the cartel in return for a 10 percent cut in their penalties.

JTEKT escaped a sanction as it told the European Commission about the cartel, prompting raids on the cartel members by the regulator in November 2011.

"If left unchallenged, cartels for car parts might impair the competitiveness of the automotive sector and artificially raise the price paid by European consumers who buy cars," European Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia said.

($1 = 0.7188 Euros) (Reporting by Foo Yun Chee; Editing by Erica Billingham)

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