* Takefuji says to be bought by Korea’s A&P Financial
* Acom warns of Y203 bln net loss, vs consensus Y165 bln loss
* Promise sees Y96 bln net loss, Aiful estimates Y32 bln loss
* Japan consumer lenders hit hard by interest repayment claims
* Acom, Aiful also set aside loan-loss reserves after quake (Recasts, adds comments, details)
By Chris Gallagher and Junko Fujita
TOKYO, April 28 (Reuters) - Korean consumer lender A&P Financial will start turning around business at failed Japanese peer Takefuji Corp at a time when Japan’s three biggest consumer lenders are warning of combined losses of about $4 billion, squeezed by a government order to repay overcharged interest to customers.
Takefuji said on Thursday that A&P Financial has agreed to buy it. The price was not disclosed.
Rebuilding Takefuji will be a tough task due to the repayment of overcharged interest and a cap on lending rates, which has darkened the outlook for the overall consumer lending industry.
Acom , Promise and Aiful forecast combined losses of about $4 billion on Thursday for the year ended March 31, walloped by mounting claims for reimbursement of overcharged interest.
Acom and Aiful also said they were forced to set aside reserves to cover bad loans related to last month’s massive earthquake, while Promise booked a 41.4 billion yen ($503 million) charge to write down goodwill related to its purchase of money lender Sanyo Shinpan in 2007.
Japan’s consumer lenders are struggling to survive after a regulatory crackdown in 2006 that cut the maximum interest rate they can charge and a court ruling paving the way for borrowers to seek reimbursement of past interest payments above the new limits.
The industry, which offers unsecured loans to individuals and owners of small businesses, has also been hit by additional rules introduced last year including one that restricts the amount an individual can borrow to one-third of their annual income.
Takefuji has been looking for an investor to keep it in business after failing in September with about $5 billion in debts.
The money to be injected by A&P Financial is expected to be used to rebuild Takefuji’s lending business. It will also likely be spent on repaying overcharged interest to customers and other liabilities, though Takefuji did not announce how much A&P Financial would inject into it.
“Takefuji may be in a more advantageous position than the others because it has no further risk of having to repay overcharged interest,” said Junichi Shimizu, a credit analyst at Deutsche Securities.
“However, it needs to find ways to fund its future business,” he said.
Takefuji’s liabilities, including the repayment of overcharged interest and borrowings, is expected to be cut significantly, market expects said.
On the other hand, Takefuji’s outstanding loans totalled around 75 billion yen as of last October, Takefuji’s court appointed trustee told reporters in March. Junichi Shimizu, a credit analyst at Deutsche Securities, expects the amount has fallen to about 50 billion yen, about 5 percent of Acom‘s.
“That’s too small to continue the business,” said Shimizu, adding that it needs to expand its exposure significantly or shrink the operation to stay in business.
Takefuji struggled to raise money while it was still in business because it did not have backing from Japanese banks. For its rivals, by contrast, Acom is backed by Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group and Promise by Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group .
A&P Financial was chosen from bidders that included Cerberus Capital Management , TPG and Japan’s J Trust , according to sources with direct knowledge of the matter.
Acom, which is more than one-third owned by Mitsubishi UFJ, said it now estimates a net loss of 202.6 billion yen ($2.5 billion) for the financial year just ended, four times larger than its previous outlook for a 50.9 billion yen loss.
Acom’s new estimate compares with an average forecast of a 164.8 billion yen net loss in a poll of six analysts by Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
Promise estimated a 96 billion yen net loss for the year ended March 31, compared with the average forecast of five analysts for a 99.7 billion yen loss. Aiful sees a 32 billion yen net loss, triple the average estimate from two analysts of a 10 billion yen loss.
Promise and Aiful had previously not issued full-year earnings outlooks.
Before the news on Thursday, shares of Acom ended down 0.3 percent and Aiful lost 2.1 percent, while Promise jumped 3.6 percent. The benchmark Nikkei average rose 1.6 percent. ($1 = 82.220 Japanese Yen) (Reporting by Chris Gallagher; Editing by Nathan Layne and Michael Watson)