Bearings maker SKF cuts production in automotive unit amid coronavirus fallout

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Sweden's SKF SKFb.ST, the world's biggest maker of ball bearings, said on Thursday it was taking major steps to reduce cost as it flagged the outbreak of the new coronavirus may lead to a "material" hit to earnings from the end of March.

The news comes in the wake of widespread plant shutdowns by major European carmakers in recent days, and after top rival Schaeffler SHA_p.DE earlier on Thursday said it would cut production in its automotive business.

“As a result of this significant level of uncertainty, SKF is taking major steps to reduce the impact of the situation on its operations, including closure of sites, reducing costs, number of employees and increasing flexibility within the workforce,” SKF said in a statement.

An SKF spokesman told Reuters the plants would be closed for 7-10 days to begin with, and related to its big automotive sites in Italy, Spain and France.

The spokesman declined to specify the magnitude of any staff reduction.

SKF generates about 30% of group sales in its automotive business and 70% in its industrial business.

Reporting by Johannes Hellstrom; Editing by Simon Johnson