Panasonic may buy ZKW to accelerate push into auto electronics: source

TOKYO/VIENNA (Reuters) - Japan's Panasonic Corp 6752.T may buy European automotive light maker ZKW Group, accelerating its push into the automotive electronics market, a person familiar with the matter said.

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A spokeswoman for Austria-based ZKW dismissed the idea of a sale to Panasonic as “an old rumor”, adding ZKW was not negotiating with Panasonic or other potential suitors.

The Nikkei business daily reported earlier on Monday that a deal could be worth up to $1 billion and the two companies could reach a basic agreement as early as this month.

“ZKW is among various deals that Panasonic is considering,” the person familiar with the matter told Reuters.

“But no details have been decided and the deal could fall through,” added the source, who was not authorized to discuss the matter and asked not to be named.

Panasonic said in a statement the reported deal was not something it had announced, and declined to comment further.

An acquisition of ZKW would expand Panasonic’s automotive lineup, which currently centers on batteries and navigation systems, as it shifts its focus to corporate clients to escape price competition from lower-margin consumer electronics manufacturers.

ZKW supplies light-emitting diode headlights and lighting modules to U.S. and European automakers such as General Motors Co GM.N and BMW BMWG.DE. It forecasts sales of about 900 million euros ($950 million) in 2016.

The privately-held group employed more than 5,900 staff at the end of last year and has plants in Austria, India, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, China, the United States and Mexico, according to its website.

Panasonic has earmarked 1 trillion yen ($8.80 billion) for strategic investments including mergers and acquisitions for the four years through March 2019. Of that amount, 70 percent has been already completed or allocated for specific deals, the company has said.

The possible acquisition comes as rival electronics makers are also pushing into the automotive industry. Samsung Electronics Co Ltd 005930.KS agreed in November to buy Harman International Industries in an $8 billion deal.

Panasonic is targeting annual sales of 2 trillion yen for its automotive business in the year ending March 2019, up from 1.3 trillion yen in the year ended March.

Panasonic took a 49 percent stake in Spanish automotive mirror manufacturer Ficosa International last year and plans to contribute $1.6 billion to Tesla Motors' TSLA.O $5 billion battery factory.

Editing by Chang-Ran Kim/Stephen Coates/Mark Potter