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Fujifilm: too early to say if it will invest in Olympus

CHINESE WORKER REPAIRS FUJIFILM'S ADVERTISEMENT NEON BOARD IN BEIJING.
CHINESE WORKER REPAIRS FUJIFILM'S ADVERTISEMENT NEON BOARD IN BEIJING.

By Isabel Reynolds and Reiji Murai

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan's Fujifilm Holdings is watching developments at scandal-ridden Olympus Corp but it is too early to say if it will invest in the rival endoscope maker, a senior executive told Reuters in an interview on Monday.

Fujifilm, a film and camera maker that has been diversifying into medical equipment and pharmaceuticals, as well as Sony Corp and Panasonic Corp were named by a newspaper last week as potential investors in Olympus. The report said Olympus was seeking to replenish its capital base by issuing $1.3 billion in preferred shares.

"It's a great business, that's for sure," said Kouichi Tamai, the head of Fujifilm's medical systems unit, when asked about Olympus's profitable endoscope division.

Olympus commands 70 percent of the flexible endoscope market while the rest is held by Fujifilm and Hoya Corp.

But he added: "Until we know what will happen to Olympus as a company, it would all be theoretical, so we don't know."

Although Olympus, which has admitted to concealing investment losses with questionable M&A deals, just managed to beat a December 14 earnings report deadline and avoid an automatic delisting, it could still be delisted if the Tokyo bourse deems its past false accounting to be sufficiently serious.

Tamai also said he had several acquisition targets in mind in the healthcare field, where Fujifilm has snapped up a series of firms in recent years and where it is targeting sales of 370 billion yen in fiscal 2013/2014, a 38 percent climb from the past year ended in March.

It is buying out U.S.-based SonoSite Inc for $995 million including debt, a deal which it hopes will make it the world's largest maker of portable ultrasound equipment in three years.

Tamai also said he was not yet sure whether hospitals would switch away from Olympus' endoscopes following the accounting scandal and how much Fujifilm would benefit if they did.

Shares in Fujifilm, which also competes with Olympus in cameras, were up 1.6 percent in early afternoon trade, roughly in line with the Nikkei average. ($1 = 78.1000 Japanese yen)

(Reporting by Isabel Reynolds; Editing by Edwina Gibbs)

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