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The struggling Japanese company said it had signed a letter of intent to negotiate with a consortium led by Bain Capital for a deal that will be worth billions.
TOKYO — A group of investors led by Bain Capital re-emerged as a favorite on Wednesday to buy the world’s second-largest manufacturer of flash memory chips from its struggling parent, the Toshiba Corporation of Japan.
Toshiba said it had signed a letter of intent to negotiate with Bain and its partners, the Innovation Network Corporation of Japan and the Development Bank of Japan, both of which are controlled by the Japanese government.
Toshiba has been wavering among offers from three different groups to buy a portion of the chip business, a deal that is widely expected to be worth more than $20 billion.
In its announcement on Wednesday, Toshiba said the Bain group had submitted a new bid, putting it ahead of rivals led by Western Digital, the digital storage company based in the United States; and Foxconn, the contract manufacturer based in Taiwan that makes phones and other devices on behalf of Apple and other global brand names.
It said it hoped to conclude a deal by the end of September, but it added that the negotiations would not be exclusive. That means Western Digital or Foxconn could still turn the tables by submitting new, sweetened offers.
The chip unit is second only to Samsung Electronics of South Korea in producing so-called NAND flash memory chips, which are used to store data in smartphones and other digital devices.
The business has been profitable for Toshiba, which pioneered NAND technology, but the company needs cash quickly to fill a hole in its balance sheet left by losses on nuclear power projects in the United States.
How Western Digital responds to the decision on Wednesday will be especially crucial.
Toshiba had already picked the Bain group once before, in June, as its favored buyer. But the choice provoked a furious response from Western Digital, which shares ownership with Toshiba of a NAND production operation in Japan. Western Digital argued that Toshiba could not sell its chip business to an outside party without its approval.
Facing legal pressure from Western Digital, Toshiba opened the competition back up, and began talking with Western Digital and Foxconn once again.