Japan's Benkan Corp., one of the world's oldest manufacturers of welding fittings, filed for court protection from creditors in early September, saying it was unable to meet obligations estimated at more than $480 million. According to Reuters, about $146.3 million of that money was in loans extended by Mitsubishi Tokyo Financial Group, Japan's third largest bank. Supply House Times has been told that Benkan's total indebtedness could run upwards of $530 million.

According to Takaaki Furuta, president of Benkan America, the parent corporation is still conducting "business as usual," although some deliveries are slowing down. Benkan America is a small importing and distribution subsidiary of the Japanese corporation, based in Houston. Furuta said he personally believes that, as the largest supplier of butt welding fittings in Japan, Benkan Corp. will be allowed to continue in business because nobody else is currently available to supply the needs of Japanese construction or industry.

Benkan also is the parent corporation of America's Tube-Line. We were unable to get anyone at Tube-Line to comment on the proceedings. Furuta said that Tube-Line has been conducting its business as an American company and does not rely on its Japanese parent for supplies.