Tuesday, December 25, 2007

3 big electronics makers in flat-screen TV deal

Matsushita, Hitachi and Canon announced Tuesday a tie-up in their liquid crystal display businesses, the latest collaboration in the increasingly competitive flat-panel industry.

Their collaboration creates a third major force in the flat-panel industry in Japan along with the Sony's alliance with South Korea's Samsung Electronics and the Sharp and Toshiba team, which was announced last week.

"Under this alliance, the three companies will merge their strengths to accelerate the development of cutting-edge display technologies and expand their scope of application," the three companies said in a joint statement, announcing their alliance plans.

The alliance is expected to help Hitachi (HIT) restructure its sprawling portfolio of subsidiary companies and enable Matsushita (MC) and Canon (CAJ) to raise their profile in the LCD sector.

"Close cooperation among the three companies will enable stable supply of LCD panels," said Hitachi Ltd. President Kazuo Furukawa. "I am certain that the alliance will enhance our competitiveness."

Hitachi will reduce its interest in wholly owned subsidiary Hitachi Displays Ltd. to slightly more than 50 percent. The unit has been posting losses.

The remaining shares will be divided equally between Matsushita and Canon by March 31, 2008, the statement said. Canon may eventually take over a majority stake in Hitachi Displays, it said.

Hitachi Displays makes small and mid-sized LCD panels and the tie-up will allow Canon to procure a steady supply of monitors for digital cameras.

Canon Inc. also plans to further promote development of organic light-emitting diode panels, or OLEDs, with Hitachi, the statement said.

Matsushita said it will increase its involvement in IPS Alpha Technology, a joint venture between the three companies and Toshiba.

Toshiba, which on Friday signed an agreement to buy large quantities of LCD panels from Sharp, is to sell its stake to Matsushita Electric Industrial Co.

Matsushita plans a next-generation plant at IPS Alpha to ensure a stable supply of LCDs and may use the new plant as a possible future base for production of OLED displays, according to the statement.

"I think the three companies have considerable potential in the OLED business," said Hideki Watanabe, an analyst with Shinko Securities. "They have the basic technology."

However, he questioned Matsushita's plan to get involved in large-size displays, saying the company is behind competitors such as Sharp.

Matsushita also said it will expand and strengthen its mainline plasma display panels operations.

Next-generation technologies like OLED panels, which use light-emitting diodes based on electroluminescent organic materials, could help manufacturers boost both prices and sales, analysts say.

OLEDs are generally still considered too expensive for commercial products, and opinion is divided in the industry on which panel technology, if any, will become the standard for thin TVs. Sony is the only electronics maker that has a small TV on sale with an OLED screen.

Hitachi shares added 3.85 percent to 836 yen (US$7.33) after the announcement, while Matsushita stock rose 1.08 percent to 2,325 yen (US$20.38). Canon finished unchanged at 5,240 yen (US$45.94).

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