Sharp panel plant gets lifeline with big orders

Reuters News
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Posted: Aug 24, 2012 1:01 PM
Sharp panel plant gets lifeline with big orders

By Reiji Murai and Tim Kelly

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan's Sharp Corp said on Friday output at its money-losing LCD television panel plant had almost tripled to 80 percent of capacity since July, giving the company badly needed cash as it prepares for deeper cost-cutting and asset sales.

In addition to a large order from Samsung Electronics, Sharp has been helped by partner Hon Hai Precision Industry, which has garnered business from U.S. TV maker Vizio and Sony Corp, sources familiar with the matters told Reuters on condition they were not identified.

The news helped Sharp's shares gain 5.5 percent on Friday compared with a 1 percent decline for the broader market.

Sharp is confident it can maintain 80 percent output at Sakai for the remainder of the business quarter ending September 30, and expects to sustain a high usage rate until the end of the year by seeking orders from Chinese TV makers to cover for any dip in demand from Vizio or Sony, the sources said.

Terry Gou, chairman of Hon Hai, who recently bought a 46.5 percent stake in the factory, will travel to western Japan on Thursday to show off the plant to a delegation of visiting Taiwanese businessmen, politicians and bureaucrats led by former vice president Vincent Siew, Taiwan's defacto embassy in Tokyo said on Friday.

EXPECTATION

Gou's planned visit has increased expectations that Hon Hai and Sharp are close to concluding a revised agreement for the Taiwanese company to buy Sharp stock that would make it the Japanese firm's largest shareholder.

In March, Hon Hai agreed to buy a 10 percent stake in Sharp for 67 billion yen ($855 million), valuing the Japanese company's at 550 yen a share. A slump in Sharp's stock since on widening losses, much of it the result of low output at Sakai, has prompted Hon Hai to seek a more favorable deal.

Sharp, with debt of 1.25 trillion yen, needs the capital injection from Hon Hai as it looks for cash to repay as much as 350 billion yen in short-term debt and a 200 billion yen convertible bond that matures in September next year.

The Japanese company is also relying on the backing of its main banks, Mizuho Financial Group and Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group to keep it solvent.

The company will submit an asset appraisal report to the lenders next month that will identify businesses, stocks and real estate the century-old company can sell in return for funding, sources earlier told Reuters.

Among them are TV assembly plants; one in China and another in Mexico, that Sharp may sell to fellow Apple Inc supplier Hon Hai. Offloading those two overseas factories would remove 3,000 workers from Sharp's payroll in addition to 5,000 job cuts, or a tenth of its workforce, already planned by the company.

Sharp also said it may dispose of cross-holdings and accounts receivable, but has yet to give specifics on any sales.

Sharp holds around $500 million marketable securities including stakes in medical equipment maker Olympus Corp, flash memory chip maker Toshiba, audio-visual equipment maker Pioneer Corp and unlisted Eliiy Power Co, a lithium-ion battery joint venture. ($1 = 78.3800 Japanese yen)

(Editing by Edwina Gibbs)