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Sharp Wants to Diversify Panel Business as TV Sales Stagnate

Sharp Corp., Japan’s largest maker of liquid-crystal-display panels, wants to sell more screens to the medical and automobile industries after forecasting that demand for TV sets will be stagnant this year.

The company plans to speed up introduction of products using its own technology, Takashi Okuda, who will become president of the Osaka-based company on April 1, told reporters in Tokyo today. Sharp is making final adjustments to its Igzo displays, which are small- and medium-size high-performance panels using oxide semiconductors, he said.

Sharp, Sony Corp. and Panasonic Corp. forecast a combined $16 billion in losses for the year ending March 31, citing falling TV prices and a strong yen that erodes earnings from overseas sales. Demand for TVs won’t rise in the fiscal year starting April 1, Okuda said.

“There are many areas we haven’t cultivated, like autos, medical, education and robotics,” Okuda said. “We want to create new demand in those categories.”

Sharp expects a 290 billion-yen ($3.5 billion) net loss this fiscal year, it said Feb. 1, reversing an earlier prediction for a 6 billion-yen profit. The company wants to unveil a business plan by the time it announces full-year earnings, Okuda said at a press conference in Osaka last week. That announcement typically comes in April.

Igzo Manufacturing

The company, founded in 1912, plans to halve output at its largest TV panel factory in Sakai, Japan, it said Feb. 1.

The maker of Aquos TVs is trying to increase production of Igzo panels yet “is experiencing manufacturing problems,” according to IHS Inc. That could affect the availability and cost of displays for Apple Inc.’s new iPad, which went on sale last week, Englewood, Colorado-based IHS said March 14.

“Sharp is still on the knife’s edge, even with a new president,” said Mitsuo Shimizu, a Tokyo-based analyst at Cosmo Securities Co. “Competition is intensifying in the areas Sharp wants to expand.”

Sharp has been left behind in a rally of Asian consumer-electronics stocks, with its shares touching a three-decade low as reliance on the saturated market for LCD TVs sapped earnings. Global LCD TV shipments are projected to increase 8 percent this year to 216.5 million, according to a March 9 report from TrendForce.

“Demand for televisions will probably be flat” in the coming fiscal year, Okuda said. “Japan won’t be good, and sales growth in China will be slowed.”

Credit-Default Swaps

Sharp has declined 25 percent in Tokyo trading this year, while Sony, Panasonic and South Korea’s Samsung Electronics Co. and LG Electronics Inc. have each gained at least 19 percent.

Rating & Investment Information Inc. cut Sharp’s credit rating by two levels to A-, the fourth-lowest investment grade, from A+ because “it will likely take time for the company to improve earnings capacity,” the Tokyo-based ratings company said March 8.

Between the downgrade and March 16, five-year credit-default swaps on Sharp rose 40 basis points to 249 basis points, the highest level since March 2009, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Contracts tied to Samsung have fallen 11 to 94. The 155 basis-point gap is the widest in data going back to 2004.

Okuda, 58, now an executive officer, will replace President Mikio Katayama effective April 1, Sharp said March 14. Katayama, 54, will become chairman and Katsuhiko Machida, who holds that post now, will be an adviser.

Okuda heads Sharp’s overseas business and previously oversaw the LCD-TV business, according to the company’s website. He joined Sharp in 1978, according to a company statement.

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