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Old 04-13-2010   #1
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Post LCD TV Makers Ramp Up as Demand Returns

From The Wall Street Journal - April 13, 2010

Sharp, Panasonic boost output as demand rises; new 3-D sets target mature markets


TOKYO—Signaling a recovery in flat-screen demand, Sharp Corp. said Monday it will "significantly" ramp up output of liquid-crystal-display televisions this fiscal year, as well as launching its 3-D television.

Meanwhile, rival Panasonic Corp. said it was pushing forward the start of a new LCD panel factory in western Japan by three months.

Visitors use 3-D glasses to watch images on Sharp's LCD panels at a media preview Monday in Tokyo.

The developments are among the latest indications that strong TV sales—particularly in China and other emerging markets—are encouraging electronics makers to boost output plans, having scaled back production during the global financial crisis that began in 2008.

The introduction of new 3-D televisions is also aimed at capitalizing on the pickup in demand in markets such as the U.S. and Japan, where profits have been sapped by price declines.

Sharp, Japan's top LCD television maker, produced more than 10 million LCD TV sets in the fiscal year that ended last month. This year's output will be "significantly higher," said Executive Vice President Masafumi Matsumoto at a press conference.

Panasonic said it started Monday producing LCD panels using bigger sheets of glass at its new plant in Himeji, Hyogo Prefecture. It chose not to wait until July to start producing the panels, which result in cost savings when used in larger screens.

Sharp said it will begin sales before this summer of LCD TVs that can show 3-D images. While the exact launch date hasn't been decided, a spokesman said the company will begin selling the models in time for the Japanese corporate summer-bonus season, which usually starts in June.

In more mature markets such as the U.S., Europe and Japan, TV makers see 3-D as a way to breathe new life into the high-end TV market, and to prevent discount brands from continuing to eat away at market share.

Sharp's announcement of its 3-D TV release plan lags behind those of its rivals. Samsung Electronics Co. of South Korea and Panasonic have already released their 3-D TVs in the U.S. Sony Corp. plans to launch its 3-D Bravia models in June.

Sharp hasn't been as aggressive in targeting the 3-D market for large televisions as have its domestic rivals or as the Korean brands, saying it wanted to differentiate its products. Sharp says its new 3-D televisions will be brighter than those of the competition, while reducing the amount of "crosstalk," or blurriness, that sometimes occurs in 3-D models.

Sharp expects 5% to 10% of its TV sales to come from 3-D models in the fiscal year through March 2011, and about 20% to 30% in the following fiscal year, Mr. Matsumoto said.

U.S. market research firm iSuppli forecasts that global LCD TV shipments will grow 20% this year to about 169 million units, with shipment value rising 26% to about $118.72 billion.

Strong demand for TVs is driving up LCD panel prices, encouraging suppliers like Sharp to produce more. Sharp is considering bringing its large LCD panel plant in Sakai, Osaka Prefecture, to full-capacity operation earlier than October as initially planned.

Sharp not only makes TVs under its own brand, but also supplies panels to other makers.

—Daisuke Wakabayashi contributed to this article.

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