Apple and Sharp in talks to buy factory that produces smartphone displays

Apple and Sharp in talks to buy factory that produces smartphone displays
From time-to-time, we've passed along some news on Apple's long-time LCD supplier Japan Display. The company had the misfortune of sinking a lot of money into new factories just as Apple was making the move to OLED panels for the iPhone. Apple has helped prop up the company this year by investing a reported $100 million into a restructuring of the company and moving some of its LCD production from China to Japan Display's facilities. Japan Display has lost money for 11 straight quarters, and while it was late to start producing OLED panels, it now produces the AMOLED screens employed by the Apple Watch Series 5. Apple contributes 60% of Japan Display's annual revenue.

The Nikkei Business Daily reports today that Japan Display is talking to Apple and Sharp about selling its main smartphone display factory for as much as $820 million. Sharp is a unit of Foxconn, a contract manufacturer responsible for assembling the majority of iPhone units sold globally. Sharp also sells displays to Apple and said that it was talking to Japan Display about purchasing the factory after an unnamed client requested that it do so. In a statement it released, Sharp said, "We are carefully considering it, reviewing the impact that any purchase would have on our earnings, and whether and how much risk it would entail." Besides Foxconn, the report suggests that Wistron could be included in the purchase of the factory. Wistron is another company used by Apple to manufacture its products including the iPhone.

The factory that could be sold has been idle since July

The factory, located in Hakusan City, Ishikawa prefecture in western Japan, cost $1.5 billion to build back in 2015, and Apple fronted that money to Japan Display. As part of the deal with the display manufacturer, Apple was to be reimbursed by taking a cut of each LCD panel display sold. But with smartphone manufacturers turning to AMOLED, the plant was running at only 50% capacity. As a result, Japan Display still owes Apple more than $800 million.

Another report says that Sharp will actually purchase the LCD production facilities by next March and will reach a separate agreement with Apple after the deal is closed. The factory has been shut since this past July. Japan Display released a statement today saying that it is looking at all options but isn't sure what it will do about the factory. The company adds that nothing has been decided and when it does make a decision, it will notify the press. Earlier this month, the company said that it was looking to receive $200 million from a customer, believed to be Apple, for equipment from the plant. But now it appears that Japan Display is taking a different path.

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Shares in Japan Display soared as much as 8.2% in Tokyo although they are currently up just 1.36% in the U.S. The company is now valued at the equivalent of $612.3 million USD. The company is expected to receive some funding from Ichigo Asset Management. The amount of this cash injection works out to $822.5 million and will give the asset management firm control of Japan Display. The latter was formed in 2011 when Innovation Network Corporation of Japan (INCJ) brought under one roof the display businesses of Sony, Toshiba, and Hitachi.

Last year, the panel manufacturer lost $2.3 billion following a $260 million loss in 2017. The firm is one of three companies supplying Apple with the Liquid Retina Display for the iPhone 11 along with LG Display and Sharp. According to reliable TF International analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, Apple could release four new models next year. Forgetting the difference between 4G and 5G models, only one of the four will use an LCD display and that is expected to be the 4.7-inch iPhone 9.

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