Apple(AAPL) - Get Reportsupplier Foxconn looks set to not only challenge one of its regional rivals but also reduce its reliance on the world's biggest tech firm with a bold move that could change the face of global consumer electronics production.
Foxconn, also known as Hon Hai Precision Industry (HNHPF) and the parent of Japan's Sharp (SHCAY) , has reportedly told Samsung Electronics (SSNLF) that one of its affiliates will no longer supply it with LCD TV panels starting next year.
Foxconn seems prepared to sacrifice half of Sharp's annual sales volume -- Sakai Display Products ships 5 million of its annual 10 million panels to Samsung -- in order to make Samsung look elsewhere for what accounted for about 10% of its overall annual purchases, according to the South Korean daily The Chosun Ilbo.
The strategy, however, could allow Foxconn to both revive its newly acquired Sharp business and expand its growing presence in end-products.
Japan's Nikkei business newspaper has said Hon Hai is considering a new plant in China, backed by Foxconn's finances and Sharp's technical expertise, that would manufacture large LCD TV panels, which could be launched as early as 2019.
It wouldn't be the first time that debt-ridden Sharp, which Foxconn rescued in August with a cut-price 66% stake that cost ¥388 billion ($3.4 billion), has attempted to restart its TV business, having only recently said it could boost its investment in Slovakia-based Universal Media in a bid to expand its presence in Europe.
Sharp was the fourth-biggest LCD TV maker in 2008. It has consistently lost market share every year since, according to Statista, while Samsung has dominated the $100 billion annual market. Sharp's finances haven't fared much better: it booked net losses in four out of the last five years -- the latest amounting to a loss of ¥256 billion -- and remains stuck in the red as of Sept. 30.
For Foxconn, the move might also be aimed at diversifying its business, which is heavily reliant on Apple. Foxconn didn't name the Cupertino, Calif.-based group by name in its April report, but there was little secret behind the company responsible for 54.81% of its net sales in the company's fiscal first quarter.
Regardless of the motive, however, the moves certainly have Samsung's attention. The Chosun Ilbo says it might even be willing to make an unprecedented approach to its arch-rival, LG Display(LPL) - Get Report , to source new panels. They also come at an awkward time for South Korea's biggest company, which is under pressure to boost shareholder returns and clean up its corporate structure after the global embarrassment of its flagship Galaxy Note 7 failure.
(Apple is held in Jim Cramer's charitable trust Action Alerts PLUS. See all of his holdings here.)