Sharp, once the leading maker of LCD displays, is quietly but surely reshaping its business under the control of Hon Hai Precision Industry (HNHPF) , better known as Foxconn Technology (FXCOF) , to which it sold a majority stake a little over a month ago. Its recent announcements to bolster its R&D efforts and re-enter the European TV business may indicate how serious it is about claiming back its brand value.
Over the past month, the Osaka, Japan-based consumer electronics maker has made a string of announcements that suggest it is serious about rebuilding a once invincible brand that quickly crumbled due to a series of misjudgments. The message that comes through from those announcements is that the company is not shrinking away from its signature businesses, but taking back control of them.
On Wednesday, shares jumped 6.3% after Sharp president Jeng-wu Tai told employees that he aims to take the company back into the black in the second half of the fiscal year ending March 31, 2017. Tai, who is also the president of Foxconn, took over the helm at Sharp just after Taiwanese firm completed its purchase of a 66% stake in Sharp on August 12.
Sharp, which was founded in 1912 and grew to become a global leader in LCD panels, has booked net losses in four out of the last five years-the latest amounting to a loss of ¥256 billion ($2.5 billion). It also booked a loss in the latest quarter through June 30. The company has struggled to turn itself around after heavy investments in LCD panel manufacturing plants in the early 2000s backfired when global demand for them slumped following the 2008 financial crisis.
The New Taipei City, Taiwan-based Foxconn, whose customers include Apple(AAPL) - Get Report , officially emerged as its rescuer in February 2016. It completed the acquisition in August after a period of price negotiations.
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On the same day Tai made his pledge, Sharp also made two announcements that indicated the company was keen to take back control - something that it lost during the course of its hasty restructuring efforts in recent years.
First, Sharp said it would this month buy back one of the two buildings it had only sold off in March 2016 as part of its restructuring plan. The Tanabe Building, which the firm has reached an agreement to buy back, is at the heart of Osaka and along with its former headquarter, also sold off, represents its R&D origins. Since the sale of these two buildings, Sharp moved its head office to Sakai, which is outside of the city center.
Tai had expressed his keenness to buy back the property even before Foxconn's acquisition of Sharp was finalized. The significance of the purchase is that Tanabe building will be used for R&D as well as developing new businesses. This comes in addition to another announcement this month that Sharp would actively use the intellectual properties and expertise accumulated at a Foxconn subsidiary. Both may indicate that the company is serious about getting back in the game of innovation.
The second announcement may be even more indicative of where Sharp's aspiration now lies. In this announcement, Sharp said it had reached a basic agreement with Slovakia-based Universal Media Corp. to strengthen its existing business alliance in a bid to expand its European TV business. Sharp added it could make some investments in the business, effectively expressing a re-entry into the market.
Last year, Sharp had licensed its brand to UMC, delegating all the European production and distribution of its LCD TVs, which included the Aquos brand, and withdrawing from those activities in business in Europe.
Sharp made similar move last year in the U.S., where it licensed its LCD TV brand to China's Hisense Group. Hisense also wholly acquired Sharp's production subsidiary in Mexico. Sharp admitted then that it had "not been able to fully adapt to the intensifying market competition."
Sharp, which was the fourth-biggest LCD TV maker in 2008, following Samsung Electronics, Sony(SNE) - Get Report , and LG Electronics, with a 9% market share, tumbled to No. 10 in 2013 with a 3.8% market share, according to Statista. It has since disappeared from the list.
In the last five years, Sharp has cut the number of employees by 13,000, and reduced its interest-bearing debt to ¥731 billion from ¥1.1 trillion.
In February 2016, Foxconn said it would acquire two-thirds of Sharp for ¥488 billion. A month later, however, the company reduced the offer by ¥100 billion after due diligence raised concerns about Sharp's corporate value and potential risks to its business.
Still, Foxconn beat out a rival ¥300 billion offer from Innovation Network Corporation of Japan. The public-private backed fund, known as INCJ, wanted to break up Sharp and add its flat panel business into Japan Display.
Sharp could not be reached for comments as the business was closed for a national holiday.
Foxconn did not expand from the official announcements.