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Sharp to tap Samsung, banks for survival after $5.4 billion loss

A sign hangs in the Sharp booth on the first day of the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas January 8, 2013. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
A sign hangs in the Sharp booth on the first day of the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas January 8, 2013. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

By Reiji Murai and Tim Kelly

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japanese display maker Sharp Corp, a supplier to Apple Inc, will aim to boost sales to the iPhone maker's rival Samsung Electronics Co under a three-year rehabilitation roadmap after posting a worse-than-expected $5.4 billion net loss in the last financial year.

The business plan, released on Tuesday, will also lean on banks for another 150 billion yen ($1.5 billion ) in funds after they saved it last year from failure, with a 200 billion yen convertible bond falling due in September.

"For Sharp, the way forward is to forge various alliances to generate new opportunities," said Kozo Takahashi, who was named president on Tuesday after his predecessor held the post for barely a year.

Takahashi said Sharp, which took big writeoffs last year after a focus on making screens for its own struggling TV business left it with excess capacity, will double to two-thirds the portion of panels produced for customers such as Samsung and Apple.

He added that Sharp would look at expanding cooperation with Samsung in technology for small screens used in smartphones and other mobile devices.

Sharp forecast an 80 billion yen operating profit for the year to next March 31, exceeding the 52.9 billion yen average estimate of 13 analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S. That follows a 146.27 billion yen operating loss in the business year just ended and a 545.35 billion yen net loss.

It will target an annual operating profit of 150 billion yen by the year to March 2016, in line with the 100 billion to 200 billion yen results during the five years to March 2008, before its TV and display businesses were hit by overcapacity, a strong yen and competition from Korean and Taiwanese rivals.

Sharp was rescued last October by 360 billion yen in emergency loans from Mizuho Financial Group, Mitsubishi Financial Group and other lenders. In return, it had to mortgage offices and factories in Japan, including one that makes screens for Apple's iPad and its latest iPhone.

The company also agreed to trim its workforce by 10,000 and seek buyers for overseas assets, including TV assembly plants in China, Malaysia and Mexico.

Sharp said on Tuesday that Mizuho and Mitsubishi UFJ would each nominate an executive to serve on its board and in its senior management.

SOFTENING GROWTH

A key challenge for Sharp's recovery, however, is keeping its factories busy enough to earn profits that will satisfy its creditors despite slowing growth in its business making screens for Apple's iPads and iPhones.

Analysts project annual profit growth at Apple to average less than 5 percent over the next decade, compared with an average of 60 percent over the past five years.

In January, Sharp had to curtail production of 9.7-inch iPad screens, hurting output levels and threatening its recovery in profitability. The Japanese company is preparing to begin large-scale production next month of screens for Apple's next iPhone model, sources familiar with the matter said.

In a March agreement with Samsung Electronics that provided cash-strapped Sharp 10.4 billion yen in capital in return for a 3 percent stake, Japan's leading liquid crystal display fabricator also promised to supply small display screens to the world's biggest maker of mobile phones.

Takahashi said orders from Samsung helped to maintain capacity rates at one of its small-screen plants which, according to industry sources, also produces iPad screens.

He also saw complementary areas in technology, where Samsung has been at the cutting edge of ultra-thin organic light-emitting diode (OLED) screens while Sharp is strong on power-saving IGZO technology.

"Samsung has OLED and we have IGZO and we are mulling cooperation there, although nothing concrete is yet on the table," he said.

Sharp's shares have staged a turnaround since sinking to their lowest in more than three decades last October while it struggled with debt and sought a bailout.

Since mid-November, its share price has more than tripled, compared with a 70 percent rise in Japan's benchmark Nikkei average. On Tuesday, prior to the earnings announcement, Sharp climbed 4.9 percent to 531 yen, its highest close in more than a year.

But the company has a long way to recover, with its shareholders' equity ratio whittled down to 6 percent at the end of March from 9.6 percent at end-December and 23.9 percent at the end of March last year.

Tetsuo Onishi, representative director in charge of finance, told reporters that the company's three-year plan aimed to get the ratio back to the 15 to 20 percent range, which it would need to recapture the investment-grade credit rating it lost as its financial situation deteriorated.

($1 = 101.7800 Japanese yen)

(Editing by Edmund Klamann)

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