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LCD panels suffer price slips amid soft TV sales

OLED displays sharpen competition, but shift toward larger screens may help

Sony displays a Bravia OLED television at the CES electronics show Jan. 8 in Las Vegas.   © AP

TOKYO -- Declining television sales in the U.S. and China have dimmed prices for liquid crystal display panels.

The bulk order price for the benchmark 32-inch open-cell panels -- semifinished products without backlights -- came to around $65 apiece in January, down 2% on the month. Prices slid 3-5% for screens of 40 inches to 49 inches, while 55-inch panels stayed flat around $176.

LCD prices generally dropped last year, yet some remained above the levels seen before a surge in late 2016.

Potential TV buyers stayed away amid little decline in sticker prices. Shipments worldwide decreased 2.6% to 217 million units, U.K. research firm IHS Markit says. The drop in China was particularly steep at around 10%, partly due to the end of discount television sales offered as part of subscription bundles by LeTV, the leading video streaming website. American sales fell 3%.

Competition with organic light-emitting diode screens also has hurt LCD panels. Production of OLED televisions by Sony and Panasonic dented market share for Samsung Electronics -- which still largely uses LCD screens -- depressing demand for liquid crystal display panels.

But the falling panel prices have encouraged TV manufacturers to place more orders, slowing the decline since the end of last year. The World Cup soccer tournament in Russia starting this June also should spur fans to buy new sets.

Consumer appetite for even larger panels is growing as well.

"Bigger screens are becoming more popular in China, and this trend lets us show our strengths," Katsuaki Nomura, an executive vice president of Sharp, told reporters Jan. 31.

With the shift to larger screens, panel suppliers have generally neglected to strengthen production capacities for displays of 32 to 50 inches, which could spark a shortage for these sizes, IHS senior director David Hsieh said.

But BOE Technology Group looks to open a cutting-edge factory for 10.5-generation LCD screens in the second half of this year. The price for 65-inch panels then could fall from around $315 apiece at present to "the $280 level," said Yoshio Tamura, president of Asian operations for U.S.-based Display Supply Chain Consultants.

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