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Taiwanese suitor, Japanese maiden begin horse trading

OSAKA -- Japan's Sharp and Taiwan's Hon Hai Precision Industry are down to horse trading.

Workers are seen at Sharp's Tochigi plant in Yaita, Tochigi Prefecture, where LCD TVs are produced.

     Just how much of Sharp does Hon Hai, also known as Foxconn, want to buy? And how much control does Sharp want to relinquish?

     Sharp has been teetering on bankruptcy for years now due to the cutthroat competition in the LCD panel industry. Not many years ago, the company was celebrated for its flat-panel TVs, but it now finds itself in a financial sinkhole.

     Sharp is to begin studying the details of the deal proposed by its Taiwanese suitor, the world's largest contract manufacturer of electronic components.

     The two companies seek to reach an agreement by the end of February. Or so they say. Currently, they appear to be jockeying for position -- and their ulterior motives are becoming clear.

     Sharp President Kozo Takahashi said his company's structural reforms are "progressing steadily." Only the LCD division continues to lose money, he said. Sharp's other businesses are all profitable despite the limited resources being invested in them, according to Takahashi.

     Sharp's president made the remarks on Thursday during a Tokyo press conference held to announce the company's financial results for the first nine months of fiscal 2015.

     However bright a picture Takahashi paints, however, Sharp remains in a precarious financial position.

     The company posted an operating loss of 29 billion yen ($245 million) on a consolidated basis for the April-December period. It is now unlikely that the company will achieve its target of a 10 billion-yen full-year operating profit.

     Sharp has also been in negotiations for a possible bailout from the Innovation Network Corporation of Japan, a government-backed investment fund. But Foxconn is said to have offered 700 billion yen, a sum much larger than what the innovation network's bailout would entail.

     Foxconn now has the upper hand. When Chairman Terry Gou met with Takahashi on Friday, he stressed that his company would help turn around Sharp's flagship but money-losing LCD business.

     Sharp's LCD business incurred an operating loss of 37.2 billion yen in the first nine months of the current fiscal year. With Foxconn's financial support, Sharp would be able to invest more in its LCD business, perhaps enough to make it viable.

     But it has become clear that Sharp's and Foxconn's goals differ.

     Gou indicated to reporters on Friday night that Foxconn would spin off Sharp's slumping solar panel business and not necessarily guarantee the jobs of Sharp workers who are 40 or older.

     He had earlier said Foxconn would allow Sharp to continue to operate as a separate entity and make its own workforce decisions.

     After meeting with Takahashi on Friday, Gou said Foxconn had gained right of first refusal to negotiate for Sharp. That night, however, Sharp issued a statement denying it had granted such rights to the Taiwanese company.

(Nikkei)

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