Foxconn, the world's largest contract manufacturer and maker of some of the most recognizable consumer electronics in the world, has tabled a bid of over $5 billion for Sharp, the struggling Japanese company which supplied screens for Apple's iPhones.
The news of Foxconn's bid was reported separately by Bloomberg and the Wall Street Journal, with the bid figure differing slightly from 600 billion yen ($5.1 billion) reported by Bloomberg and 625 billion yen ($5.3 billion) reported by the Wall Street Journal. Both outlets report that Foxconn will face a competing bid from Innovation Network Corp. of Japan (INCJ), a government-backed entity which is seeking to protect Japanese technology and prevent it falling into the hands of foreign investors.
INCJ currently owns a controlling stake in Japan Display, a joint venture formed in 2012 from the display divisions of Hitachi, Sony and Toshiba.
While INCJ's bid of 300 billion yen ($2.5 billion) pales in comparison to the money being offered by Foxconn, sources speaking to both Bloomberg and the Wall Street Journal suggest that Sharp's board of directors is leaning towards the INCJ bid as this would allow Sharp's next generation display technology to remain within Japan and allow the company to work more closely with other Japanese companies.
“Japan’s technology is leading the rest of the world and we would like to help make it even more competitive,” industry minister Motoo Hayashi said this week. Sharp, which has booked almost $10 billion in losses over the last four years, has racked up a huge amount of debt (791.8 billion yen, or $6.7 billion, according to Bloomberg's figures) in order to prop up its struggling display and TVs divisions which have come under pressure from rivals in South Korea and China.
Sharp's stock price has plummeted in recent years, dropping over 50 percent in 2015 following a 20 percent drop in 2014. While its shares rallied some 6 percent on news of the bids Thursday, the company's value remains well below the level of the bids it was received, at 218 billion yen ($1.8 billion).
Sharp currently supplies LCD panels for Apple's iPhones but that business could be coming to an end as multiple reports suggest that Apple is looking to move to using organic light emitting diode (OLED) display technology from companies like LG, Samsung and Japan Display by 2018.
Foxconn would seek to boost its offering to customers like Apple, Amazon and Xiaomi by purchasing Sharp, providing an all-in-one solution which would likely drive the overall cost of production down. Foxconn could also potentially use the Sharp brand to produce its own products in coming years.
In a bid to persuade Sharp's shareholders to accept its bid, Foxconn is understood to be willing to take on all of Sharp's debt and would not seek to replace any of the company's top management in a bid to assuage any fears that it would gut the company and move it out of Japan.