Foxconn Technology (TPE:2354), best known as a manufacturer of Apple Inc.'s (Nasdaq:AAPL) iPhones that has been plagued by worker suicides in the past, is mulling a solar panel manufacturing operation. The company will make a decision by year-end and analysts say it might be well-timed as the volatile sector shows signs of stabilizing.
Foxconn has been testing the waters in the solar panel industry for two years, but has revealed little about its Fox Energy solar unit. It has one small solar panel factory in eastern China, but has been negotiating with the southwestern province of Guangxi about building solar power plants, according to Reuters.
"We aim to make a decision about whether or not we will enter this market by the end of this year," said Simon Hsing, a Foxconn spokesman. "We believe renewable energy is a potentially good trend. It looks like a good project. This is an industry we probably need to know more about."
While the company has not disclosed its investment in solar panels, it boasts a flushed balance sheet as of March with $22.7 billion in cash, giving Foxconn plenty of funds to invest in this new venture.
Foxconn has been looking for ways to foster its own brand name, and to cut its reliance on Apple, which accounted for an estimated 60 percent of its revenue of more than $100 billion last year. Last year, the company purchased a 10 percent stake in Sharp Corporation (TYO:6753), with an eye to make use of the Japanese company’s LCD technologies, which are the best in the world. In June, Foxconn also teamed up with Mozilla to unveil two mobile devices.
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On Tuesday, the company reported its second quarter earnings, with a net profit of $16.98 billion New Taiwan dollars ($567.15 million), up 35 percent from the same period last year, and exceeded analysts’ expectations. The same strengths that have served Foxconn well with Apple, such as assembly efficiency, cost-control expertise and an international footprint, may also help the company succeed in solar, Reuters reported.
"Based on my recent contacts with several officials at Foxconn, they are still examining the industry to see whether the market still suits them, whether the market will become big enough for them to get in," said Jason Huang, a Shanghai-based solar analyst with Taiwan-based consultancy TrendForce.
China’s solar panel industry has been suffering from overcapacity which outstripped demand. Prices have fallen by more than two-thirds in the past two years.
Foxconn currently employs 1.2 million people to mass produce electronics parts and gadgets, according to Reuters.