Samsung Electronics Co. and LG Display, the world's top two flat-screen makers, expect the depressed LCD market to start rebounding as demand rises in China and new TV models are rolled out.
Global LCD makers are hoping China, widely expected to become the world's biggest TV market this year, pulls the sagging flat-screen industry out of a year-long downcycle when oversupply pushed prices lower.
European demand is faltering due to the region's debt crisis and U.S. consumers are showing little sign of significantly boosting their spending on big ticket items.
We see the LCD market tightening and swinging back to a short supply condition in the second half, Kevin Choi, head of TV sales and marketing at the world's No.2 flat-screen maker LG Display, said in an interview in the Reuters Technology Summit in Seoul on Wednesday.
Prices (of television panels) have just started rising and will continue to rise steadily toward the second half as the worldwide panel inventory has now returned to historically normal levels and TV demand tends to pick up in the fourth quarter, Choi said.
After falling by one third over the past one year, TV panel prices are finally showing signs of bottoming out. Prices of 40-42 inch panels have edged up 1 percent since late April, industry data shows.
We are not so pessimistic about the TV market, Jeff Kang, an analyst at Daishin Securities in Seoul, said. TV makers keep updating their 3D and LED-backlit LCD set line-ups and they are now quite likely to trigger strong consumer demand and drive the market into a shortage in the second half, he said.
Prices have already turned positive and could rise by some 5-10 percent in the second half.
In interviews with Reuters this week, Choi of LG Display and the head of Samsung's LCD business sounded upbeat on the outlook for an industry that posted widespread losses in the first quarter.
Both companies control around one quarter of the flat panel market, although Samsung has a marginal advantage in revenue terms.
There'll be no more fall in selling prices and earnings will improve as capacity run rates are rising, costs are falling and demand is showing improvement, Chang Wonkie, president of Samsung's LCD division told Reuters on Monday.
The global LCD TV market grew by almost a third in 2010 to 192 million units. Prices for flat panels fell though owing to sharply weaker than expected TV sales in the second half of the year.
Growth this year is expected to more than halve to 13 percent to 217 million units due to weak growth in the United States and Europe, research firm DisplaySearch forecasts.
And analysts said that the industry is not turning quickly enough to boost revenues this year. They predict that global dollar revenues from LCD TV sales will fall between 3 percent and 4 percent in 2011.
In Japan, beset by weak consumer spending even before the devastating earthquake and tsunami in March, demand is expected to shrink by 43 percent, DisplaySearch says.
By comparison, China is set to overtake North America as the world's biggest LCD TV market with demand growth of nearly 20 percent this year.
That will give it a 21 percent share of the global market, up from 13 percent in 2008.
Chang said TV sales in China rose 15 percent to 2.6 million units in the two weeks through China's Labour Day holiday in early May.
The outlook is a welcome reprieve for the industry. Most producers, from Samsung to LG and to Taiwan's Chimei Innolux, reported losses in the January-to-March quarter as flat-panel prices continued to fall.
LG, whose first-quarter operating loss was 239 billion won ($219.6 million), is expected to swing to a profit of 196 billion won in the April-to-June quarter, Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S consensus estimates show.
Samsung's LCD division, which includes results from lucrative OLED display business, reported an operating loss of 230 billion won in the first quarter of 2011.
Chang though signaled results would improve this quarter as the market tightens and prices rise, which he said was prompting the division to boost its production rate to a range of 90 percent to 95 percent of capacity this quarter from 85 percent to 90 percent last quarter.
Investors have started taking note of the improved outlook for earnings.
Shares in LG Display, which counts LG Electronics and Philips AG as its major TV screen clients, have risen 7 percent in the past one month.
Stock in the more diversified Samsung, where the LCD division generates 14 percent of group revenues, has risen 1 percent, outperforming a 2 percent drop in the wider market.
THE FUTURE IS 3D
Flat-screen makers are betting on new technologies, such as 3D TVs, to fuel LCD demand.
Shipments of 3D panels from LG, which is promoting a new technology for the format, are running above the company's expectations and had lifted its average selling prices, Choi said.
LG had said shipments of 3D panels had already exceeded its guidance of 15 percent of the total TV panel shipments for the second quarter.
LG introduced passive film patterned retarder (FPR) technology this year to challenge the industry standard of shutter-glass (SG) technology, which Samsung dominates.
FPR is touted as more consumer friendly because it allows TV viewers to use much lighter and cheaper glasses to see the 3D effect.
But LG has yet to win over major TV makers, such as Sony, in its ambitious bid to supply 70 percent of global 3D TVs this year in a market that was almost non-existent last year.
Many TV makers produce 3D TVs using SG technology, which targets high-end users and claims better picture quality and deeper 3D images. However, the eyewear is heavier and more expensive when compared with glasses used for the FPR format because they require batteries and computer chips to work.
The global 3D TV market is seen growing more than five fold this year to 23 million units, accounting for 11 percent of flat-screen TV sales, research firm IHS iSuppli says. ($1=1088.5 Korean Won)
(Editing by Anshuman Daga)