High-level executives from Japan's Sharp Corp. traveled to South Korea last week to visit LG.Philips LCD Co. Ltd., as Philips seeks a buyer for its 32.9 percent stake in the Korean LCD firm, Taiwan media reported on Friday.
Philips wants to sell its stake in LG.Philips, the world's biggest maker of large liquid crystal displays (LCDs) used in TVs and PC monitors, but no specific names of interested buyers have emerged, according to previous reports.
Philips in Amsterdam reiterated that it regarded its stake as a non-core financial investment which will be sold over time, but that it had agreed with LG to keep at least 30 percent of LPL until three years after the company went public, which means until mid-July 2007.
We haven't specified in which manner we would sell the stake, but it will be in the interest of our shareholders, said Philips spokesman Jayson Otke, who declined to comment on Sharp.
The high-level delegation of officials from Sharp went to South Korea for three or four days last week, visiting a number of LCD components suppliers and LG.Philips, a joint venture between Philips and LG Electronics, the Commercial Times reported, without citing sources.
Sharp spokesman Hiroshi Takenami in Tokyo said Sharp officials periodically visit its clients but said the report was untrue and was based on speculation.
Spokesmen for LG Electronics and LG.Philips LCD said they had no knowledge of any interest by Sharp in LG.Philips LCD, and that Philips had not notified them of any progress in the possible stake sale.
Shares in LG.Philips fell 4.61 percent to end at 32,100 won, against the broader market's <.KS11> 1.35 percent fall, hit by worries of worse-than-expected third-quarter results and renewed concerns that Philips was looking to sell its stake.
Sharp's shares fell 0.5 percent to 2,070 yen, slightly outperforming the broader Tokyo market.
Masaki Iso, chief investment officer at Yasuda Asset Management, said it would not be a surprise if Sharp decided to buy a stake in LG.Philips to help it boost its share of the LCD market and possibly use the firm's sales channels.
Even though Sharp specializes in high-end liquid crystal displays, it doesn't have a dominant market share, Iso said.
LG.Philips is the world's largest maker of the large LCD panels used in flat-screen TVs and PC monitors. But it has struggled in recent months amid a panel glut that has resulted in falling prices.
The company reported a record quarterly loss in the second quarter amid crumbling panel prices, and analysts said they do not expect a turnaround before the end of the year.
Sharp, a global leader in the LCD television market, has fared better, posting a 14 percent gain in profit for the April-June quarter as flat TV sales soared 50 percent.
Earlier this week, Sharp said it would likely need to consider bringing forward planned expansion of capacity at its latest LCD panel plant in Kameyama, western Japan.
The Japanese company started production at the advanced LCD panel factory in August, two months ahead of schedule, helping it better compete with rivals including Philips, Sony Corp. and Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd.
Philips stake in LG.Philips LCD is valued at about $4 billion. Partner LG Electronics Inc. owns a 37.9 percent stake.
Previously, Japan's Matsushita Electronics Industrial Co., maker of the Panasonic brand, was tipped by analysts and industry watchers as a potential buyer of the Philips stake.
(Additional reporting by Kim Yeon-hee and So Eui Rhee in Seoul, Aiko Hayashi in Tokyo and Lucas van Grinsven in Amsterdam)