Japan's Sharp is seeking investment from Intel, others

The struggling Japanese LCD and TV maker is actively seeking investors to lighten its cash flow problems

Japan's Sharp is seeking an investment from U.S. chip giant Intel and other companies.

A day after Kyodo News, Japan's largest news agency, reported that Sharp is in final negotiations for Intel to invest up to US$500 million, the Japanese firm said that no final decision is in place. Kyodo News also reported that Sharp is negotiating an investment with Qualcomm, the U.S. maker of chips and components for mobile devices.

While neither company will say anything specific about any potential deals, Sharp's public stance on the issue has shifted considerably over the past two months.

After reports that Sharp was in talks with Intel surfaced in September, Sharp flatly denied them, saying "there is no truth to the reports."

But on Wednesday, a day after the Kyodo report, Sharp's tone was decidedly different.

"This is not something we have officially announced, and there has been no decision on the matter," the company said.

Intel has declined to say anything about a potential deal.

"It is pure speculation, we don't comment on rumors," said Chuck Mulloy, an Intel spokesman reached Tuesday in the U.S.

Analysts say a deal would make sense for both sides. Sharp, which is facing a major cash crunch as it undergoes a company-wide restructuring and heads for a US$5.6 billion loss this year, needs a financially sound partner, and one that could that help it secure future business for its displays. Intel is looking for a way to expand as consumers replace traditional computers and laptops with tablets and other devices.

"Intel could combine its processor technology with Sharp's LCD and display technology, which are very integrated in media tablets and tablet computers," said Hiroyuki Shimizu, a semiconductor analyst for Gartner in Japan.

Osaka-based Sharp owns cutting edge LCD technologies, including new low-power screens that can extend battery life in mobile phones and tablets without sacrificing resolution or brightness, as well as some of the largest TV panel factories in the world. The company has long been in negotiations with Foxconn parent Hon Hai Precision Industry over a large investment, but talks have stalled as Sharp's stock price plunged in recent months.

Investor applauded a possible Intel-Sharp deal on Wednesday, sending Sharp's stock up over 7 percent, double the rise of the overall Nikkei stock average. While there has been some angst in the Japanese press over a traditional Japanese manufacturing power like Sharp accepting investment from a foreign company, there is little alternative domestically.

"Japanese electronics companies are mostly in trouble financially, so Sharp has to look abroad for financial help," said Shimizu.

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