Foxconn to buy Japan’s Sharp Corp. for $3.5B

Final agreement to be signed Apr. 2.

TAIPEI, Taiwan — The Taiwanese company that assembles Apple’s iPhones has agreed to buy control of financially struggling Sharp Corp. for $3.5 billion in the first foreign takeover of a major Japanese electronics producer.

The acquisition by Foxconn unites Sharp, a pioneering electronics brand founded in 1912, with a company six decades younger that is little known to consumers but has grown rapidly as a contract manufacturer for global brands.

The commitment by Foxconn, also known as Hon Hai Precision Industry Co., to buy 66% of Osaka-based Sharp followed weeks of uncertainty over what the Japanese company said was a deal at a higher price.

“I am thrilled by the prospects for this strategic alliance and I look forward to working with everyone at Sharp,” said Foxconn founder Terry Gou in a statement. “We have much that we want to achieve and I am confident that we will unlock Sharp’s true potential and together reach great heights.”

The price of $3.5 billion was a reduction of about 20%, from the $4.4 billion Sharp said Foxconn had agreed to pay on Feb. 25. The Taiwanese company said at that time it wasn’t ready to sign a deal.

The companies gave no reason for the change but news reports suggested Foxconn was concerned about taking on additional liabilities it learned about late in negotiations.

Speaking to reporters at the Taipei stock exchange, a Foxconn board member, Tai Jeng-wu, was asked what the company’s strategy was for reversing Sharp’s losses. He said plans called for the Japanese company to “upgrade its technology” but gave no details.

Foxconn said a final agreement is due to be signed Apr. 2.

Foxconn, founded by Gou in 1974, is the biggest competitor in the global manufacturing outsourcing industry. It assembles smartphones and other devices for Apple, Sony, Blackberry and other brands. Most of its operations are in mainland China, where its vast factories employ more than 1 million people.

Foxconn earned $4.2 billion in profit for 2014, the last year for which it has reported results.

Sharp, which started out making mechanical pencils, is a pioneer in hand-held and flat-screen electronic devices. It was known for its Aquos flat-panel TVs and Internet-connecting cellphones long before the arrival of iPhones in Japan. But its finances deteriorated as competition from Asian rivals drove down prices of LCD panels.

Sharp suffered a $964 million loss over the nine months through December. Analysts say its future is uncertain even with the takeover because of challenges in restructuring its consumer electronics operations.

Smaller Japanese electronics brands including Sansui, Nakamichi and Akai also have been purchased by foreign buyers.

© 2016 The Canadian Press

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