Posted by: Kenji Hall on August 10, 2007
It’s a classic dilemma for any flat-panel TV maker: to expand or not to expand. But for plasma TV manufacturers, the question goes beyond the usual hand-wringing about whether to spend on more super-efficient factories now to reap cost advantages later. That’s because by 2009 companies like Matsushita Electric Industrial (MC), LG Electronics and Samsung SDI could get hammered by falling revenues, as competition from the dominant flat-panel technology, liquid-crystal displays, drives down prices and undercuts their profits.
According to market research firm iSuppli’s latest forecasts, plasma panel revenues, estimated at $7.7 billion last year, could peak at $10.2 billion in 2008 before falling back to $8.7 billion in 2011. The decline is expected to come despite rising volumes of the specialized glass panels for plasma TVs, which could double from 10 million last year to 23.6 million in 2011.
The not-so-upbeat outlook explains why most plasma-panel makers aren’t eager to ramp up production right now. Only one company hasn’t curtailed production: Matsushita. Says market research firm iSuppli’s Riddhi Patel: “Most panel makers have cut their production utilization rates to around 70%—except for Matsushita, which remains at 100%.”
Why the heck does Matsushita CEO Fumio Ohtsubo have his plants firing on all cylinders when everyone else is downshifting? Ohtsubo has yet to offer a clear answer. The best guess is that he’s dead-set on reaching his target of selling 5 million sets this fiscal year through March 2008—-a 43% rise from 3.5 million last year—-and even higher levels in the next few years, and that it’s still premature to get all worked up about a contraction.
It’s no secret that Ohtsubo wants Matsushita to rule the market for big screens by the end of the decade. But it could also be that Matsushita simply has more riding on the success of plasma TVs than anyone else. The world’s biggest plasma producer, with more than a third of the market, the company is outspending all others on state-of-the-art panel-making factories. Its new $2.4 billion facility—-the company’s fifth and biggest to date—-is scheduled to be up and running in May 2009. That could double the company’s current annual production capacity to 11.5 million sets by early 2010. (For the full story, check BusinessWeek.com’s Asia channel in a few hours.)