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Consumer Electronics: Turnaround Efforts of 2013 and Prospects for 2014

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2013 was a transition period for many electronics manufacturers. Dell Inc, Hewlett-Packard Development Co Lp, Sony Corp and HTC Corp, among many others, spent 2013 trying to realign their strategies and product portfolios. But, rapidly declining prices and profitability, a changing competitive landscape, shifting demand and a slew of mergers and acquisitions all made for a difficult operating environment.

Japan Inc Gets Help from a Weaker Yen

Sony Corp, Panasonic Corp and Sharp Corp have been struggling to cope with declining revenues from their television business units, while a strong yen made cost control persistently challenging throughout most of 2012. But, by the end of the year, the Japanese currency began to slide, giving Japanese electronics giants room to breathe. The companies have made significant strides in their turnaround efforts. Sony revived its smartphone business and retained its strength in photo sensor supply. Sharp managed to launch mass production of its IGZO LCD displays, while Panasonic instituted a comprehensive set of cost-cutting and optimisation measures, most notably pulling out of the plasma television business. While they face different sets of challenges, the boost in yen-denominated revenues from overseas sales made this difficult period much easier for all three companies.

All three companies remain in a fragile state, with abundant risks threatening to derail recovery efforts as they head into 2014. A significant appreciation of the yen would put renewed pressure on companies across Japan, but each of the three faces unique risks. Slowing demand in smartphones casts doubt over the sustainability of resurgent smartphone sales at Sony. This is particularly concerning as the company’s other divisions continue to struggle. Sharp could see increasing competition from LTPS LCD displays by late 2014, which would threaten its IGZO LCD revenues. Panasonic faces the greatest challenge as cost-cutting alone will not save the company. It needs to revamp its product portfolio to generate positive revenue growth.

Trouble in Taiwan

Driven by burgeoning demand for smartphones, HTC Corp was growing rapidly until 2012 when competition from Samsung Corp and emerging Chinese manufacturers saw it become unprofitable. HTC Corp narrowed its product portfolio to focus on high-end devices. The strategy did not have the desired effect as the high-end smartphone market was dominated by Samsung and Apple. This left the company with few options as it heads into 2014. By the end of 2013, HTC Corp expanded its line of mid-priced Desire smartphones, hoping to generate volume sales and drive a return to profitability.

2014 promises to be another difficult year for the company as slowing growth and intensifying competition will define the smartphone market. Sustaining margins and staying profitable in this environment will be difficult without significant volume sales, so further losses are likely at HTC without a significant shift in strategy towards lower-cost, higher volume devices.

Computer Giants Struggle to Change Step

Like many of their rivals, Hewlett-Packard Development Co Lp (HP) and Dell Inc have struggled to expand into tablets and smartphones, both areas in which Lenovo Group has made significant strides in 2013. Dell Inc has been taken private to avoid the scrutiny of publicly listed companies, but just like HP it faces a monumental task in turning around a giant enterprise. Both Dell and HP want to reduce their dependence on hardware, especially consumer products, by expanding their portfolios of enterprise software, services and IT infrastructure products. Given the size of the companies this shift will last for years to come, but in the meantime both need revenues from computer sales. Therefore, we expect both companies to become increasingly aggressive in the consumer and business computer markets. This means more tablets and tablet/laptop hybrids as well as another possible attempt at the smartphone market from at least one of the companies.

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