Sony and Toshiba fight declines with chip spending — can it work?

December 10, 2012 – Japanese consumer electronics giants Sony and Toshiba have shrugged off weak financial performances and increased their investments in new products to revitalize their businesses, notes IHS. Sony’s spending on semiconductors will rise about 5% in 2013 to $8.4B and will just barely increase in 2014 (0.1%), while Toshiba will spend about 2% more in 2013 (to $6.1B) and over 6% in 2014 ($6.5B). That’s in contrast to other major Japanese electronics OEMS — Panasonic and Sharp will both pull back their investments in the next two years.

"All the Japanese consumer electronics OEMs are struggling financially, prompting them to take measures to cut costs in order to shore up their profits," stated Myson Robles-Bruce, senior analyst for semiconductor spending and design activity at IHS. "But even in these grim circumstances, Sony and Toshiba remain optimistic about the future, and are taking steps to invest in innovative products."

Economic slowdown in various key global markets, lower demand in certain product segments, and increased competition from South Korea and China have weighed down Japan’s major consumer electronics manufacturers; all four aforementioned OEMs are projected to lose money this year on collectively -7% lower sales, IHS notes. Sony, for example, has issued bonds twice this year to raise funding (even as its credit rating plummeted), is eliminating up to 10,000 jobs in the current fiscal year, and selling off manufacturing plants and JVs. "The Japanese consumer electronics companies face a changed marketplace, due to the rising influence of Apple and other competitors that have redefined some of the product segments or else simply just taken away share in key areas," noted Robles-Bruce.

Nonetheless, Sony and Toshiba made splashes at CEATEC in October, Japan’s version of the big US Consumer Electronics Show (CES), he notes. Sony demo’d everything from smartphones and tablets to PCs, cameras, televisions, home networking, and storage equipment. Highlights included the Bravia 4K LCD TV and new hybrid PCs that can be used as either tablets or laptops. Toshiba, meanwhile, showed off its own 4K resolution TV, as well as ultrabooks and tablets. Products were on display in small, medium, and large screen sizes. It also introduced new REGZA HD TVs with built-in DVR capabilities.

Will these investments in new technologies and products pay off for the struggling Japanese OEMs? IHS sees a mixed bag: Sony’s sales are expected to rebound 3.7% in 2013, but Toshiba’s sales will slip another -1%, and declines are expected to continue at Panasonic and Sharp.

The real question, according to Robles-Bruce, is whether these persistent declines can be overcome or if they represent a long-term trend. "The Japanese consumer electronics companies face a changed marketplace, due to the rising influence of Apple and other competitors that have redefined some of the product segments or else simply just taken away share in key areas," he writes. "Based upon the current financial evidence, it appears as though total revenue for Sony might be higher for next year, although estimates for Toshiba actually show a slight decline."

  2012 2013 2014
Sony $7,979    $8,352 $8,363
Toshiba   $6,025 $6,148 $6,535

Net semiconductor spend forecast for Sony and Toshiba, in US $M. (Source: IHS iSuppli)

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