TOKYO/TAIPEI (Reuters) - Hon Hai Precision Industry Co Ltd’s (2317.TW) chairman is demanding a management role at Sharp Corp (6753.T) as part of an equity tie-up, stepping up the pressure on the Japanese TV maker to give him greater influence in the company in return for badly needed cash.
Debt-saddled Sharp has been in talks on a partnership that would give the Taiwanese company a 9.9 percent stake in the century-old Japanese firm. Hon Hai’s Chairman Terry Gou visited Japan last week but unexpectedly left before a scheduled meeting with Sharp executives, fuelling uncertainty over the tie-up.
“If it was just a capital investment, why would I want it?” Gou told Taiwan’s United Evening News in an interview. “I‘m not a venture capitalist.”
As its shares continue to plummet, Sharp is increasingly eager to get Gou to agree to the investment, arguing that deeper cooperation in small and large liquid crystal displays and other businesses can be settled at a later date.
Gou’s comments, however, suggest he may leverage that desperation to win a bigger role when Sharp’s president, Takashi Okuda, turns up in Taipei.
“If it’s just a capital investment, Sharp can go and talk to its banks, or an investment company. It doesn’t need Hon Hai at all,” he told the paper.
Gou has invested a lot of time and personal prestige as well as money into his pursuit of Sharp, whose advanced flat screen technology would give Hon Hai an edge in its battle to remain the main manufacturer of Apple Inc (AAPL.O) products.
Okuda wants to meet with Gou to settle the investment quickly, a source told Reuters on Monday, on condition he wasn’t identified. That Taiwan visit could be as early as this week, the Sankei newspaper reported earlier.
“We can’t disclose our executives’ schedule, but we are hoping to settle the negotiations as early as possible,” Sharp spokeswoman Miyuki Nakayama said.
Sharp’s chief financial officer, Tetsuo Onishi, said on Friday his company regretted that it had been unable to conclude a partnership pact during Gou’s visit to Japan.
Sharp wants to sell Hon Hai a 9.9 percent stake in return for cash to keep the company in operation and to help pay its debts.
By keeping the stake below 9.9 percent, Sharp is hoping to limit Hon Hai’s influence, because under Japanese ownership laws, any more would give Hon Hai the right to ask the local courts to disband the unprofitable company.
Hon Hai, however, appears to want any agreement to also include tie-ups in small LCD panels and further cooperation in smartphones and TV displays, Onishi said.
Gou on Friday told the same Taiwanese newspaper that there was no timetable for a deal with Sharp. He said then it was not a matter of how much money Hon Hai spent but how Sharp could turn itself around.
The Taiwanese company had agreed to pay 67 billion yen ($856 million), or 550 yen a share, for 9.9 percent of Sharp in March, but restarted talks to seek a lower price after the LCD TV pioneer’s stock slumped below 200 yen in August.
Gou also purchased a 38 percent stake in Sharp’s TV panel plant in Sakai, western Japan, the world’s most advanced LCD factory.
Hon Hai wants to invest more than $1 billion in the plant from as early as next year to boost capacity, the Taiwanese company said last week.
Sharp for now, however, is looking for cash to pay its debts rather than to invest in new plant. For that, junk-rated Sharp has to rely on its main banks, Mizuho Financial Group (8411.T) and Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group (8306.T).
Sharp, with debt of 1.25 trillion yen, has to refinance as much as 360 billion yen in short-term commercial paper loans and has a 200 billion yen convertible bond due in September 2013.
The stock resumed its slide after ratings agency Standard & Poor’s downgraded the company’s debt to junk status last week, citing Sharp’s weakening liquidity position.
Sharp on Monday fell 6.1 percent to 186 yen, after dropping 12.8 percent on Friday, its biggest decline in almost a month. ($1 = 78.3000 Japanese yen)
Reporting by Reiji Murai, Tim Kelly and Mari Saito in TOKYO and Jonathan Standing in TAIPEI; Editing by Ryan Woo