A week in tech

A round-up of all the latest tech news.

Japan

Hardware

- Sanyo Electric Co.'s profits jumped in the October-December quarter on brisk sales of mobile-phone handsets and digital cameras, as well as electronic parts used in digital products. Sanyo posted a group net profit of ¥7.9 billion ($74.5 million) for the quarter, which covers the crucial year-end shopping season. That was almost triple a year-earlier profit of ¥2.7 billion ($25.5 million). Operating profit rose 68% to ¥29.1 billion ($275.3 million) from ¥17.3 billion ($163.7 million), while revenue climbed 14% to ¥653.4 billion ($6.2 billion) from ¥575.5 billion ($5.4 billion).

- Pioneer Corp. also posted solid profit gains for the quarter, helped by strong sales of car electronics products, home-use DVD recorders and recordable DVD drives used in personal computers. Pioneer posted a group net profit of ¥9.1 billion ($86.4 million) in the three-month period, up 15% from a year-earlier profit of ¥8 billion ($75.3 million). Group operating profit grew 41% to ¥16.8 billion ($158.7 million) from ¥11.9 billion ($112.4 million), on a 7.6% rise in group revenue to ¥198.9 billion ($1.9 billion) from ¥184.9 billion ($1.7 billion).

- NEC Corp. reported its group earnings significantly improved for the October-December period thanks to strong demand for mobile phone handsets as well as company cost-cutting measures. The Japanese industrial electronics conglomerate said it booked a group net profit of ¥11.1 billion ($105 million) in the quarter, after posting a ¥4.5 billion ($42.5 million) loss in the same period a year ago. Group sales stood at ¥1.2 trillion ($113.5 billion), up 9.2% from ¥1.1 trillion ($104.1 billion).

- Sony Corp. has withdrawn from a public/private project led by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) to develop next-generation LCD panels. Last autumn, the company agreed with Samsung Electronics Co. to jointly produce LCD panels starting in 2005 in Samsung's home country. Sony backed out of the METI-led project because its collaboration with Samsung did not match the project's goal of promoting LCDs made in Japan.

- TDK Corp. reported its group net profit tripled to ¥14.1 billion ($133.6 million) in the October-December quarter from ¥4.6 billion ($43.3 million) a year earlier, boosted by strong sales of electronic parts. The company also reported pretax profit rose to ¥18.7 billion ($176.9 million) on sales of ¥181.9 billion ($1.7 billion) during the period, compared with a ¥6.1 billion ($57.3 million) profit on sales of ¥161.7 billion ($1.5 billion) a year earlier.

- Sony Corp. reported a 26 percent drop in quarterly net profit due to slower PlayStation 2 sales and fewer hit movies, but raised its profit forecast for the year thanks to a stronger euro. Operating profit at the company fell from a year earlier but still beat analysts' forecasts, helped by buoyant sales of game software plus strong demand for its DVD recorders and projection TVs in the United States. Sony's quarterly earnings may compare poorly with the rising profits expected from rivals Sharp Corp. and Panasonic maker Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., thanks to demand for their flat-panel TVs and DVD recorders.

- Fuji Photo Film Co.'s net profit rose 18% in the latest quarter, due to strong sales of flat-panel-display materials and digital-related products. Japan's top photographic film producer and leading maker of digital cameras also cited the benefits of tax credits on research and development spending. The company posted a group net profit of ¥30.4 billion ($286.8 million) for the October-December quarter, up from ¥25.9 billion ($245 million) a year earlier. Sales held steady at ¥641.2 billion ($6.1 billion), up 0.2% from ¥639.9 billion ($6.1 billion) in the year-earlier quarter.

Information Technology

- Fujitsu Ltd. has developed a device for optical communications networks that helps restore optical signals to their original forms. The device eliminates the need for the huge lengths of optical fiber now used to correct optical signal distortions, thus helping reduce installation costs for optical lines and enabling optical signals to travel farther and faster. Fujitsu plans to start shipping samples in April. Fujitsu's new device uses a special glass to separate the optical signals into long, medium and short wavelengths, then reflects them off of a multifaceted curved mirror. This adjusts the transmission speeds of the signals of various wavelengths and allows the correction mechanism to be reduced to around one-tenth the size now required.

Media, Entertainment and Gaming

- Nintendo Co. said booming console sales at the end of last year allowed it to return to a net profit for the first three quarters of the fiscal year ending March 31. As a result, it said it bounced back from a fiscal first-half loss amid cutthroat competition in the videogame market. The company cut its profit forecast by 10% for the full fiscal year, saying the extra Christmas-season boost was not enough to enable it to hit sales and profit targets. Nintendo had group net income of ¥34.5 billion (US$326 million) for the nine months to Dec. 31, despite a ¥59 billion (US$558.1 million) valuation loss on its dollar assets as the yen strengthened. The company had posted a net loss of ¥2.9 billion (US$27.4 million) for the six months to Sept. 30.

Mobile / Wireless

- NTT DoCoMo Inc. reported that the number of subscribers to its third-generation "FOMA" wireless communications service has doubled to 2 million in less than four months. The company also said that by end-March it would expand its 3G network base stations to include the four lines of the subway network operated by the Tokyo Metropolitan government, covering all 98 stations.

- Computer system developer BeTrend Corp. began providing an audiovisual and textual data distribution service capable of automatically adjusting data to optimal amounts for use by over 400 types of cellular phones. The new service will help client corporations eliminate the process of separating contents for various generations of mobile phone systems. In Japan, over 80 million mobile phone handsets are in use, but various audiovisual data reception capabilities of mobile phone services and receptor handsets make it difficult for corporations to send advertisement and order-taking content to all customers.

Korea

Hardware

- Samsung SDI Co.'s fourth-quarter net profit rose 75% to a record W217.8 billion ($186.3 million) on brisk sales of plasma-display panels and liquid-crystal-display screens for mobile-phone handsets. The maker of cathode-ray tubes used in television sets and computer monitors, posted net profit of W124.2 billion ($105.8 million) for the year-earlier period. Revenue climbed to W1.4 trillion ($1.2 billion) from W1.3 trillion ($1.1 billion), helped by solid sales of rechargeable batteries and organic light emitting displays. For the year, net profit rose to W649.4 billion ($55.3 million) from W586.5 billion ($499.8 million). Annual revenue increased to W4.8 trillion ($4.1 billion) from W4.6 trillion ($3.9 billion).

Internet

- Daum Corp. posted a more than 38-percent drop in ordinary income in the fourth quarter of last year, disappointing analysts who had expected higher results from the portal website. Daum, which launched an online automobile insurance business last quarter, posted 2003 fourth-quarter sales at W42.5 billion ($36 million), up 12.1 percent quarter-on-quarter. Its earnings in the same period reached W10.6 billion ($9.3 million), 1.6 percent higher than the previous quarter.

Mobile / Wireless

- Research In Motion Ltd. agreed to supply its BlackBerry wireless e-mail technology to Samsung Electronics Co. for use in wireless hand-held devices. Amid a proliferation of multipurpose hand-held communication devices, Research In Motion over the past year or so has set several agreements to license its BlackBerry technology to makers of cell phones and other devices. At the same time, device makers including Nokia and Samsung are producing separate communications products that provide wireless phone e-mail capability and compete with BlackBerry.

- KTF grabs lion's share of new users migrating from SK Telecom; 300,000 subscribers switch since the beginning of the new year. Under a new government-led policy known as mobile number portability, some 300,000 SK Telecom Co. subscribers switched their services to KTF Co. and LG Telecom Co. last month, infusing fresh momentum into the saturated market. Although the new policy initially sparked some disputes and confusion, due partly to extremely competitive marketing, policymakers and carriers agree that number portability has settled down into a stable and better service for customers.

- Korea's mobile phone makers are scrambling to introduce a wider variety of models this year to meet the growing demand from customers who want numerous digital functions. About 150 new mobile phones are expected to debut on the domestic market this year, up 50 percent from last year. Samsung Electronics Co. plans to introduce 50 models including high-end camera phones and MP3 phones. The company launched about 40 models last year. LG Electronics Inc. would unveil 40 handsets this year, up from 30 last year. Pantech & Curitel, another major handset maker, would introduce about 30 models domestically.

Telecommunications

- SK Telecom Co.'s net profit jumped 29% on-year to W1.9 trillion ($1.7 billion) in 2003 on an increase in call volume. Rising demand for wireless internet services, which allow customers to log onto the Internet to download musical ring tones and access e-mail via their mobile phones. The country's largest mobile operator's revenue climbed 10.3% on-year to W9.5 trillion ($8.1 billion), while recurring profit rose 24% to W2.7 trillion won ($2.3 billion) in 2003.

China

Information Technology

- Mainland authorities are stepping up efforts to draft national standards for radio frequency identity (RFID) tags as Chinese manufacturers and distributors scramble to meet new product data requirements from large western customers. The Standardisation Administration of China, an agency formed by the State Council in 2001 to prepare standards laws, recently formed the National RFID Tag Standards Working Group. The group will investigate global research on RFID tags and their practical applications, and adopt relevant technologies to ensure the proposed national RFID tag standards are compatible with international standards.

Semiconductors

- Mainland contract chipmakers could benefit as capacity is reached at the facilities of their rivals in Taiwan and elsewhere. Going into the fourth quarter of last year, Taiwan's United Microelectronics Corp (UMC) expected its utilization rate would exceed 90 percent. Some reports suggest that UMC is already running at full capacity. Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing is also estimated to be running at full capacity. According to iSuppli, the mainland is expected to account for 9 percent of worldwide wafer capacity by 2007, up from 4 percent last year. The first beneficiaries of the spillover in orders could be mainland companies that have formed partnerships with overseas counterparts.

Taiwan

Telecommunications

- Chunghwa Telecom reported its 2003 net profit beat forecasts to reach NT$48.4 billion ($1.4 billion) due to higher-than-expected sales and lower costs. Sales stood at NT$179.1 billion ($5.4 million), 0.9 percent higher than forecast, while operating costs were 2 percent lower than expected. In April, the company forecast a 2003 net profit at NT$42.8 billion ($1.3 billion) on sales of NT$177.5 billion ($5.3 billion).

Singapore / Malaysia / Philippines / Indonesia

Semiconductors

- Chartered Semiconductor Manufacturing Ltd. reported sharply narrower losses for the fourth quarter and full year as the world's third-largest contract chip maker benefited from a global chip-sector recovery. The company slashed fourth-quarter net loss by more than half to $43.2 million from a $108.7 million loss a year earlier. Its net loss in 2003 amounted to $284.8 million, compared with a $417.1 million loss in 2002.

Hong Kong

Internet

- Yahoo! Hong Kong has teamed with PCCW Directories to expand in the online search market. The portal will incorporate Internet Yellow Pages, a listing of 300,000 businesses operated by PCCW Directories, into its search-engine results. No financial details for the deal were disclosed. The service is expected to boost advertising revenue for Yahoo! Hong Kong, which derived 65 percent of its revenue from ad sales.

Mobile / Wireless

- Third-generation (3G) mobile phone provider Hutchison Telecom is keeping sales of its new handsets classified but claiming a steady stream of customers across its 13 shops. The company earlier said 50,000 handsets had been stocked in Hong Kong and more than 1,000 customers had signed up to its "3" service.

Telecommunications

- Hutchison Whampoa placed HK$1.8 billion (US$230.7 million) in Vanda Systems & Communications Holdings, just one day after it agreed to sell its fixed-line business to the computer systems integrator. The sale will allow the conglomerate to lock in gains needed to offset losses in its third-generation business. Hutchison will receive HK$3.9 billion (US$500 million) in new Vanda shares and a HK$3.2 billion (US$410.3 million) convertible bond.

A week in tech is brought to you by FinanceAsia, and IRG, Asia's boutique investment bank to the telecoms, media and tech sectors. More can be found at:

www.irg.bizIRG logo