Foxconn To Invest $1.6B In Sharp For Flat Panels, Maybe For The iPad? Maybe For Apple TV?

Apple has yet to make any statements about where and when we might ever see an Apple TV product to match the impact it has had in the smartphone and tablet markets. But news of an investment by its key manufacturing partner, Foxconn, could point to the confidence others have of what might be coming soon.

Foxconn is investing a combined 133 billion yen ($1.6 billion) in TV maker Sharp Corporation and a flat-panel JV it has with Sony — and it has added a commitment to buy up to 50 percent of all of Sharp’s LCD panel output. The deal is the largest-ever by a Taiwanese manufacturer in a Japanese supplier and could be all the more bold, considering that just yesterday there was a report from iSuppli on how sales of flat-panel TVs were in decline and flattening out.

Foxconn’s investment will see the company split its $1.6 billion roughly between two investments: a 9.9 percent stake in Sharp Corp., with a 46.5 percent stake in Sharp Display Products Corp., its flat-panel JV with Sony. Sharp’s stake in the JV is now 46.5 percent; while Sony’s is 7 percent, and it may now choose to divest that to Sharp altogether.

There are a couple of reasons for why Foxconn has made this investment.

The move could be be to make sure it will have a good supply of flat panels for future products, such as the fabled Apple TV, but also iPad devices and other flat-panel devices that Foxconn makes on behalf of others such as Sony. IHS says that Sharp may be in line to supply panels for iPad tablets starting next month, using its IGZO technology.

The other reason is that Foxconn may be trying to shore up a key supplier that is in financial hot water at the moment. “[Sharp is] in trouble and their very survival is at stake,” Edwin Merner, president of Tokyo-based Atlantis Investment Research, told Bloomberg. “Maybe the tie-up will help.”

Sharp last month warned the markets that it could face a ¥290 billion ($3.5 billion) loss for the financial year because of the drop in prices for TVs — a problem that has also been affecting Sony and Panasonic, with the three collectively expected to report losses of $16 billion for the financial year.

Foxconn’s parent company Hon Hai, meanwhile, yesterday reported rises in both sales (NT$1.074 trillion; $36 billion) and net profit (NT$35.0 billion; $1.2 billion) on the back of lucrative manufacturing deals with the likes of Apple, which sold 3 million units of its new iPad tablet in the first three days of release alone.