Japanese Tech Stock Weekly Summary

by: IRG Ltd

The following is excerpted from IRG's weekly stock report:

Media, Entertainment and Gaming

• Nikoli Co., a Japanese publisher of logic puzzles and the popular game sudoku outside of Japan, announced its entering into a partnership with U.S-based Sterling Publishing Co. in a bid to firmly establish its brand as a logic puzzle company. Sterling Publishing is a subsidiary of Barnes & Noble Inc, the largest book store chain in the U.S. Nikoli said it has received several offers to form a partnership from U.S. publishers but opted for Sterling because its books are more likely to be sold at Barnes and Noble stores.

• Microsoft Corp. (NASDAQ:MSFT) and Namco Bandai Games Inc. announced the unveiling of the Pac-Man video game title's new version in the U.S., making the product the first update in about 27 years. Microsoft said the new version, called the Pac-Man Championship Edition, is for use only on the Xbox 360 console and will be available at US$10 on the Internet. The original video game came out in 1981 and soon became one of the most popular games in the world.

• Sony Corp.'s (NYSE:SNE) game unit revealed its plans to slash jobs in the U.S. as it looks to streamline its operations in Japan as well as in the U.S. The plans are seen as part of the company’s effort to compete with Nintendo, its industry rival. Sony's game division reported an operating loss of 232 billion yen (US$1.9 billion) for the year ending March 31, which the company ascribed to start-up costs for the PS3. Despite this, investors are hoping for Sony’s recovery in the game market to allow it to get back its investment. The game unit has about 4,500 employees worldwide. For over a decade, Sony dominated the US$30 billion global game industry with the original PlayStation and PlayStation 2. Demand for the PS3, however, has been slow so far, given its high price tag and the limited availability of attractive software titles. In May this year, the PS3 sold just 45,321 units in Japan, compared with 251,794 units of the Wii.


• Following the recommendation of the Securities and Exchange Surveillance Commission [SESC] to impose sanction against Rakuten Securities, the Financial Services Agency disclosed that it is considering what steps to take. Rakuten, the country’s biggest web-based shopping mall operator, is being blamed for recurring system problems.

• According to the country’s Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, the total of optical fiber line-based broadband subscription contracts in Japan reached 8.8 million as of March 31, a figure that surpasses the 8 million ceiling for the first time. The ministry said the figure shows an additional 863,499 contracts from three months earlier, compared to a fall in subscription contracts for asymmetrical digital subscriber line-based services. Optical fiber line-based Internet hookup service provides much faster data transmission speed than ADSL line-based service. The number of ADSL contracts dropped by 222,688 during the January-March period to 14 million for the fourth consecutive quarterly fall. Industry observers see the figure as showing the trend of a growing number of Internet users shifting from ADSL services to fiber-optic contracts.

• Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) announced the availability of the Warner Music Japan catalog to users by way of iTunes Store in Japan. The agreement gives users access to a more than 4 million tracks offered by Japan's iTunes store, with over 90 percent of the tracks priced at 150 yen (US$1.2) per song. Apple disclosed that over 2.5 billion songs were bought and downloaded from the Japanese store.

• A joint statement made by the two companies announced the acquisition by Orix Corp. (NYSE:IX), a leasing company, of Internet Research Institute Inc. [IRI], a wholly owned subsidiary, through an equity swap in November. The two companies described the deal as aimed at "creating new added values and expanding customer services" by combining financial services and information technologies. Orix is listed on the first sections of the Tokyo Stock Exchange and the Osaka Securities Exchange. Following accounting irregularities at a subsidiary, IRI is currently on the liquidation post of the Mothers startup market on the TSE awaiting delisting on June 24 due to its failure to secure an auditor's statement for its earnings report for the first half of the 2006 business year.


• NTT DoCoMo, Inc. (DCM) and Research In Motion (RIMM) jointly announced Japanese-language support for the BlackBerry 8707h smartphone, which is available in Japan via DoCoMo. Industry analysts said the addition of Japanese-language support for the BlackBerry 8707h is expected to please customers who are interested in deploying BlackBerry smartphone in Japanese-language environments. With the offering, users will be able to compose and read Japanese e-mails, browse Japanese websites and input Japanese text for personal information management [PIM] applications, with a Japanese user interface also available in the service. The launch of Japanese-language support will also include the localization of BlackBerry Enterprise Server and BlackBerry Desktop Manager. The localized BlackBerry software is expected to be available beginning this summer and will be preloaded on the BlackBerry 8707h. In a separate development, NTT DoCoMo Inc. announced its plans to make a US$3 million investment in a unit of Zenrin Co. Ltd., a digital mapmaker that provides services for drivers who navigate unmarked streets or for finding other mobile phone users. NTT DoCoMo said it aims to acquire a 10.2 percent stake in that unit.


• According to industry sources, Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. Ltd. (MC-OLD) disclosed that it is discussing with Kenwood Corp. regarding the sale of its stake in JVC following what it described as a failure in negotiation with Texas Pacific Group, a U.S. private equity firm. Several sources indicated that Kenwood, a maker of audio equipment and car electronics, is in talks to buy 20 billion yen (US$165 million) worth of new shares from JVC and then merge operations with JVC under a joint holding company. Under the deal, Matsushita would then sell part of its 52.4 percent stake in JVC to the holding company. According to a Kenwood spokesperson, the company sees the merger as an option given the intense competition in the electronics industry. The sources said Kenwood has already secured a 70 billion yen (US$575 million) credit line from its banks for the deal, and it is possible that Sparx Asset Management Co., an investment firm that holds Kenwood shares, would participate in the deal. Matsushita could not be reached for any comment.

• According to media sources, Sharp Corp. (SCHAY.PK), the world's largest maker of LCD televisions, filed a suit against HannStar Display Corp. of Taiwan claiming infringement of four patents covering LCD technology. According to the filed complaint, HannStar is using Sharp's inventions without permission and should be ordered to stop, with Sharp asking the court for cash compensation. In a statement, Sharp said it forged a technology licensing agreement with HannStar in January 2003 covering LCD panels. The deal, however, expired on December 31, with the Taiwanese company failing to pay all licensing fees due. In January 2006, Sharp sued HannStar in the Tokyo District Court, with the court issuing a judgment in favor of Sharp in December 2006. The case remains pending following HannStar’s filing of an appeal.


• Fujitsu Ltd. (OTCPK:FJTSY) announced its plan to create about 5,500 new jobs at an offshore services centre in India, a move that comes with the company setting its eye on the fast-growing IT markets. Fujitsu said the move would boost the number of employees at its business in India to 8,500 by 2009 from about 3,000 currently. With the move, Fujitsu said it is aiming to post more than 40 percent growth in its overseas sales over the next three years from 36 percent last year. The company said it is looking to expand its global alliances through partnerships with SAP (NYSE:SAP) and Microsoft and boost its operating profit margin to 5 percent by March 2010 from 3.6 percent now.

• Market sources indicate that Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group has become the front-runner in negotiations to buy a large number of shares in OMC Card Inc., a subsidiary of major supermarket chain Daiei Inc. (DAIEY)The OMC sale is expected to bring in about 100 billion yen (US$821.5 million), with Daie stating that it will use the profits from fund to reduce its debt. With the deal, SMFG would become the principal shareholder, boosting its position in the retail market by linking the OMC credit card with firms under its umbrella, such as Sumitomo Mitsui Card Co. and Central Finance Co. At present, Daiei holds an approximately 52 percent controlling stake in OMC, and is planning to sell 30 percent of its share. Daiei will make its official decision within the month. Earlier in April, the first round of bidding narrowed the bidders to SMFG and Shinsei Bank, Ltd. The second round of bidding is expected to take place later this month, with Daiei making an official decision after evaluating the offers made.

Disclaimer: IRG is not responsible for the accuracy of the news compiled within this article, which is based on publicly available information.