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IRG Technology, Media and Telecommunications Weekly Market Review (Week of 12 – 23 Dec 2011)

Japan

Telecommunications

         The Nikkei business daily reported that Softbank Corp. will quit its domestic social networking site business, liquidating a joint venture with News Corp for the Japanese-language version of Myspace at the end of January. The Japanese-language service will be taken over by U.S. firm Myspace LLC, the newspaper added. News Corp acquired Myspace for US$580 million in 2005. Launched in Nov. 2006, Myspace's Japanese service tied up with record labels and sought to tout itself as a way for artists to reach fans. But it failed to offer attractive content, and had only signed up about 1.08 million users as of August, not even a 10th of Facebook's tally, the paper said.

         Jupiter Telecommunications grew its customer base to 3.64 million in November, up 6.8 percent year-on-year. Combined revenue generating units (RGUs) for cable television, internet access, and telephony services reached approximately 6.88 million, up 9 percent from November 2010, as the bundle ratio surged to 1.89 from 1.85 a year earlier. The number of internet subscribers went up 7 from November last year to 1.81 million, as the number of telephony customers grew to 2.19 million. J:Com also had 2.86 million cable TV customers.

         The Japanese telecommunication equipment market for FY 2011 through FY 2016 is expected to gradually decline, despite the slight growth in 2011 and 2012, with the 2016 figure projected at 3.42 trillion yen (US$44 billion), according to the Communications and Information network Association of Japan (CIAJ). For this year, the Japanese telecommunications equipment market is expected to reach 3.59 trillion yen (US$46 billion), up 3.7 percent year-on-year, with the domestic market accounting for 3.1 trillion yen (US$40 billion) and exports accounting for 487.4 billion yen (US$6.3 million). The consumer equipment market is estimated at 1.90 trillion yen (US$24 billion), up 5.8 percent year-on-year, and the business equipment market is estimated at 521.0 billion yen (US$6.7 billion), up 5.9 percent from last year. The infrastructure equipment market is valued at 665.3 billion yen (US$8.5 billion), with only 0.8 percent growth, and the internet equipment market is estimated at 398.3 billion yen (US$5.1 billion), down by 2.4 percent from last year.

         NTT Docomo is likely to consider raising its stake in Indian mobile operator Tata Teleservices to 35 percent from its current 26%, reported the Times of India. This is part of a two-stage plan in 2008 that allows Docomo to ramp up its stake if Tata Teleservices meets certain performance parameters. NTT Docomo has two call options to acquire shares in March 2012 and two years later in 2014. It can refrain from exercising both the options and sell the entire stake back to Tata in 2014, if the company is unable to achieve certain benchmarks. These benchmarks are linked to the performance of Tata Teleservices. If Docomo exercises the first option of increasing the stake to 35 percent, then it cannot force a buyback on Tata two years later. Docomo invested about US$176 million earlier this year through a rights issue in Tata which allowed it to maintain the stake at 26%.

         NTT DoCoMo predicted that its mobile data revenues will increase by 48 percent over the next four years. DoCoMo expects data revenues to reach 1.83 trillion yen (US$22 billion) in the current fiscal year to the end of March 2012, and reaching 2.7 trillion yen (US$32 billion) by FY2015 March 2016. DoCoMo's data ARPU overtook voice in March 2011, accounting for 50.1 percent of aggregated ARPU. The importance of mobile data is reflected in DoCoMo's plans for the future. The operator aims to cover 98 percent of the population with LTE by March 2015, up from around 25 percent at present, and targets 30 million LTE subscribers by March 2016. Meanwhile, DoCoMo has covered 100 percent of the population with 3G and says 98.9 percent of its 59 million subscribers were using 3G services by the end of November 2011. In addition, 2G services are to be terminated on 31 March 2012, the telco said.

Hardware

         Sony Corp announced that it agreed to sell its nearly 50 percent stake in an LCD joint venture with Samsung Electronics to the South Korean company for US$940 million, as it struggles to reduce huge losses at its TV business. Sony has sold off TV factories in Spain, Slovakia and Mexico in the past few years and outsources more than half of its production to companies including Hon Hai Precision Industry. Sony retains four TV plants of its own -- in Japan, Brazil, China and Malaysia. Some analysts say the $100 billion LCD TV market peaked last year and forecast it will shrink 3 to 4 percent annually, as consumers in advanced countries have already traded in their bulky cathode-ray tube TV sets for flat screens, while the LCD market has been in a glut since last summer. Global TV manufacturers are restructuring their businesses and outsourcing production as cut-throat competition and weak demand squeeze margins.

         Japanese electronics firm Kyocera will buy automotive LCD panel maker Optrex for about 20 billion yen (US$256.1 million) to better compete against rivals Sharp and Toshiba, the Nikkei business daily reported. Optrex, which supplies display panels for meters and audio systems to automakers in Japan, the U.S. and Europe, reported sales of about 90 billion yen this year, the daily said. Kyocera will target the automotive display segment, where prices are steadier, as competition in the market for small-and-midsize panels used in smartphones and consumer electronics intensifies, the Nikkei said. With the Optrex acquisition, Kyocera will develop its thin-film component segment and target sales of 300 billion yen (US$384.1 million), 6 times current sales, the newspaper said.

         Olympus Corp expects its digital camera business to be in the red for the financial year ending in March, Hironobu Kawamata, a director and executive officer of the company, said. The company's sales of digital cameras rose 15 percent in the April-September first half from a year earlier to 4.2 million units, but had net loss of 32.33 billion yen (US$414.12 million) for the first half, hit in large part by its ailing camera business and the strong yen.

         Olympus Corp. restated five years of past earnings as it seeks to avoid being automatically delisted from the Tokyo Stock Exchange after admitting to a 13-year cover-up of investment losses. The shares will be removed from the exchange if the company fails to register its quarterly earnings at the Financial Services Agency. Olympus last month delayed the filing pending an independent investigation into schemes that used inflated payments for acquisitions to hide about US$1.5 billion in losses. The company’s auditors signed off on the statements, though with reservations on three that may hinder Olympus’s efforts to convince the TSE its problems were restricted to a rotten group of senior management who no longer work there.

         Sales at mass retailers in Japan declined a record 40-60 percent in November from a year earlier, when consumers rushed to acquire televisions and other appliances before the scaling back of a government program to promote green products. Kojima Co. logged the steepest drop among the five major publicly traded retailers, with its sales plummeting 61.7 percent. Edion Corp.'s decline came to 59.1 percent, followed by 57.9 percent for Yamada Denki Co. and 57.8 percent at K's Holdings Corp. Sales at Bic Camera Inc. slumped 44.2 percent by comparison. Flat-panel TVs, air conditioners and refrigerators, the appliances covered by the program, account for a relatively lower proportion of sales compared with its rivals. In October 2010, the government announced that eco-points issued for qualifying appliances would be reduced from that December. Sales soared 40-120 percent from the previous year in November 2010. Many expect sales figures for this month to return to year-earlier levels. Yet with the government program prompting early purchases, particularly for TVs, some see the repercussions lasting at least a year. 

Korea

Telecommunications

         KT Corp. formed a consortium with 13 global mobile operators, including Japan's NTT Communications Corp., to develop an Asian submarine cable. The undersea fiber optic cable, named the Asia Pacific Gateway, will be a 10,000 kilometer link connecting nine Asian countries: South Korea, China, Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore. The construction of the cable will begin early 2012 and telecom company expects to complete it by early 2014 to start the service from the cable.

Wireless/Mobile

         SK Telecom Co. said the number of 4G wireless subscribers has topped 500,000 in about five months. SK Telecom kicked off the long-term evolution (LTE) network in Seoul, offering faster wireless data than the 3G network for data-hungry smartphone users. SK Telecom has since launched 10 new mobile devices compatible with the new high-speed data service. The Company said the growth rate of the 4G service is much faster than when the 3G network was first introduced in Korea, which took 14 months to reach the 500,000 milestone. Around 35 percent of the new smartphone users at SK Telecom choose smartphones that are compatible with the LTE service, even though SK Telecom does not offer an unlimited wireless data plan on the LTE network. Samsung Electronics Co. released the Galaxy series of mobile devices that run on SK Telecom's high-speed networks, trying to move ahead of Apple, which launched the iPhone 4S that cannot run on the 4G network.

         The Korean Communications Commissions has denied the applications of Internet Space Time (NYSEARCA:IST) and Korea Mobile Internet (NYSE:KMI) for the license to operate WiBro services, Korea Herald reported. According to the Herald, KCC is yet to be convinced about KMI's business model or its shareholder structure. KMI has now tried and failed three times to secure the required approval to operate a network using the WiBro standard.

Media, Gaming and Entertainment

         CJ O Shopping Co. expects to see steady growth in China as its local joint ventures continue to expand its business in China. CJ O launched a home shopping channel called Dongbang CJ with its Chinese partner Shanghai Media Group. It also opened a joint venture in 2008 with Tiantian CJ Home Shopping Co. in the northern city of Tianjin. Min Young-sang, researcher at HI Investment & Securities Co., said he expected Dongbang CJ to post sales as large as 1.23 trillion won (US$1.06 billion) next year, growing 34.5 percent. Dongbang CJ is also likely to post a net profit of 64.1 billion won (US$55 million), up 57.4 percent from this year. Meritz Securities Co. said securing nationwide broadcast rights from the Chinese government earlier this year will enable Dongbang CJ to continue its robust growth. Dongbang CJ also acquired its second home shopping channel in China in July, enabling it to broadcast its programs to some 10 million analog viewers plus 2.5 million digital viewers in Shanghai and its neighboring areas.

Semiconductors

         Samsung Electronics Co. expanded its market share in the global dynamic random access memory (DRAM) market to a record quarterly high in the third quarter. The company accounted for 45 percent of global DRAM revenues in the July-September period, IHS iSuppli said, widening its lead over other suppliers despite the memory industry's downturn. As third-quarter global DRAM revenues declined 16 percent from the previous three months, Samsung's DRAM revenues declined 9 percent to US$3.35 billion. The contraction in the global DRAM industry was due to feeble consumer demand for PCs, which sent DRAM prices plummeting. The average selling price of DRAM devices, which are used mainly for personal computers, declined 26 percent on-quarter, IHS said. But the average price of DRAMs made by Samsung declined just 17 percent in the third quarter.

Hardware

         Samsung Electronics Co. will reorganize its business into two umbrella operations of components and finished products next year, a widely expected move aimed at reinforcing independence for its wide-ranging consumer electronics businesses. Samsung will rearrange its operation into Digital Media & Communications, which oversees TVs, handsets and other finished consumer electronics products, and Device Solutions to be in charge of supplying electronics components, such as memory chips and liquid crystal display (LCD) panels.

         Samsung Electronics Co.'s, the world's largest supplier of memory chips and flat-screen TVs, operating profit is expected to increase percent on-year to an all-time high next year, analysts said. Samsung is forecast to generate 19.98 trillion won (US$17.36 billion) in operating profit in 2012, according to the median consensus of 25 analysts polled by FnGuide, a Seoul-based financial information provider. The median estimate beats Samsung's annual operating profit of 17.29 trillion won (US$15 billion) recorded last year. The 2010 operating profit was higher than in previous years driven by the semiconductor boom. Growth in non-memory chip business and smartphone sales is expected to propel an improvement in Samsung's 2012 earnings, analysts said. Samsung overtook Apple in global smartphone sales in the third quarter. 

China

Internet

         U.S. government decided to remove Baidu from a list of notorious markets that help sustain piracy and counterfeiting of intellectual property. Baidu agreed in July with Universal Music Group, Warner Music Group Corp. and Sony Corp. to pay owners of copyrighted material on a social- music platform, a deal cited by the U.S. Trade Representative in its report. The Ladies Market in Hong Kong, where customs officials acted to remove infringing goods, and the Savelovskiy Market in Moscow, where managers have stepped in to stop such sales, were also dropped from the list. Alibaba Group’s Taobao remained among at least 30 online and physical markets worldwide identified in the report for helping the illegal sale of material protected by copyright or patents. Others include the Pirate Bay file-sharing website in Sweden and the Silk Street Market in Beijing, according to the report.


Telecommunications

         With increasing availability of cheaper smartphones, China added over 8.2 million new 3G users last month, pushing the country’s total 3G subscriber base to 117.89 million by November. China Mobile still holds the biggest share of the country’s 3G market with 40.7%, followed by China Unicom (31%), and China Telecom (28.3%).

         A study has found that China Mobile is China's most valuable brand with an estimated brand worth of over US$53.6 billion. However, the value has fallen 4 percent this year. The report by WPP placed China Telecom and China Unicom in 11th and 15th place, respectively, Telecom Asia writes. China Telecom's brand is worth an estimated US$10.86 billion and China Unicom's brand worth is estimated at US$6.25 billion. Meanwhile Baidu was ranked 6th and Tencent was ranked 10th, as web portal Sina.com ranked 25th.

Hardware

      LG Electronics has opened a research and development (R&D) center in Beijing as part of localisation efforts in China. The R&D centre in the capital city will enhance design capacities in information technology, communications and digital media and research works relevant to the global market.