Foxconn has agreed to acquire Sharp for a mere $3.5 billion, says a Reuters headline. Foxconn, as you may know, is the maker of the Apple iPhone. It wants Sharp’s technology, patents and manufacturing.
Foxconn’s tycoon chairman Terry Gou has orchestrated the acquisition of Sharp, over Japan’s original objections, by promising to keep technology and jobs in Japan. He’s paying billions, yet saving a billion or two from the list price, taking advantage of Sharp’s weak balance sheet.
“A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you’re talking real money,” as Illinois Senator Everett Dirksen (for whom the Chicago federal courthouse across the street from my office is named) famously observed.
Sharp’s one-time strengths and prowess, an employer of 50,000 at its peak, are generally known. It was a pillar of Japan’s industrial powerhouse. But its financial liabilities dragged it down in a world where big screen TVs are sold at deep discounts. How’s an electronics company to make any money without the exclusivity and the margins that patents can confer?
What’s in the deal for Foxconn? As mentioned, it has a substantial business as the maker of Apple’s iPhones. And Sharp has inroads in OLED displays—the same kind of technology already being used by Samsung—that will be featured in the next generation iPhone.
This deal is all about the fit of OLED patents, technology and manufacturing, as between Apple, Foxconn and Smart. For more of the backstory, see my article, Get Sharp, patent prize, for $5b.
If you want to make money, buy a company at a commodity price and turn it into a market leader of a specialty product with the handsome margins that patents can command.