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Japan electronics groups: global benchmarking

Japan electronics groups have far lower income/profits than EU or US comparable corporations

Ripe for drastic reform and transformation: 18 years no growth and almost no profits

Lets look at global benchmarking of Japan’s top electrical groups Panasonic and Hitachi (representative of Japan’s top ten electrical giants) – in our previous blog we suggested that full recovery to 2008 (FY2007) levels may take until 2016 – about seven years in terms of income, and about 3-4 years in terms of revenues – UNLESS major restructuring happens. Will it be done?

We also take a look at specialist ROHM, which used to have outstanding margins because of the focus on highly specialized electrical and electronic components. ROHM’s shareholder proposals recently made headlines.

Comparing Japan’s top electrical groups Panasonic and Hitachi with GE and SIEMENS clearly shows the different philosophies in US, EU and Japan:

US based GE aims for 15% net margin.

Germany based Siemens and Japanese giants Panasonic and Hitachi in the 1990s all had net margins close to zero. However, while Panasonic and Hitachi maintained their margins close to zero since the 1990s, Siemens clearly aims for US level margins – and achieved a slow and steady upward trend.

Very dramatic restructuring would be necessary to bring Japan’s electric giants onto such a path. I think it is quite obvious exactly which restructuring is necessary. I also believe that if carried out it will actually create more employment in Japan than maintaining the existing structure of Japan’s electrical industry sector. However, actually carrying such restructuring will require superhuman effort… will this happen?

Resistor maker ROHM

Rohm is another interesting story – and a fascinating Kyoto-culture company (with headquarters not so far from superstar Nintendo). Rohm was founded in 1958 by today’s CEO Sato Kenichiro to make resistors, and he later changed the name to R.ohm and then ROHM – today 80% of products are semiconductors. With increasing competition ROHM’s initially very high margins melted away. To counter the trend towards commoditization, ROHM invests heavily in R&D with technology centers around the world. Last week ROHM made global headlines: US fund Brandes had proposed a US$ 157 million share buy back, which was rejected at the shareholder meeting. Looking at ROHM’s margin over the years, its clear that action is required to bring margins again from today’s zero to the previous 20% level. I can sympathize with shareholders who think that a Shuji Nakamura / Nichia-type R&D breakthrough would be more likely to deliver such a comeback rather than a share buy back.

Note that not all shareholder proposals by US or European funds are rejected summarily at Japanese company shareholder meetings… some well prepared proposals have actually been accepted successfully.

Margins of Panasonic, Hitachi, Rohm with Siemens and GE
Margins of Panasonic, Hitachi, Rohm with Siemens and GE

Starting from similar positions in the 1990s:

GE, Siemens, Hitachi and Panasonic all four had almost the same size in terms of annual sales back in the 1990s – today GE is twice the size of Hitachi or Siemens and 2.5 the size of Panasonic

Today, GE is about twice the size as Hitachi or Siemens, and about 2.5 the size of Panasonic. It seems that successful globalization is a necessary factor to achieve GE-style growth – necessary, but not sufficient… (see: our analysis of dramatic differences in globalization of Japan’s electric groups). The current crisis is a big opportunity for further growth by strong companies.

Revenue growth of Hitachi and Panasonic compared with SIEMENS and GE

Japan electronics industries – mono zukuri

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