Japan's electronics industry Japan's electronics multinationals

NEC smartphone termination, discussions with Lenovo failed

NEC smartphone – admits losing against competition from Apple and Samsung

NEC smartphone – NEC used to be No. 1 in Japan’s “Galapagos keitai” market

Just a few years ago, NEC was No. 1 in market share of Japanese pre-smart phone “Galake” (Galapagos-keitai, for a review of Japan’s Galapagos effect click here) super-feature phones.

Recently NEC attempted negotiations with Lenovo, to jointly manage a new NEC-Lenovo smart phone joint-venture company, into which the NEC smartphone division would be merged.

NEC reported that these negotiations with Lenovo had failed, and NEC now reports that it will terminate NEC smartphone production, but will continue to manufacture “Galake” feature phones. Our expectation is that NEC Galake feature phone production will also be terminated at some point in the not too distant future.

NEC smartphone failure: What has caused NEC’s fall from No. 1 to an impending exit from the mobile phone sector? Several factors in our view:

  • NEC focused mobile phone production on Japan’s domestic market, especially NTT-docomo, since NEC is one of the NTT-Groups traditional suppliers, NEC thought that NEC will also remain among NTT-docomo’s preferred suppliers.
  • NEC failed to build viable global mobile phone business outside Japan. NEC hoped to ride NTT-docomo’s global introduction of i-Mode, supplying NEC-i-Mode phones via NTT-docomo to the world. However, since i-Mode’s global introduction failed, this strategy fell flat.
  • NTT-docomo recently decided to focus on two core handset suppliers: Samsung and SONY. Since NEC is not included in NTT-docomo’s two core handset suppliers, NEC essentially lost docomo’s sales support.
  • Unlike Google/Motorola and Apple, NEC does not control the OS-software, and therefore always depended on others to supply the OS software, which is of course an achilles’ heel type vulnerability. Still, Samsung is successful without using its own OS, although Samsung is working hard along various paths hoping to create a viable OS and ecosystem, such as Tizen.
  • Patents: NEC does not have a strong mobile phone patent position to stand up to Apple, Google or Samsung in the mobile phone patent wars.
  • Lack of scale: while NEC was a temporary No. 1 in Japan, NEC never had sufficient scale on a global level in mobile phones or smartphones.
  • Lack of focus: NEC is active in a large number of business areas, and smartphones is a small part of total activities of NEC. Thus NEC does not have the focus on smartphones which would be necessary to create global success. Probably NEC considers smartphones and feature phones a secondary business.
  • Neither has NEC sufficient financial strength to build a global smartphone business at this stage.

Here is an overview of NEC’s financial performance over the last 15 years, the period FY1998 – FY2012

NEC smartphone: During the 15 years FY1998-FY2012, NEC revenues declined from YEN 5000 Billion to YEN 3000 Billion, while reporting on average annual net losses of YEN 39 Billion/year.
During the 15 years FY1998-FY2012, NEC revenues declined from YEN 5000 Billion to YEN 3000 Billion, while reporting on average annual net losses of YEN 39 Billion/year. source:

For a detailed analysis of Japan’s electronics industry sector including NEC, see:

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Japan's electronics multinationals M&A

Chinese global brand – LENOVO

On February 1, 2007, LENOVO announced excellent 3rd Quarter results. I commented live on CNBC-TV. Read comments on LENOVO’s results below.

Comments on LENOVO’s 3Q results

LENOVO (traded on the the Hong Kong stock exchange) for 3Q announced 23% higher profits compared to 3Q one year ago. Revenue increased slightly to US$ 4 billion, making LENOVO a US$ 12 billion/year company. LENOVO is very successful in it’s home market China, where it controls more than 35% of the PC market. While shipments in China rose 17% during the quarter ending Dec 31, 2007, global sales only increased 0.4%, held back mainly by performance problems and falling sales in the Americas. Globally, LENOVO is squeezed between ACER below, which grows much more rapidly (ACER’s growth was 32.4% in 3Q2006 compared to one year ago while LENOVO’s growth was only 10.1%) and Hewlett-Packard and Dell above. While Dell was struggling recently, Michael Dell came back as CEO of Dell, and I expect Dell to improve and become a much more difficult competitor for LENOVO. LENOVO’s challenge is to turn around the US operations, where it is losing ground. To do so, LENOVO will need to strengthen sales to consumer markets, maybe by learning attractive product design by watching APPLE, since competing on price will further hit profits. LENOVO risks to be overtaken globally by ACER.

Comments on LENOVO

LENOVO is more important than it’s size of US$ 12 billion in sales suggests for the following reasons. LENOVO is one of the first Chinese companies developing a global brand and a global business. With China’s growing economic importance on the world stage, if LENOVO manages to turn-round US operations and becomes globally successful, it’s management structure and methods may become a model for other Chinese companies to globalize. It is interesting to compare LENOVO’s relative success after the acquisition of IBM’s PC business with BENQ’s acquisition of SIEMENS-Mobile phones. If LENOVO succeeds to turn-round US operations, LENOVO may become a model case for futher take-overs of Western companies by Chinese companies. LENOVO is owned 27.3% by the Chinese Academy of Science. If LENOVO succeeds and continues to expand it’s success story, financial benefits will flow back to the Chinese Academy of Science, strengthening China’s science base and contributing to China’s further development. LENOVO is also China’s largest domestic mobile phone maker, after recently overtaking Ningbo-Bird. LENOVO sold 2.1 million mobile phone handsets in 3Q2006, a market share of 6.2%, and annual sales on the order of 8 million phones. This number is far below NOKIA’s sales on the order of 350 million phones/year globally, and recently global phone makers have been gaining ground over local makers in China. However, LENOVO does have a chance sometime in the future to become a global mobile phone player in the way SAMSUNG has succeeded.

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