Japan’s iconic electronics groups combined are of similar size as the economy of The Netherlands
Parts makers’ sales may overtake iconic electronics groups in the near future – they have already in terms of profits
In our analysis of Japan’s electronic industries we compare the top 8 iconic electronics groups with top 7 electronics parts makers over the period FY1998 to FY2014, which ended March 31, 2015 for most Japanese companies. Except for Toshiba, all Japanese major electronics companies have now officially reported their FY2014 results.
Japan’s iconic 8 electronics groups (Hitachi, Toshiba, Panasonic, Fujitsu, Mitsubishi Electric, NEC, SONY and SHARP) combined are as large as the economy of The Netherlands – but while the economy of The Netherlands doubled in size between 1998 and 2015, the sales/revenues of Japan’s iconic 8 electronics groups combined showed almost zero growth (annual compound growth rate = 0.4%) and almost zero income (profits).
Japan’s top 7 electronics parts makers on the other hand – similar to the Netherlands – more than doubled their combined revenues (sales) over the 17 years from FY1998 to FY2014, and earned healthy and increasing profits.
While several of Japan’s iconic electronics groups are fighting for survival, Japan’s parts makers have very ambitious growth plans – some of them may well overtake the traditional electronics conglomerates in sales – they have already in terms of profits. And they aggressively acquire around the world.
Detailed data and analysis in our Report on Japan’s electronics sector
Japan’s electronics parts makers combined more than doubled sales over the last 17 years
Japan’s iconic top 8 electronics groups showed almost no growth over the last 17 years
Japan’s electronics parts makers grow – the traditional electronics groups stagnate
NEC is one of NTT’s traditional four equipment suppliers
NEC is one of NTT’s traditional suppliers of telecom equipment, and one of Japan’s flagship electronics companies. In the early days of the PC age, NEC dominated Japan’s PC market with the 98 series of PC, which had a NEC-proprietary variation of MicroSoft’s MS-DOS operating system.
NEC was the first ever Japanese joint-venture company with foreign capital: NEC started as a joint-venture with Western Electric Company
Interestingly NEC originally started as a joint-venture with Western Electric Company of the United States – NEC was the first Japanese joint-venture company with foreign capital.
NEC revenues and income overview
Here is an overview of NEC’s financial performance over the last 15 years, the period FY1998 – FY2012 – NEC’s business shrunk from YEN 5000 billion in FY1998 to YEN 3000 billion in FY2012, while on average reporting annual net losses of YEN 39 billion (US$ 390 million)/year over these 15 years.
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
For a detailed analysis of Japan’s electronics industry sector including NEC, see:
Japan’s electronics giants: as large as the economy of Holland, but 17 years of stagnation. No growth & no profits.
Daniel Loeb: SONY’s uninvited guest gives Japan’s business culture a jolt
Japan’s electronics giants combined are as large as the economy of Holland, but did not grow for about 17 years, and on average lost money all these years: no growth – no profits.
SONY abruptly created global headlines (e.g see New York Times), because US activist investor Daniel Loeb publicly encourages SONY’s CEO to speed up change. Mr Loeb’s Third Point LLC fund is SONY’s biggest shareholder at this time – surprising many, maybe even surprising SONY’s CEO, Mr Hirai. Mr Loeb’s encouragement was well timed: Mr Hirai’s will present SONY’s new strategy on May 22.
As we analyzed in our newsletter a few days ago and in more detail in our Electronic Industry Report, which was picked up by EE-Times and by the BBC, SONY recently earns its income, and offsets losses from the electronics and mobile phone businesses, mainly from asset sales and from subsidiary SONY-Finance – which sells life-insurance and credit cards. Therefore many believe that iconic SONY is undervalued, and needs much deeper and more fundamental change.
Japan’s iconic Big-8 electronics giants posses amazing technologies and engineers. However, their current situation is very much less than amazing, indicating huge opportunities. A few days ago the Big-8 all announced their results for FY2012, which ended on March 31, 2013 – lets look at the results together here.
Japan’s electronics giants: Averaged over the last 15 years, Japan’s Big-8 created net losses of YEN 104 billion/year
Subtracting losses from profits, and averaged over the last 15 years, Japan’s Big-8 created net losses of YEN 104 billion/year (US$ 1 Billion losses/year)
For the last two financial years the Big-8 created net losses as follows:
Financial Year ended combined net losses
FY2012 March 31, 2013 YEN 1143 Billion (US$ 11 Billion)
FY2011 March 31, 2012 YEN 909 Billion (US$ 8.9 Billion)
Hitachi’s smart transformation
Hitachi’s smart transformation (find an overview in our report) indicates that change can bring rapid improvement.
No growth: combined revenues of the Big-8 fell by YEN 1510 Billion (US$ 15 Billion) in the 15 years between FY1997 and FY2012 (assuming constant value YEN)
Many expect that “smart transformation” and globalization, and opening-up to the global society – combined maybe with a rejuvenation of “the Japanese model”, can release the potential for growth, which has been held back for 15 years.
In our electronic industry report we compare the Big-8 electronics companies with the Big-7 electronic parts manufacturers and show that their situation is much better, however the parts manufacturers face decreasing margins, also indicating the need for changing the business models and/or operations.
Japan’s Big-8 electronics makers combined have far lower market capitalization than Apple, Microsoft, Google or Samsung
We produced the figure above for the presentation at the Foreign Correspondents Club in Tokyo about the “Apple-Samsung Patent War and Impact on Japans Industries”. We used the figure above to visualize the might of the Apple and Google/Samsung camps vs Japan’s Big-8 today. 15 years ago, the power of Apple vs Samsung vs Japan’s Big-8 was exactly opposite.
There is no reason why Japan’s electronics sector cannot regain global strength and value – IF absolutely necessary changes are made. This situation represents outstanding opportunities, which no doubt are attracting Mr Loeb and his Third Point fund, and others.
Understand Japan’s electronics sector: top 8 giants, and top electronic component makers
Study our report “Japan electronics industries: mono zukuri” (approx. 230 pages, pdf file)
Japan’s top 8 electronics companies combined are as large as the Netherlands economically, but have shown zero growth and zero income over the last 14 years – thus represent “sleeping giants” – or dinosaurs, depending on the point of view, and depending on whether these companies succeed to reinvent themselves.
Japan’s top electronics companies combined are as large as the Netherlands economically, but have not shown any revenue growth over the last 14 years
Japan’s electronics sector still today is largely guided by national industrial policy, and by the management principles created long ago by charismatic founders such as Matsushita and Ibuka.
Intellectual Japan: smart transformation at Hitachi led by the CEO and by the Chief Transformation Officer CTrO
Hitachi’s “Chief Transformation Officer” (“CTrO”) at a recent presentation, explained that until 2 years ago Hitachi benchmarked its financial data purely domestically – until 2 years ago, Hitachi only compared performance with competitors such as Panasonic and Toshiba.
Only 2 years ago, Hitachi started to benchmark performance with global competitors such as GE and Siemens.
Japan’s top 8 electronics companies lost an average of YEN 50 billion/year over the last 14 years
Intellectual Japan: electronic component makers
Japan’s electronics component makers, such as Kyocera or Murata, which is on the official supplier list of Apple, report positive income – although margins are declining and the component industry sector is much smaller than the top 8 electronics manufacturers.
Drastic transformation is necessary to revive Japan’s electronics industry sector. Drastic change will happen one way or another and represents important opportunities. More details in our electronics industry report
Over the last 15 years, their combined annual sales growth was zero, and their combined annual loss was YEN 50.6 billion/year (= US$ 0.6 billion/year).
Compelling evidence that new business models for Japan’s electronics sector present a huge opportunity – as explained in this BBC interview.
Contrasting Japan’s “Big-8” electronics groups (Hitachi, Panasonic, Sony, Mitsubishi-Electric, Sharp, Toshiba, Fujitsu, NEC) with Japan’s 7 electronic parts makers (Murata, Kyocera, TDK, Alps, Nidec, Nitto, ROHM)
Over the last 14 years since FY1997, the combined growth in revenues (=sales) of Japan’s “Big-8” electronics groups was zero. The compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of Japan’s top 7 electronic parts makers combined was +3.1%.
Net income (profit) of Japan’s “Big-8” electronics groups vs top-7 electronics parts makers
Over the last 14 years since FY1997, Japan’s “Big-8” electronics groups combined showed average losses of YEN 50.6 billion/year (=US$ 0.6 billion/year), while Japan’s top 7 electronic parts makers combined earned YEN 196 billion/year (= US$ 2.4 billion/year).
Net after tax income of Japan’s “Big-8” electronics groups
This figure shows net after tax income for Japan’s “Big-8” electronics groups (Hitachi, Panasonic, Sony, Mitsubishi-Electric, Sharp, Toshiba, Fujitsu, NEC), for the years since FY1997. For 5 of these 14 years the industry sector reported combined losses, which in total exceeded the profits achieved in good years. As a result, averaged over all 14 years, the industry sector shows combined losses on the order of US$ 0.6 billion/year.
Creating new business models for this very large industry sector (of similar economic size as the Netherlands) is a huge opportunity.
Net income of Japan’s top 7 electronic parts makers
Japan’s top 7 electronic parts makers are in a much better financial situation than Japan’s electrical groups.
Over the last 14 years since FY1997, this industry sector only showed a net overall loss one single time – in the year following the Lehman shock, but showed combined net profits during all other years, resulting in average annual net profits on the order of US$ 2.4 billion/year.
Japan Galapagos effect: “Why do Japanese companies make so beautiful mobile phones with fantastic functions, and have almost no global market share?”
I asked this question back in 2003 to NTT-DoCoMo’s CEO Dr. Tachikawa (see my article “Leadership questions of the week” in Wallstreet Journal of June 12, 2006, page 31), and offered several proposals to Dr. Tachikawa, of which he accepted one.
A related question is: “why can Samsung, LG and Apple beat Japan’s initially far more advanced mobile phone makers, and why have Japan’s phone makers taken no effective action to build global business in order to avoid extinction?”
Now six years after my initial presentation to DoCoMo’s CEO, I have been invited as the only non-Japanese to work on Japan’s “Post-Galapagos Committee”. For most of this year our small group of industry CEOs, academics, government officials and other leaders have been working on understanding the reasons for Japan’s “Galapagos effect” and how to overcome it.
The “Galapagos effect” has not been created by a single factor. Instead a collection of choices by the management teams of Japan’s electrical conglomerates have prevented leverage of their domestic success stories into global success stories. These choices can be overcome. In our “Post-Galapagos committee” we have worked all-year on how to overcome these choices.
Unfortunately the “Galapagos effect” is only one symptom of the crisis of Japan’s electrical giants: most have shown little or no growth in sales over the last 10 years, while at the same time margins tend to be small or negative. Over the same period, General Electric has increased sales by a factor of about three, while at the same time earning healthy margins.
Overcoming this crisis will create many opportunities. If at least some of the conclusions of our “Post Galapagos Committee” can be realized, then our committee’s hard and totally voluntary work during most of this year and many late nights will not be wasted.
For an analysis of Japan’s electrical industry sector see our
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.
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.
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.