Sony/Samsung LCD jv restructuring: a study in cash flow vs. earnings

the Sony/Samsung LCD-making joint venture

On Monday Sony and Samsung announced a restructuring of the joint venture they entered into during 2004 to manufacture large liquid crystal displays for televisions.

The joint venture developed out of Sony’s dire need of LCD manufacturing capacity (it had badly underestimated how quickly flat panels would replace traditional CRTs) and Samsung’s desire to achieve economies of scale and its hope for technology transfer.  But after seven years, in a world awash in LCD-making factories, and given Samsung’s technological dominance over Sony, the jv had outlived its usefulness.

I haven’t looked at Sony carefully for years.  My overall impression continues to be that the firm is a mess.  But that’s not what I want to write about.

terms of the jv restructuring

The essentials of the recasting of the LCD joint venture are:

–Samsung will buy out Sony’s interest (50% minus one share) for around $950 million in cash,

–Sony agrees to buy LCDs from Samsung (no details of the arrangement given),

–Sony will record a loss of $850 million on the sale, implying its ownership interest is being carried on the balance sheet as worth $1.8 billion, and

–Sony expects to save about $160 million a quarter–a combination of savings on LCD purchases and being freed of the need to make new investments in the jv.

earnings and cash flow implications for Sony

earnings

The writeoff of its 2004 investment will depress Sony’s March 2012 earnings by $850 million.  The $950 million payment will be treated as a return of capital and won’t show on the income statement.

If we assume that the jv is simply breaking even, which is probably much too optimistic, there will be no effect, positive or negative, on future eps for Sony from its dissolution.  To the degree that the jv is loss-making, that red ink will disappear from the income statement.

cash flow

Here’s where the significant positive impact comes.  The transaction turns a loss-making asset into significant positive cash flow.

First, of course, Sony takes in $950 million in cash early next year, an amount equal to roughly 5% of the company’s market cap.

Second, it avoids having an outflow of money that it estimates at $160 million per quarter.  In other words, Sony enhances its cash flow by that amount.

Two positives from this:

–Sony can reallocate the cash saved to more productive activities, and

–my quick perusal of Sony’s most recent form 6-K (on page 18) suggests that the $160 million a quarter the jv was using up is virtually all the cash flow Sony is currently generating.

my point

This kind of transaction is a staple of value investing, where a loss-making asset that earnings-oriented investors regard as worthless is sold–and thereby is shown to have substantially more value than the market has realized.  In the case of larger sales or smaller companies, transactions like these can be transformative.

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