Growing optimism about the next iPhone has propelled Apple Inc. to record highs. Halfway around the globe, a lesser-known Taiwanese company is riding that same wave of euphoria.
Hon Hai Precision Industry Co., the main assembler of the US companyâ€™s smartphones, has gained 29 percent in the past year, with its shares touching a decade-high on optimism about Appleâ€™s 10th anniversary iPhone. Thatâ€™s helped the biggest company in Foxconn Technology Group defy a flat-lining mobile market on expectations Apple will use the anniversary to introduce its most advanced and popular device yet.
Then thereâ€™s Terry Gou, whoâ€™s re-tooling Foxconn for the future. The billionaire founderâ€™s installed robots throughout a juggernaut that spans China to Southeast Asia to shore up its manufacturing prowess, while investing in emergent fields from virtual
reality to AI. He spearheaded the acquisition of Sharp Corp., transforming the ailing Japanese giant into a company thatâ€™s tripled in value and is now jointly investing billions. Underscoring the revival underway, Sharp on Friday raised its annual operating profit forecast by 27 percent.
The Foxconn group is now considering building a display-making facility for upwards of $7 billion with Sharp in the US, potentially creating tens of thousands of American jobs during President Donald Trumpâ€™s first year in office.
â€œIn the long run, Hon Hai will become a multi-faceted conglomerate as the companyâ€™s obviously making bets in emerging sectors like robotics and Internet of Things,â€ said Annabelle Hsu, an analyst with IDC in Taipei. â€œThe main areas where Hon Hai is cooperating with Apple are seeing slower growth â€” think smartphones and tablets. Hon Hai has to find emerging sectors where growth rate is high. They are good at this.â€ Hon Haiâ€™s shares, which have gained about 8 percent this month, were barely changed on Monday in Taipei.
Foxconnâ€™s approach isnâ€™t encroaching on its best clientâ€™s turf so far as it gets away from being an assembly business that relies on cost-efficiency. While Sharp is barely relevant in smartphones, it has valuable display technology that Apple uses, plus an enduring name in consumer electronics that may propel Gouâ€™s ambitions of moving up the value chain.
Hon Hai, as part of a Foxconn consortium, bought control of Sharp last year and the Japanese company is showing signs of life after years of getting pummeled by Korean rivals. The pair are jointly building a 61 billion yuan ($8.9 billion) liquid-crystal-display factory in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou that by 2019 will crank out next-generation displays for TVs. The Japanese company has set aside 200 billion yen ($1.8 billion) for developing organic light-emitting diode display facilities, staking a claim on a technology Appleâ€™s expected to adopt in future iPhones.
Foxconn and Hon Haiâ€™s diversification effort, coupled with iPhone exuberance, has helped its share price remain resilient in the face of bad news, closing at NT$90 on Friday. Last month, the company recorded its first annual revenue decline in history. With the next iPhone not expected until the second half of the year, analysts are projecting that Hon Hai will soon report its first annual net income drop since 2008, a year after the iPhone debuted.
Apple, which accounts for half the companyâ€™s revenue, played a pivotal role in the stockâ€™s recent buoyancy. The US company this month reported stronger-than-expected iPhone sales during the key holiday quarter. While the iPhone 7, introduced in September, failed to convince as many existing customers to upgrade as its predecessor, it did attract new smartphone buyers. That bodes well for the iPhone slated for later this year.
This month, analysts at Citigroup Inc., Nomura Holdings Inc. and HSBC Holdings Plc upgraded Hon Hai to a buy rating. William Yang, an analyst with Citi, wrote in his report that its valuation hasnâ€™t quite reflected the full impact of the new iPhone, particularly if it becomes the sole assembler for an OLED-equipped device.