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Sharp's future in doubt as Japanese tech continues to flounder

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Sharp is forecasting a second year of huge losses, predicting a 450 billion yen ($5.6 billion) loss for the current financial year. With the forecast, it issued a statement accepting that there is "material doubt" over the future of the century-old company, but outlined austerity measures that it says will ensure it stays afloat. Sharp outlined plans to cut 5,000 jobs back in August, but at the time it forecast its yearly loss at "just" 250 billion yen ($3.1 billion), meaning that in the past three months that figure has grown by a staggering 200 billion yen ($2.5 billion). A deal with Hon Hai was supposed to put around $800 million into Sharp's coffers in exchange for around a 10 percent stake in the struggling company, but falling share prices have led to a renegotiation, and the deal hasn't gone through yet.

How does Sharp intend to curb its mounting losses? Among the measures outlined in the forecast are selling assets, managing inventories, reducing capital investments, and cutting "personnel expenses" by calling for voluntary retirements and slashing salaries. It says these measures will help it to secure its credit line, regain trust, and improve business performance. In a move reminiscent of Oldmobile's ill-fated rebranding in the eighties, Sharp proclaimed that it will reposition itself as a "lifestyle-creating company" — it's not your father's Sharp anymore. Whether the restructuring plan will be enough to ensure its survival isn't sure: the company had its stock downgraded to junk status just a month ago, and only has around 221 billion yen (around $2.7 billion) in available funds.

"Perhaps it will not fall within this year, but I don't think Sharp has a viable business in the next 3-5 years."

"Perhaps it will not fall within this year, but I don't think Sharp has a viable business in the next three to five years," said one analyst, quoted by Reuters. "They need to cut off businesses that they can, conserve cash, and... produce something that's really competitive." The company's situation has not been helped by a strong yen increasing the cost of selling products overseas.

Sharp isn't the only Japanese tech company struggling: Sony and Panasonic have both faced difficult years recently. Panasonic, Japan's third-largest employer, cut almost 39,000 jobs over the past year, and yesterday forecast a $9.6 billion loss for the current financial year. Its stock status may also be downgraded soon. Sony posted a record loss last year, and has lost (a far smaller amount of) money over the first half of 2012 as well. Its recovery plan is at a more advanced stage than Sharp's, however, and the company says it's on track to post a small profit this year (provided it meets its predicted sales figures). Although Sony is Sharp's direct competitor in many areas, the hint of its recovery is a sign that there's at least a possibility that Sharp may be able to dig itself out of the red as well.