As a result of reduced shipments of the iPhone 5, Hon Hai Precision Industry Co. (trading as Foxconn), suffered an 8.19 percent drop in its combined annual revenues in 2012. The company is the world’s largest electronics contract manufacturer, when measured in terms of revenue. HTC is another leading manufacturer in Taiwan, but in the last few years it has focused on branding its own line of products. Despite their successes, both companies are facing difficult times ahead.
In 2012, South Korea’s Samsung accounted for over 30 percent of the global smartphone market, well ahead of Apple’s 18.4 percent and HTC’s 4.8 percent. Samsung’s net profits also surpassed those of HTC for the first time (by 1.6 times). As two of Taiwan’s most successful hi-tech companies, Hon Hai and HTC’s success or failure will have a profound impact on the future of high-tech industries in Taiwan.
HTC seeks to upgrade
For Peter Chou, HTC’s CEO and president, 2013 will be a pivotal year, since it will determine whether the company can emerge from the depths of an extremely difficult 2012. Last year, total revenue fell an estimated 37 percent and its global market share fell from 10.7 percent to 4.8 percent. The company’s share price plummeted to a 7.5-year low, and its earnings per share of NT$20.14 (US$0.68) were barely a quarter of the NT$73 (US$2.47) in EPS posted by HTC in 2011, Commonwealth reported.
HTC has refused to succumb to the gloom, instead launching a series of new phones. The company’s “Butterfly” model represents the first weapon in the company’s arsenal to reverse its fortunes. HTC J smart phones, jointly introduced by HTC and KDDI, one of Japan’s largest telecom operators, have sold briskly in Japan. The two firms partnered again to introduce the five-inch screen HTC J Butterfly, which is also doing well in the market. According to KDDI’s hot sales list, the Butterfly even beat Apple’s iPhone 5 in Japan. The Butterfly J has enabled HTC to emerge from a dark valley and into the sunlight again. Additionally, HTC is reviewing its product and marketing strategies in order to remain competitive.
Fighting a David and Goliath battle
Although successful in Japan, another problem facing HTC is that its success in Japan cannot be easily replicated elsewhere. “Japan is an extremely closed market controlled by the major telecom vendors. Even Nokia and the iPhone have been unable to break into Japan,” said Lee Ji-ren, who lectures on business strategy and management at National Taiwan University (NTU). He explained that Japanese-brand smart phones hold a 70-percent share of the market, meaning HTC does not have to directly butt heads with Apple and Samsung, reported Commonwealth.
“Actually, HTC is still a profitable company. It’s just that it has run into the world’s two strongest adversaries,” said Victor Tsan, the vice president and general director of the Market Intelligence & Consulting Institute (MIC).
According to Commonwealth, these two adversaries are the largest competitors for HTC in the global smart phone market. Samsung’s revenue is nine times that of HTC. It has a market value 28 times that of HTC, and R&D spending 15 times that of HTC. Apple’s revenue is seven times greater than that of HTC, with a market value measuring 60 times that of HTC, and it spends four times as much on R&D.
How can HTC compete given such overwhelming odds? In facing Samsung which has 31 percent of the global market share, and Apple, which takes 60 percent of all profits in the smart phone business, HTC clearly understands that it has to fight to protect the company’s turf. HTC realizes it has to be financially fit to take on this monumental challenge. The company will have to find its own niche in defeating the Goliaths of the industry and overcome its inherent limitations.
Taking advantage of markets ignored by Apple
There are still opportunities and one of them is to cater to China’s middle- and lower-end smart phone market, which has long been ignored by Apple and under-served by Samsung, said Commonwealth. In the third quarter of 2012, HTC sold 2.8 million smart phones in China, giving them a 5.8 percent market share and surpassing Apple’s tally.
“The iPhone’s average selling price is US$600, and that won’t come down. HTC already has strong product development and time-to-market capabilities. It now has to learn how to segment the market at price points below US$600 and take advantage of a market Apple ignores,” Lee suggested. And only time will tell if this market strategy will pay off for HTC.
HTC is determined to continue its focus on R&D and innovation to stay strong in Taiwan. “At least one company is still willing to keep its production line in Taiwan and to make the best products. I am proud to say that I stay in HTC to fight,” a senior HTC R&D official told Commonwealth.
Hon Hai is too big to fall
On January 10, Hon Hai Precision Industry Co. announced its 2012 non-combined revenues had reached NT3.2 trillion (US$107 billion). This broke its own record in monthly, quarterly and annual reports, an unprecedented high among all the private manufacturing businesses among the Chinese communities, Business Weekly reported. A month before this announcement, 62-year-old Terry Gou, chairman and president of Hon Hai, was included – for the first time – in Forbes’ World Most Powerful People list. Hon Hai was also listed as the tenth largest employer in the world by the UK’s BBC with 1.2 million employees in March, 2012. Nine months later, Hon Hai has almost 1.5 million employees.
At present, Hon Hai is a conglomerate “too big to fall,” said Business Weekly. Why? Because Hon Hai controls the supply of over half of the world’s desktop computers, as well as Apple’s iPhones, iPads, Sony’s liquid crystal display television sets, the PlayStation 3, and Nintendo’s Wii gaming machines. The company supports the livelihood of over 10,000 related companies. Not so long ago, Hon Hai contributed 20 percent of total revenues to the integrated industrial cluster of precision machine manufacturing in central Taiwan.
According to a study by the Topology Research Institute, without Hon Hai, the popularity of Apple’s iPhone, iPod, and iPad would have been delayed by two to three years, and the price of entry level desktop computers would be double, reported Business Weekly.
What does Apple’s decline mean for Hon Hai
After Hon Hai’s announcement of record high revenues came a string of bad news from Apple. News quickly spread that Apple intended to introduce a low cost iPhone to grab a share of emerging markets and break its own one-phone-per-year rule. This caused a sharp drop in iPhone 5 sales, the fastest depreciation and with the shortest life span in the history of the iPhone. Then Apple announced its intention to half its order of the iPhone 5. All these measures seriously hurt the company’s stock price. This means that Apple’s supremacy in commanding the highest market value in the world now faces a new challenge. It also casts a shadow over Hon Hai’s future.
Due to declining demand for the iPhone 5, Macquarie Securities believes iPhone 5 shipments will drop 32 percent from 44 million sets in the previous quarter down to below 30 million in the first quarter of 2013. Before the introduction of the iPhone 5 S in June, there will be two quarters of non-active operation, which will definitely affect Hon Hai’s revenue in the first half of 2013.
Gou has betted heavily on Apple in terms of capital and human resources. Almost 40 percent of Hon Hai’s 1.5 million-strong work force in China is reserved for making Apple products. Now the only breakthrough the world is expecting from Apple is iTV.
In 2012, Gou became a shareholder of Sharp’s Sakai Plant, a subsidiary of Sharp, and is planning to join Sharp too. Beside taking over the rights of management of Innolux Corp. (formerly Chimei Innolux Corp.), he has even used a large amount of his Hon Hai stock to borrow NT$20 billion (US$677 million) to bet on the success of Apple’s iTV.
Business Weekly noted that if Apple is not red hot any longer, Hon Hai, a conglomerate with revenues of almost NT$4 trillion (US$135.6 billion), is also bound to lose its luster.
Size a blessing and a curse
The flexible, innovative and fast developing IT industry has helped Taiwan earn the title of “Silicon Island,” playing an important role in the global supply chain over the last two decades. But after a paradigm shift bolstered by Apple and Samsung in recent years, Taiwan’s IT industry (OEM, ODM or key brands), is facing a crucial challenge and transformation.
HTC and Hon Hai definitely face significant challenges ahead. HTC is the world’s third-largest mobile phone brand, after Apple and Samsung, but in a much smaller company. The key for HTC’s survival will depend on its market development and marketing strategy.
Currently Hon Hai is expanding in central and western China by building a factory in Zhengzhou, Henan Province, and enlarging its facilities in Chengdu, Sichuan Province. However, Business Weekly reported, Hon Hai’s huge size is an advantage, but also a burden. Without transforming to increase its added value, will Hon Hai lose its advantage when China ceases to be a source of cheap labor?
And, because of its size, Hon Hai also has huge advantages, with its revenue accounting for 28 percent of Taiwan’s nominal GDP in 2012. The challenges faced by operating such a large operation can be illustrated by considering the company’s ability to feed its workforce at its sprawling factory in Shenzhen, Guangdong Province. On a daily basis the plant’s central kitchen faces the challenge of feeding up to 60,000 people per meal. Similarly, to sustain the firm into the future, Business Weekly asked, “Without Apple’s immense global brand value, who can satisfy Hon Hai’s appetite?”