Hitachi pleads guilty to LCD price fixing

I'm an executive in a major CE company, get me out of here!
I'm an executive in a major CE company, get me out of here!

Hitachi is the latest multinational to admit to price-fixing in the US LCD market, and today agreed to pay a $31 million (£22.5 million) fine.

A felony charge filed today in US District Court in San Francisco charges Hitachi Displays Ltd, a subsidiary of Hitachi Ltd, with participating in a conspiracy to fix the prices of LCDs sold to Dell for use in desktop monitors and notebook computers between April 2001 and March 2004.

According to the plea agreement, which is subject to court approval, Hitachi Displays has agreed to cooperate with a US Department of Justice ongoing antitrust investigation.

Fixers fixed

So far, the DoJ has claimed the scalp of four major multinationals in its LCD price-fixing sweep. In December, LG was sentenced to pay a $400 million (£291 million) criminal fine - the second-largest fine in the DoJ Antitrust Division history.

The same month, Sharp was hit with a $120 million (£87 million) penalty after pleading guilty to participating in three separate conspiracies to fix the prices of LCDs sold to Dell, Apple and Motorola Inc.

Then in January, Chunghwa Picture Tubes Ltd. (Chunghwa) pleaded guilty to participating in the same worldwide conspiracy as LG, and was sentenced to pay a $65 million (£47 million) criminal fine.

LCDs great for watching Porridge

LG and Chungwa executives have been sentenced to prison terms and personal fines for their part in the conspiracies.

Today's charge allege that Hitachi participated in meetings to discuss the prices of LCD to be sold to Dell, agreed prices with other conspirators and even exchanged details of sales to Dell, to enforce the price-fixing cartel.

Scott Hammond, Acting Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Department of Justice's Antitrust Division said, "This case should send a strong message to multinational companies operating in the United States that when it comes to enforcing the US antitrust laws we mean business."

In 2006, the worldwide market for TFT LCD panels was approximately $70 billion (£51 billion). Hitachi Displays Ltd., based in Tokyo, Japan, reported $1.75 billion (£1.3 billion) in total revenue for the fiscal year ending March 2008.

Mark Harris is Senior Research Director at Gartner.