It has been widely reported that a U.S. District judge has ruled that class action suits can be brought against the LCD panel manufacturers that were accused of price fixing for their products. One class includes those companies that bought the panels to include in their own products — such as televisions, cell phones, and computer monitors — between 1999 and 2006. Another class includes indirect buyers, such as consumers who purchased products that contained panels from these manufacturers.
The defendants could include Samsung, Sharp, LG Display, and other companies. Their defense is made more difficult by the fact that they entered guilty pleas in response to the U.S. Justice Department investigation that led to about $585 million in criminal fines. Another factor that could make defense more difficult is that Chungwa Picture Tubes (CPT) and Epson have already settled civil cases with direct purchasers.
This decision is almost certain to cost the remaining companies a lot of money. There’s not a lot of margin in the LCD panel business to start with, and the competitive pricing (in spite of the price fixing) has resulted in prices that continue to drop. On the one hand, the eventual settlements in these cases are going to have to be passed on to new buyers at some point. On the other hand, however, the competition is going to help keep the margins and prices low. I think that the most likely outcome of this decision is that we’ll continue to see continued consolidation within the LCD manufacturing industry, as fewer and fewer companies will have enough chips to keep their seat at the table.