Asahi Glass Auto Stigma Hides 89% Jump in Flat-Panel Earnings

By Masumi Suga July 23 (Bloomberg) -- Asahi Glass Co. shareholders, shortchanged by a struggling U.S. auto industry, may have a brighter future in television as consumers switch to flat-panel sets even as the economy cools.

Global demand for TVs with liquid-crystal displays will surpass conventional units for the first time this year, according to DisplaySearch, a research firm in Austin, Texas. Growing demand for newer technology may cushion the Tokyo-based company against declining U.S. auto-glass sales to Ford Motor Co. and Toyota Motor Corp.

``As sales of cars fall, glassmakers will have to consider ways to survive, such as making flat-panel glass,'' said Yuuki Sakurai, general manager of financial and investment planning at Fukoku Mutual Life Insurance Co., which oversees $54 billion.

The Tokyo insurer's Fukoku Capital Management Inc. unit boosted its stake in Asahi Glass by 3.2 percent to 64,000 shares as of April 21, according to Bloomberg data.

The world's biggest maker of car and truck windshields is trading at a three-month low on the Tokyo Stock Exchange. It is valued 36 percent cheaper than Nippon Sheet Glass Co., which sold a half-interest in the world's fourth-largest LCD producer to U.S. private-equity firm Carlyle Group in June. Asahi's screen-making unit is more than three times as profitable as the auto-and construction-glass division.

Global sales of LCD televisions will probably increase 31 percent to 104 million in 2008, accounting for 51 percent of the market, according to Daiwa Institute of Research, citing DisplaySearch. U.S. shoppers continue to buy flat-panel TVs even with consumer confidence at a 16-year low, Corning Inc. Chief Financial Officer Jim Flaws said in a June 24 interview.

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