Thinking of buying one of them there flat-panel televisions this Christmas season? Hold that thought -- and put the TV back on the shelf. As low as prices have fallen in recent years, they just might fall quite a bit further in the very near future.
As reported by multiple sources yesterday, South Korean, U.S., EU, and Japanese antitrust regulators are looking into allegations that Korea's big LCD panel-makers (as opposed to LCD glass makers to the upstream, and LCD TV makers to the downstream) have engaged in price fixing of their wares, perhaps in an attempt to stem their tide of red ink.
News of the investigation helped drop the stocks of LG.PhilipsLCD
So far, various regulators from several countries are reportedly investigating a broad swath of the flat panel industry, ranging from LG.Philips and Samsung in Korea; to Seiko Epson, Sanyo, Sharp, and NEC
What's it mean for investors?
First off, if you own shares of any of the companies under investigation, expect volatility as rumors roil the markets over the next several months. Usually, the way these investigations work is that they drag on for months to years -- but once a company is found "guilty" (actually, once it "neither admits nor denies wrongdoing," but pays a fine anyway), the stock usually stabilizes (all other things being equal). Compared to the size of the LCD market ($53 billion in annual sales), the fines likely to be levied, an estimated $100 million to $300 million, are a relative pittance.
What's it mean for consumers?
It could well mean even lower prices on LCD televisions. Although the investigations reportedly center on suspiciously uniform panel pricing in the industry in 2003-2004, the stigma of the investigation could convince panel makers to reduce prices today as they emulate Caesar's wife. Alternatively, one condition of a settlement with regulators might be a requirement that panel makers reduce prices going forward, or offer rebates to past purchasers of LCD TVs. Either way, that would be good news for your wallet.
For related Foolishness on the one of the biggest names in the industry, read:
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Fool contributor Rich Smith does not own shares of any company named above.