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Panasonic Panic

By Rich Smith - Updated Apr 5, 2017 at 8:08PM

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Profits plunge as battery maker bids for consolidation.

Pity Panasonic (NYSE:PC). Oil prices are plunging, and with them, the fortunes of one of the companies best positioned to profit from the Hybrid Revolution. But here's the thing: The one has little to do with the other.

Over the past few days, the Japanese electronics giant has seen its stock price undone by a pair of announcements that shook investor confidence. Earlier this week, Panasonic seemed to confirm-by-not-denying media reports that it has bid $1.26 per share to acquire rival electronics maker Sanyo (Pink Sheets: SANYY.PK).

Just another takeover
If you think this is just another merger, think again. Right now, Sanyo and Panasonic are two of the biggest forces in manufacturing the rechargeable batteries used in "hybrid" cars. Oil prices may be down today, but automakers both foreign -- Toyota Motor (NYSE:TM), Honda Motor (NYSE:HMC), and Nissan (NASDAQ:NSANY) -- and domestic -- Ford (NYSE:F) and General Motors (NYSE:GM) -- have made sizeable investments in fuel-efficient hybrids. Considering that hybrids started to really catch fire in popularity at oil prices right around where we are today, I doubt even a two-thirds drop in the price of oil is going to extinguish the blazing demand for hybrid batteries.

So, that explains Panasonic's interest in Sanyo. What about the sellers'? Three firms have sizeable stakes in Sanyo: Daiwa Securities, Sumitomo Mitsui Financial, and Goldman Sachs (NYSE:GS) own preferred shares amounting to a 70% voting stake in the firm once converted into common stock. Of these, Goldman at least is not amused with Panasonic's "bid" -- Goldman wants twice what Panasonic offers. (Daiwa and Sumitomo's views are not known.) And if investors are worried about the price of the buyout doubling, I can certainly understand that.

Nor did Panasonic help its case when, yesterday, it slashed earnings guidance by 90%. Blaming restructuring costs, the Yen's "rapid appreciation" (up 14% against the U.S. dollar in three months), and a bleak economy, Panasonic expects to earn just $315 million for the fiscal year ending in March (fiscal 2009).

Profit from panic
Such a profit figure will give Panasonic a P/E of -- gulp! -- 78. But is that reason enough to sell the stock? I'm not so sure. Consider -- $315 million is only Panasonic's putative accounting profit. We won't know for several more months how cash-profitable the firm was in 2009. What we do know is that the market currently values Panasonic at less than 0.8 times its book value.

Foolish takeaway
Methinks me spies value here, Fools. Watch closely and keep your wallet handy.

For more on the companies profiting from hybrid cars:

Fool contributor Rich Smith does not own shares of any companies named above. The Fool has a disclosure policy. Nissan Motor is a Motley Fool Global Gains recommendation. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days.

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