Manufacturers Plead Guilty to Price Fixing; Electronics Firms Conspired to Drive Up Costs of LCD Products

Article excerpt

Byline: Tom Ramstack, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Prices for flat-screen televisions, personal computers and cell phones are likely to fall after manufacturers of liquid crystal displays on Wednesday admitted they conspired to drive up the prices of such panels, according to Justice Department attorneys.

Major Asian electronics manufacturers LG Display Co., Sharp Corp. and Chunghwa Picture Tubes Ltd. agreed to pay $585 million in fines to settle the department's charges of price fixing. The manufacturers sell liquid crystal displays (LCDs) to American corporations such as Apple Inc., Dell Inc. and Motorola Inc.

As a result of agreements among executives of the Asian manufacturers to set prices for their products, consumers were forced to pay more for these products, Thomas O. Barnett, assistant attorney general in charge of the department's Antitrust Division, said at a news conference Wednesday in Washington.

Businesses that agree to set prices for their industry, rather than letting marketplace competition determine costs to consumers, violate antitrust provisions of the federal Sherman Act.

A government criminal information listing violations of the act was filed Wednesday against the Asian manufacturers in federal court in San Francisco.

LCD panels are used in computer monitors, televisions, mobile phones and many other electronic devices. The worldwide LCD market reached $70 billion in 2006.

Unnamed representatives of the Asian manufacturers held what they called crystal meetings during which they agreed on prices they would charge customers, the Justice Department reported.

Breaking up the scheme is likely to lead to lower prices, Mr. Barnett said. He would not give an estimate on how low the prices would fall.

The bulk of the fines, or $400 million, is being paid by LG Display, a South Korean corporation, which pleaded guilty to participating in a conspiracy from September 2001 to June 2006. …