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Katsumi Kasahara/AP
Hitachi Ltd. President Kazuo Furukawa

Hitachi Will Plead Guilty in LCD Price-Fixing Case

March 11, 2009 12:30 PM
by Anne Szustek
Japanese technology manufacturer Hitachi has agreed to plead guilty to fixing prices on LCD screens sold to Dell for computer monitors.

Hitachi to Pay $31 Million in Fines to U.S. Department of Justice

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Hitachi has admitted to the U.S. Department of Justice that it conspired to keep prices artificially high on LCD screens intended for use with Dell desktop and laptop computers. As part of its plea agreement, the Japanese technology manufacturer is paying $31 million in fines.

"This case should send a strong message to multinational companies operating in the United States that when it comes to enforcing the U.S. antitrust laws we mean business," Acting Assistant Attorney General said in a statement quoted by the Associated Press.

According to the Department of Justice, Hitachi took part in meetings held in Japan, the United States and South Korea to discuss setting prices on the LCD screens in question from April 1, 2001 to March 31, 2004. "Hitachi also shared information on its sales of the LCDs sold to Dell as a way to show that it stuck to the agreed-upon prices," the IDG News Service reports.

Background: LG, Chungwa and Sharp plead guilty to price-fixing on flatscreens

Hitachi is the fourth technology manufacturer to enter an agreement with the Department of Justice in connection with price fixing on LCD screens in recent months.
In November, South Korea’s LG Display, Japanese technology manufacturer Sharp and Taiwanese company Chunghwa Picture Tubes pleaded guilty to fixing prices on flatscreens for use in cell phones, televisions and personal computers.

Assistant Attorney General Thomas Barnett, who heads up the Justice Department’s antitrust division, told Bloomberg in November that LG and Chunghwa, along with other companies, met several times from 2001 to 2006 in what were called “crystal meetings” to negotiate price-setting.

Price deflation is common as technology evolves; however the current tight market has accelerated price declines. According to statistics from the International Herald Tribune cited by findingDulcinea, the price of a 15.4-inch panel for use in a laptop computer dropped by roughly one-third from $97 to $63 over the six months leading up to the November agreement. During the same period, the cost of a 32-inch LCD screen for a television has plummeted to $223 from $321.

The Hitachi deal pushes the total fines levied in connection with the recent LCD price-fixing cases above $600 million, with LG responsible for $400 million of that total; as such, LG is paying the second-highest fine ever levied by the Justice Department’s antitrust division. Swiss pharmaceutical titan F. Hoffman-La Roche still holds the unsavory top spot in that category, with $500 million paid in 1999 in connection with a price-fixing case on vitamins.

Private class-action lawsuits have also been filed against the flatscreen producers, paving the way for consumer compensation.

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Reference: Technology, bargain hunting guides

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