TOKYO (Reuters) –
Japan's Sharp Corp (6753.T), the world's third-largest LCD TV maker, said that it expected to post a much deeper annual loss on sliding LCD prices for the year just ended but that it will speed up panel production.

To cut costs faster and keep ahead of price falls, Sharp, which trails Samsung Electronics Co Ltd (005930.KS) and Sony Corp (6758.T) in LCD TVs, said on Wednesday it would bring forward the start of output at a new LCD panel plant in western Japan by five months to October this year.

Demand is also coming back, Sharp President Mikio Katayama said.

"We will begin the start of production at the Sakai Plant in October to meet healthy demand ahead," he told a news conference.

"Getting the world's most cost-competitive factory onstream as quickly as we can will be a powerful weapon to win in this tough climate."

Sharp's 380 billion yen ($3.79 billion) plant in western Japan will process so-called 10th-generation glass substrates, which are bigger than earlier-generation substrates and help reduce per-panel production costs.

Its share price, which had fallen as much as 7.7 percent prior to the announcement, closed down 6.1 percent at 813 yen, against the Nikkei's (.N225) 2.7 percent fall.

Consumer interest in electronic gadgets has slumped as a global recession hits employment and income, pushing the world's top makers of liquid crystal displays into the red.

Mounting inventory from unsold LCD panels and TVs, as well as restructuring costs, dragged down Sharp's earnings outlook.

The company now expects an operating loss of 60 billion yen. That is far larger than its estimate in February of a loss of 30 billion yen and compares with a consensus of a 37.3 billion yen loss in a poll of 21 analysts by Reuters Estimates.

It would be Sharp's first ever operating loss.

CAN'T SLOW DOWN

Sharp is ramping up production in the face of uncertain demand, analysts said.

Utilization rates in the LCD panel sector are recovering, but they are still at only 70 percent to 80 percent, analyst Yuji Fujimori wrote in a note to investors on Tuesday, when he downgraded the stock to "sell" from "neutral."

"This leaves concerns about the market's capacity to absorb supply increases," he wrote.

Sharp said in 2007 that its new LCD plant would have an initial capacity to handle 36,000 glass substrates a month, which will eventually be doubled to 72,000 units.

Sharp, which supplies panels to makers of LCD TVs, is also considering working with an overseas partner in LCD panels, Katayama said.

The Nikkei business daily said in February that Sharp was in talks with Chinese rival SVA on joint LCD production in China.

Sharp is also building a new solar cell plant in Japan. The company said in 2007 the new plant, which is designed to make thin-film solar cells, is scheduled to start output by March 2010.

It is the world's fourth-largest solar cell maker behind Q-Cells (QCEG.DE), First Solar Inc (FSLR.O) and Suntech Power Holdings (STP.N) in 2008, according to PVNews industry news letter.

(Additional reporting by Mayumi Negishi; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

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