TOKYO (Reuters) - Sharp Corp lifted its full-year earnings forecast on Tuesday after receiving strong orders from Chinese makers for smartphone panels, putting it on firmer footing to secure the full-year net profit it needs as a condition for a $4.6 billion bank rescue.
Japan's largest display maker raised its full-year operating forecast for the year to March 31 to 100 billion yen ($988 million), up from a previous forecast of 80 billion yen, although it left its net profit forecast unchanged at 5 billion yen.
The net forecast compares with expectations of 8.82 billion yen, the average of the most accurate analysts' expectations according to Thomson Reuters Starmine.
The company, which also makes solar cells and TVs, cited strong orders for its small to midsize panels used in smartphones and tablets as it reported a 5.8 percent rise in operating profit for the October-December quarter to 47.6 billion yen, exceeding expectations of 35.42 billion yen, according to the average of five analyst estimates on Thomson Reuters Starmine.
Sharp, which racked up a net loss of 545 billion yen in the year through March 2013, has been trying to diversify its client base away from Apple Inc, which it supplies with small and mid-size panels for the iPhone and iPad.
The company said it had achieved high run rates at its display plants in Japan during the last quarter - a key operating target in its recovery efforts - and managed to boost the proportion of small to midsize panels at its Kameyama 2 factory in Japan to 30 percent of capacity as it shifts away from larger panels used in the struggling TV sector.
The company also managed to boost its equity ratio to 13.1 percent at end-December from 6.4 percent at end-September, as it shores up its tattered finances.
Sharp boosted its equity ratio to 13.1 percent at the end of December from 6.4 percent at the end of September.
The company posted its first quarterly net profit in two years for the July-September quarter, defying widespread expectations of a loss. It cited a weaker yen and the strength of solar cell sales in addition to its display panel business.
While Sharp has managed to bolster its display operations with orders from up-and-coming Chinese producers, doubts linger over its growth prospects.
Its shares, which fell 8.4 percent on Tuesday to 317 yen before the earnings announcement, have risen only 4.6 percent since the start of last year, compared with a more than doubling of shares in Panasonic Corp, another Japanese electronics giant in the midst of restructuring, and a 35 percent rise in Japan's benchmark Nikkei average.
(Reporting by Sophie Knight and Edmund Klamann; Editing by Matt Driskill)