The Feds Bust Open an LCD Price-Fixing Ring

By  |  Thursday, November 13, 2008 at 3:29 pm

If you ever thought that you overpaid for a device containing an LCD screen, your suspicions were correct. It turns out that there was a global conspiracy to set LCD prices artificially high, and the culprits were some of the biggest manufacturers in the marketplace.

Chunghwa Picture Tubes, LG Display, and Sharp have all been found to be in violation of the U..S’s Sherman Act. Lawyered up and doubtlessly looking for an easy out, the terrible trio plead guilty on Wednesday to charges filed under an ongoing Department of Justice antitrust investigation into price fixing and have agreed to pay a combined $585 million in criminal fines.

The scope of the DOJ’s investigation was truly impressive. It cooperated with enforcement officials on three continents: North America, Europe and Asia, according to a statement by US assistant attorney general Thomas O. Bartnett. He noted that the case, “…exemplifies the need to prosecute and deter international cartels that harm American consumers and businesses.”

The list of sins compiled by the government included engaging in bilateral meetings, regular conferences and other communication, in addition to exchanging sales figures in a coordinated conspiracy to fix prices for LCD panels worldwide. In doing so, the trio managed to fool the hardware manufacturers they sold panels to, including Apple, Dell and Motorola. Now, that would even make Vito Corleone proud.

Of course the plea agreements are subject to court approval, and the trio will remain under the watchful eye of regulators. However, the damage to our wallets has already been done. Expect some civil actions to be filed on behalf of consumers. Where’s a good trial lawyer when you need one?

In an era where corporate governance has been an afterthought and high-powered Wall Street executives were all too willing to play roulette with default credit swaps, forgive me if I question whether the aforementioned manufacturers of monitors and PCs would have passed on any cost savings to customers anyway. Executive bonuses are another story.

I attempted to reach an IDC analyst to discuss the matter and offer you something other than my own pithy remarks, but was unable to do so before press time.

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