Sharp is indeed leaning towards a takeover by Apple's main manufactuing partner, Foxconn, but no exclusive negotiating rights have been offered, the company's CEO announced at a Thursday press conference.
"We are putting more resources on studying the Hon Hai [Foxconn] offer," said Kozo Takahashi, according to the New York Times. "We are considering the offers from the point of view of all of Sharp's stakeholders, its employees and shareholders."
Takahashi denied an NHK report that Sharp is giving Foxconn exclusive negotiating rights, however. That at least leaves open the possibility of a deal with Innovation Network Corp., a state-backed Japanese fund that would fold Sharp's display business into Japan Display, itself formed from units spun off of Hitachi, Sony, and Toshiba.
Foxconn's offer is believed to be worth at least 600 billion yen (about $5 billion), technically twice as much money as Innovation. The offers are structually different though, and Innovation's deal might be more likely to be approved by Japanese regulators, as well as garner support from various parties worried about a foreign firm swallowing a Japanese icon and weakening local industry. Foxconn has promised not to cut any jobs, but Japanese display suppliers are already fighting to keep up with Chinese and Korean rivals.
Takahashi noted that Sharp will make a decision within the next month.
Whether Foxconn or Innovation wins, Apple orders will be one of the chief prizes of a takeover. Foxconn would be able to provide displays to Apple as well as manufacturing lines, while Japan Display would be able to increase its existing Apple display production.