Philips sees booming LED lighting sales

Three LED lights (the middle one is a Philips Hue) LED lights are up to 10 times more energy-efficient than conventional bulbs, and last several years

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Philips, the world's biggest lighting maker, has reported a 38% jump in first quarter LED sales from a year earlier.

The pricey but long-life and energy-efficient bulbs now represent 23% of its lighting sales.

The Dutch healthcare and consumer appliances group said it made 162m euros ($211m; £139m) in the first three months of the year.

Appliances sales were up 10% from a year earlier, but other parts of the business were stagnant.

"What we have seen in the first quarter is a slow start to of the year, with 1% sales growth in the world," chief executive Frans van Houten said. "That, of course, is not very exciting."

Sales in the US and Europe remained tepid. "We can also see that China is in a slower growth situation than one or two years ago," he told BBC World Business Report.

Nonetheless, Philips said in its statement that the firm was still on course to meet its targets for the year as a whole.

Philips' chief executive officer Frans Van Houten: "It's a combination of becoming a leaner company and making sure that our innovations are primed"

Healthcare sales fell at an underlying rate of 1% from a year earlier, while overall lighting sales were flat due to weak demand from the construction sector.

Mr van Houten said that hospital chief executives in the US are currently being very careful with capital spending due to regulatory reforms.

One of the parts of the business to do better was its home entertainment division, as losses on its TV sales declined, pushing the unit back into an 8m-euro profit. Philips agreed in January to sell that division to Japan's Funai Electric for 150m euros.

The company wants to focus on its healthcare, light bulbs and home appliances businesses as part of its "Accelerate!" restructuring plan.

"We see another opportunity for a billion-euro improvement... by making products that are more competitive," Mr van Houten told the BBC.

He said that the firm could do this by designing products that use fewer expensive raw materials.

The group's profit for the quarter somewhat beat market expectations, and represents a rebound from a sizeable loss in the previous three-month period.

However, income from its continuing operations - excluding its soon-to-be-divested home entertainment division - was down about a quarter from the same period a year earlier.

The LED lighting revolution

Philips is looking to boost growth by increasing innovation. On Saturday, the firm announced a new partnership with Swedish medical group Elekta and the Netherlands Cancer Institute to develop new MRI scanners that can be used to guide targeted radiotherapy.

"We think that minimal invasive treatment is the future for surgery," said Mr van Houten.

Earlier this month, Philips' lighting division unveiled a prototype LED strip light that would be twice as energy efficient as existing fluorescent lighting used in offices.

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