Screens: Some Prices Have Bottomed Out

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We always expect prices for electronics to fall, and the predictions are just that for most flat-panel LCDs and plasmas. But don't get too cocky this holiday season—there are blips on the screen(s).

Prices of cheaper panels, particularly the smaller LCD models that are popular as computer monitors, could even—gasp!—go up for a few months. Prices for 17- and 19-inch LCD panels have jumped in recent weeks as manufacturers cut production in response to a long-running glut, reports iSuppli, a market research firm. As of midsummer, the glut had sent prices down about 40 percent compared with a year earlier. For consumers, that meant $100 might buy a 17-inch LCD monitor after rebate, or even a rare 19-inch model after a couple of rebates.

The prices were so low that no manufacturers were making any money, says Sweta Dash at iSuppli.

"It was like attaching a $1 bill to each panel and sending it out."

So manufacturers cut output, and between August and September of this year, prices on the 17-inch panels had risen about 25 percent. That won't necessarily translate into comparable in-store price increases, Dash says, because the panels account for perhaps 60 percent of the cost of a monitor, which includes other electronics and parts.

But in looking around, you can forget any $100 deal for a 19-inch monitor, and it's hard to find a 17-inch model, even after rebates.

The good news for consumers? Competition remains fierce at larger panel sizes—those 37 inches and bigger that are used in televisions. Above 40 inches, LCDs are also battling plasmas, pushing prices down further. The one exception might be with cheaper brands among the bigger TV panels, where demand this holiday season may outstrip supply and prices might bump up a bit.

More evidence that what goes down may actually go up, even in electronics.