Japan quake strains supply chain from chips to ships

By @ibtimes on

Automakers, shipbuilders and technology companies worldwide scrambled for supplies after the disaster in Japan shut down factories there and disrupted the global manufacturing chain.

Technology companies were particularly hit since Japan accounts for one-fifth of the world's semiconductor production, including about 40 percent of flash memory chips used in everything from smartphones, tablets to computers.

Multinationals that buy parts from Japan or have plants located there were grappling with power blackouts, factory closures and transportation problems after roads, railways and ports in north east Japan were destroyed by Friday's devastating earthquake and tsunami.

Toyota Corp was hard hit as many of its plants were near the epicenter of the 8.9 earthquake, and Sony Corp has suspended production.

Texas Instruments warned its two suspended plants would take until July to return to full production, though it had managed to re-direct 60 percent of their output to other sites. Of the two, its Miho facility churns out about 10 percent of its analog chips by revenue.

Intel Corp was managing better. It buys wafers from Japan but relies on flights to transport goods.

Right now the main issue is trying to sort through the issues associated with moving materials within Japan, Intel spokesman Chuck Mulloy told Reuters.

ON Semiconductor said unreliable power supplies kept one its six factories off line.

These disruptions pushed shares down worldwide in the industry. The Thomson Reuters G7 Semiconductor & Semiconductor Equipment Industry Group Domestic Float Price Return Index was off 1.1 percent late on Monday.

Rolling power blackouts are set to hit Tokyo and surrounding areas over coming weeks, adding to the challenge of inspecting and repairing northern Japan manufacturing plants. Aftershocks and radiation leaks from damaged nuclear power plants also threaten production in the region.

Companies and analysts said it was too early to gauge how long the problems would last. Power supply is critical, as is transport. Ports handling as much as 7 percent of Japan's industrial output sustained major damage from the quake, with most seen out of operation for months.

AUTOMAKERS

Toyota plans to halt production at all its 12 Japanese plants in Japan through Wednesday to support relief efforts, slashing output by 40,000 vehicles.

Not only is the struck region one of our production bases, those directly hit and vastly affected include our dealers, suppliers and numerous other partners, Toyota President Akio Toyoda said in a statement on Monday.

Honda Motor Co said it would suspend production at its Japanese plants at least until March 20, and it was closely monitoring the supply of parts to its southern England plant in Swindon.

In France, Nissan Motor Chief Executive Carlos Ghosn said he hoped the company's Japanese factories could start up again in 2-3 days. PSA Peugeot Citroen halted production of its iOn and C-Zero electric cars, which are based on Mitsubishi's iMiEV.

U.S. auto companies General Motors Co and Ford Motor Co said they had seen no parts disruptions yet.

I'm looking at it as mostly a temporary issue for the industry, Standard & Poor's Efraim Levy said. The question that no one can answer is what the duration will ultimately be.

It seems to be the automakers' plants themselves are in OK condition, but some suppliers have issues that stop production of a whole vehicle line of a certain car or a certain truck.

Others warned the long-term impact may be more severe than anticipated. Dave Andrea, economist with the Original Equipment Suppliers Association, said the earthquake could have the largest impact on the global auto industry since World War II.

Unlike now, past disasters had not hit as many segments of the infrastructure -- rails and roads to plants and electricity -- of a country with major auto manufacturing.

This is going to have an impact on every vehicle manufacturer and every supplier, he said.

KOREAN COMPANIES HIT

South Korean companies, which depend heavily on Japan for LCD glass, chip equipment, silicon wafers and other materials to make semiconductors, are likely some of the worst hit.

Hynix Semiconductor, the world's No.2 memory chipmaker and a rival of Japan's quake-affected Toshiba Corp and Elpida Memory, said it was concerned the quake may weaken consumer demand and disrupt supplies.

It could give a boost to battered chip prices but that's a short-term impact from disrupted supplies, said Hynix CFO Kim Min-chul. We are more concerned about the quake reducing overall consumer demand and disrupting supplies of chip components and equipment, which could interrupt our production as well.

Toshiba, which supplies more than a third of the NAND memory used worldwide in devices such as Apple's iPad, was restarting a chip factory in Iwate, northern Japan.

The disaster also led to a rise in spot prices in China for DRAM chips, mostly used in personal computers, said chip price tracker DRAMeXchange.

Nokia, said it was investigating supplies. About 12 percent of its components are sourced in yen, but Japanese components are likely to represent a larger share due to a recent renegotiation of supply contracts.

STEEL, SOLAR

Japanese steelmakers halted production at some plants, a possible problem for South Korean shipbuilders since Japan exports 40 percent of its steel.

South Korea has the world's top three shipbuilders -- Hyundai Heavy Industries, Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine and Samsung Heavy Industries

The earthquake also raised risks of lower production from Japanese manufacturers of polysilicon and wafers -- materials found in solar panels that convert sunlight into electricity.

Credit Suisse expects supply problems at solar wafer maker M. Setek Co, a unit of AU Optronics, whose plant is situated near Sendai close to the epicenter of the quake. AU said initial assessments showed no major damage but it was unclear when production would resume.

U.S. solar panel maker SunPower Corp could be vulnerable to wafer supply disruption because it relies on M. Setek for up to 20 percent of its supplies, Credit Suisse said. Still, its stock rose in U.S. trading along with the whole sector on optimism that solar would gain favor as questions swirl about the future of nuclear power.

Meanwhile Taiwan's TSMC, the world's largest contract maker of semiconductors, said there was no immediate threat to supplies and it had enough raw wafers, gases and chemicals and parts to keep running for at least 30 days.

(Additional reporting by Ben Klayman, Deepa Seetharam and Bernie Woodall in DETROIT, Hyunjoo Jin and Ju-min Park in SEOUL, Tarmo Virki in HELSINKI, Gilles Guillaume and Helen Massy-Beresford in PARIS, Rhys Jones in LONDON, Roberta B. Cowan in AMSTERDAM, Clare Jim in SHANGHAI and Leonora Walet in HONG KONG; Writing by Lincoln Feast and Alexander Smith; Editing by Anshuman Daga, Andrew Callus, Tim Dobbyn and Bernard Orr)

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