Japan’s Quake May Hurt Battery, Chip-Wafer, LCD-Panel Markets

Japans Quake May Hurt Battery, Chip-Wafer, LCD-Panel Market
A couple walks under falling snow amongst the rubble in Yamada, Iwate prefecture. Photographer: Jiji Press/AFP/Getty Images

The global supply of lithium-ion batteries, chip wafers and liquid-crystal display panels may be curtailed after last week’s earthquake in Japan, according to research reports.

Plant closures by Japanese manufacturers including Sony Corp. and Hitachi Chemical Co. will likely affect the rechargeable-battery market, Daiwa Securities Group Inc. said. Mitsubishi Gas Chemical Co.’s stoppage of resin shipments may hurt output of integrated circuit chips, Barclays Plc said. Prices of LCD panels and memory chips may rise as the earthquake leads to potential shortages, IHS ISuppli said yesterday.

The disaster in Japan, which produces about 40 percent of the world’s electronics and audiovisual components and 60 percent of the silicon used to make semiconductors, has shut down hundreds of plants in the nation. Damaged factories could take three months to recover, and others may be hobbled by transportation difficulties and shortages of power and water, the researchers said.

“It’s too early to tell when we can restart output,” Hiroshi Okubo, a spokesman for Sony, said of the company’s closed battery plants in Fukushima prefecture. He cited uncertainty over procurement of materials, transportation difficulties and power shortages.

Sony, Panasonic

While only a limited number of component makers have reported physical damage, they’re facing difficulties getting a stable power supply, raw materials and workers, said IHS ISuppli, based in El Segundo, California.

Plant closures at Hitachi Chemical, which makes materials used in lithium-ion cells, Sanyo Electric Co. and Sony may affect supplies of rechargeable batteries, Pranab Kumar Sarmah, a Hong Kong-based analyst at Daiwa Securities, said in a report published yesterday.

Sony is halting operations at eight factories, including those making lithium-ion batteries. Panasonic Corp., which controls Sanyo Electric, Japan’s biggest maker of rechargeable batteries, is suspending operations at some of its plants located north of Tokyo.

A three-month stoppage of resin shipments from Mitsubishi Gas Chemical Co. may put at risk as much as half the global output of chips used in devices including smartphones and tablet computers, Andrew Lu, an analyst at Barclays Capital Asia Ltd. in Hong Kong, wrote in a report yesterday.

Hitachi, LG Electronics

The chemical maker controls half the global market for the BT resin used by chipmakers including Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co., according to the Barclays report. The “larger-than-expected bottle neck” may affect companies whose earnings mostly depend on communication integrated circuits, Lu wrote.

Mitsubishi Gas isn’t certain when it may resume operations at its bismaleimide triazine facility in Fukushima prefecture, the Tokyo-based company’s sole plant making the BT resin, spokesman Atsushi Shibata said. The factory has a capacity to make 1 million square meters of resin monthly, he said.

Sanyo hasn’t seen an impact on lithium-ion battery production so far, Akihiko Oiwa, a Tokyo-based spokesman, said, adding that Sanyo’s rechargeable-battery operations are based in western Japan.

Hitachi Ltd.’s delivery of panels used in Nintendo Co.’s DS handheld video-game players and LG Electronics Inc.’s mobile phones may be affected if its display factory is shut for a month or longer, ISuppli said. Panasonic’s factory producing LCD TV panels may have been affected, and that may influence the availability and prices of products, it said.

Hitachi hasn’t determined when its LCD display unit can resume operation at its factory in Chiba prefecture, said Atsushi Konno, a company spokesman. The manufacturer is considering using its alliance with Taiwan-based Chimei Innolux Corp. to minimize a possible production decline, he said.

“There has been some damage, though not a fire or a collapse,” at Panasonic’s LCD factory in Mobara, Chiba prefecture, said Akira Katoda, a company spokesman. Panasonic hasn’t determined when to restart the factory, he said.

Osaka-based Panasonic aims to avoid an impact on LCD-panel supply by using an LCD plant in Himeji, western Japan, he said.

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