Tech companies in Japan react to tsunami

By Dow Jones Newswires
Posted March 11 at 9:47 a.m.

Technology companies Friday were assessing the impact of the Japanese earthquake on component supplies and on their local plants, staff and sub-contractors, with most saying it was too early to give more details.

The 8.9-magnitude earthquake struck northern Japan, causing deaths and damage to the northeast and panic as far south as Tokyo, with an ensuing tsunami devastating coastal areas.

Japan is a major exporter of electronic goods and chips. The total global semiconductor market alone is worth around $298 billion, with Japan contributing around 24 percent to that total and Taiwan 30 percent, according to data from U.K.-based semiconductor market research firm Future Horizons. Europe, meanwhile, accounts for only 8% of global semiconductor production, meaning the region is largely dependent on Asian imports. Japan exports half of the semiconductors it produces.

While major chip fabrication plants may not have been directly hit by the earthquake, any disruption caused by a power supply outage, for example, will mean “anything being processed at the time will definitely not be worthwhile,” and will have to be discarded, said Future Horizons’ Chief Executive Malcolm Penn. He said in such cases at least a day’s production will be lost, and with inventory management very tight right now, that would cause “instant disruption” to supplies.

Penn noted that Japan is also a major supplier of micro-controllers to the automotive industry, which control electronic wing-mirrors, seat adjustment, engine function and anti-lock breaking systems.

Meanwhile, companies in the broader technology space were still coming to grips with the unfolding situation in Japan.

Finnish mobile phone giant Nokia Corp. said the commercial impact on the business in terms of direct manufacture and component supplies is still being determined. It would be “inappropriate to speculate at this time,” on the detailed impact, Nokia spokesman Tomi Kuuppelomaki told Dow Jones Newswires.

Nokia’s direct presence in Japan consists of only a small number of administrative staff. It has no manufacturing units there but does source components from subcontractors in the country.

Sony Ericsson, the joint mobile phone venture between Sony Corp. and Swedish telecom equipment and services firm Telefon AB L.M. Ericsson, said it is closely monitoring the situation in Japan but that so far there hadn’t been any reports of major damage from its suppliers.

Ericsson, which has around 900 staff in Japan, said no damage had been reported to its buildings or facilities and its chief concern was the safety of its employees. Company spokesman Tobias Gyllenius said it will assess if there has been any impact on its operations.

U.K.-based telecommunications firm BT Group PLC said it is working to get a small number of customer sites working again after they were damaged following the earthquake.

Franco-U.S. telecom equipment maker Alcatel-Lucent SA and chip maker STMicroelectronics NV couldn’t immediately comment on the situation. STMicro said it doesn’t have any chip manufacturing plants in Japan.

ASML Holding NV, which makes lithography systems that map out electronic circuits on silicon wafers, said it isn’t affected by the earthquake.

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  1. Duane Seigler March 11 at 9:55 a.m.
  2. jack (me) March 11 at 11:34 a.m.

    I’m sure that the average Japanese tech worker’s reaction to the earthquake is “oh sh–” or something like that.