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While threat of radiation to U.S. might be exaggerated, global supply chains are in danger

In addition to the loss of life and property, the main story coming out of Japan after the devastating 8.9-magnitude earthquake last week is the threat of nuclear meltdown and radiation. And while reports of the risk of its effects on the United States have been generally flawed and sensationalized, the disaster has economic implications for the entire world.

Case in point: Reuters is reporting that at least two LCD-producing assembly plants in Japan will both be out of commission for at least a month. A Toshiba Corp. plant and a Hitachi Ltd. plant are reported to be halting production of small LCDs. 

Toshiba's plant near Tokyo, which makes LCDs for smartphones, is busy repairing equipment knocked out of alignment by the quake, a Toshiba rep told Reuters. Another Toshiba plant in Japan was undamaged.

"Given that the market for smartphones outside Japan is pretty active, supply disruptions there could cause problems for some handset makers of some models," Damian Thong, an analyst at Macquarie Capital Securities told Reuters. The two Toshiba factories account for an estimated 5 percent of the global small LCD display market, he said.

Toshiba also made some of the reactors at the Fukushima nuclear plant and has experienced a 30 percent drop in its shares this week.

Meanwhile, Lenovo has expressed concerns over its parts supply. "In the short term there won't be much impact. We are more worried about the impact in the next quarter," Lenovo CEO Yang Yuanqing told reporters in Shanghai. Lenovo shares were also down -- 4.1 percent in day trading.

The regional disruptions, which have affected supplies of car parts and semiconductors as well, could threaten global supply chains and impact economic growth around the world. Key suppliers for batteries for notebook computers, such as Sony, have also shut down factories.

"Sony and Sanyo would be two of the key suppliers, and Sony has essentially shut down five or six of its factories in Japan so that's clearly going to cramp the battery supply for notebook PCs, where you see Lenovo making a big push these days. It's going to cast a lot of uncertainty over their Q2 ability to make shipments," Michael Clendenin, managing director of RedTech Advisors, told Reuters.

And it doesn't stop there. Ericsson, Alcatel-Lucent and STMicroelectronics also chimed in with warnings of limited supplies. In response, Taiwan -- whose economy is based largely on the high-tech sector -- has considered cutting tariffs on components if supply shortages continue.

"The impact from the earthquake has been limited as most companies have inventories at hand. But we're closely watching the power disruption situation in Japan. If necessary we'll consider lowering import tariffs on components," Lien Ching-chang, deputy director general of the Industrial Development Bureau of the economics ministry in Taiwan, told Reuters.

But if companies turn to suppliers outside of Japan, there could still be a struggle to meet demand. "If everyone is turning now to these secondary or back-up sources at the same time, the back-up source is not going to have the capacity to handle everything," Clendenin said.

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Hits Home
By The Raven on 3/18/2011 3:17:27 PM , Rating: 2
Yeah I import chemicals from Japan and we are hurting a bit. Though at this point it is mostly port congestion that is holding things up. But we are still not sure of the extent of the effects at this time (from the 9.0 directly, aftershocks, tsunami, or nuclear situation).

I don't know if you have heard but there was a Toshiba/SanDisk plant in Yokkaichi that was affected (apparently by another quake down in the Nagoya area).
As a joint venture of Toshiba and SanDisk, the Yokkaichi NAND Flash plants (Fab3 and Fab4) were located 500 miles away from the epicenter and were hit with a mild earthquake with a magnitude of 2 to 3. There were no major damages on the facilities and equipments and after a temporarily inspection, production was back to normal last Friday. However, some wafers were reported destroyed from the earthquake, we estimated the damage may reduce below 10% of the total Toshiba/SanDisk output in 1H2Q11. In short, given no additional supply increase from other NAND Flash suppliers, the earthquake may reduce the global NAND Flash bit supply by less than 4% in 2Q11.

I bring that up because one of my suppliers has a plant in the same city and the thing has been shut down. We are currently on the day to day with status updates though I haven't gotten a clear assessment of the situation yet.

RE: Hits Home
By sviola on 3/18/2011 4:32:21 PM , Rating: 2
That's really bad. But the situation could get a bit worse if Japan is forced to bring back money from their investments around the world to rebuild the country (just in Brazil that would mean 80+ billion dollars, which would have big impact in the economy - it's near 4% of the countries GDP and this is only related to investments made bby persons. Corporate and government investment may be higher - and it may have bigger inpacts in the US).

RE: Hits Home
By The Raven on 3/18/2011 5:50:47 PM , Rating: 2
Totally. That is kind of what I was trying to convey. I mean in all ways that you could be affected by these events... We just don't know what is going to happen since we don't even have all the facts on the ground collected yet. Especially when the "aftershocks" (or are they just separate earthquakes?) are still going off and we have an unstable nuclear situation.

We just don't know how bad it is or will be at this point.

"I modded down, down, down, and the flames went higher." -- Sven Olsen

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