Samsung, Ford, Boeing produce but fear parts halt


Samsung Electronics Co., Ford Motor Co. and Boeing Co. are maintaining global production while waiting for partners in quake-rattled Japan to increase one key export: information.

The companies are among manufacturers worldwide that depend on Japan for everything from memory chips to batteries for hybrid cars. The goal is to avoid parts shortages while suppliers such as Sanyo Electric Co. and Toshiba Corp. make sure they have access to power, water, transportation and materials.

“We’re OK for a few weeks, and I can’t tell you beyond that,” Boeing Commercial Airplanes President Jim Albaugh said in an interview in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Japanese companies designed and supply 35 percent of the structure of Boeing’s new 787 Dreamliner, which is three years behind schedule.

Four days after the magnitude-9.0 earthquake, Germany’s Bayerische Motoren Werke AG, truck maker Volvo AB of Sweden and U.S.-based ON Semiconductor Corp. all say it’s too early to know how they’ll be affected by their Japanese vendors or customers.

One reason is the lack of information flowing from suppliers, and from the suppliers’ suppliers.

Companies such as South Korea’s Samsung and Taiwanese smart phone maker HTC Corp., taking no chances, are seeking other suppliers to avoid shortages that might shut production.

“The reality is the companies don’t know the full extent of what’s happened,” said economist Kim Hill at the Center for Automotive Research in the U.S. “You can’t build a car with 97 percent of the parts — you pretty much need all of them.”

Japan, a top global supplier to the electronics and auto industries, may need weeks to recover lost output, according to Barclays Capital.

The earthquake and ensuing tsunami may have killed more than 10,000 people. Electricity shortages caused by a nuclear power plant shutdown is limiting the ability of suppliers to return to production.

“Sanyo supplies our hybrid batteries from Japan,” said Todd Nissen, a spokesman for Ford, the second-largest U.S. automaker by unit sales. “We have not had any supply disruptions at this point, but, like the rest of the supply base, Sanyo is continuing to assess the situation.”

Sanyo supplies the nickel-metal battery packs for Ford’s Fusion hybrid sedan that is assembled in Mexico.

Two U.S. chip makers that supply the auto industry reported disrupted production at their plants in Japan. Texas Instruments Inc., the second-largest U.S. chip maker, said its sales will be hurt in the first and second quarters, while Freescale Semiconductor Inc. of Austin, Texas, said its plant in hard-hit Sendai has ceased operations.

Some companies, including Shin-Etsu Chemical Co., silicon-wafer manufacturer Sumco Corp. and automotive supplier Denso Corp., temporarily halted production.

Even when suppliers are able to keep producing, concern about potential shortages is driving up costs. Prices of semiconductors used in personal computers and mobile phones jumped.

“Our biggest concern is component availability or higher component prices,” said Kirk Yang, Barclay Capital’s managing director and head of technology-hardware research for Asia excluding Japan.

Japanese companies, including Toshiba, Sony Corp., Panasonic and Elpida Memory Inc., supply 20 percent of the world’s technology products, including 44 percent of audiovisual equipment, 40 percent of electronic components and 19 percent of semiconductors, CLSA Asia-Pacific Markets estimates.

The price of the benchmark DDR3 1-gigabit dynamic random-access memory chip climbed 7 percent to $1.11, the largest gain since Jan. 27, according to DRAMeXchange. Spot prices of the 4-gigabit NAND flash-memory chip rose 17 percent.

Toshiba, which makes 35 percent of the NAND flash that stores information in phones, tablets like Apple Inc.’s iPad 2, and digital cameras, said Monday it shut its factories after Tokyo Electric Power Co. asked companies to cut electricity consumption.

Rambus Inc., the Silicon Valley-based designer and licenser of technology to connect memory chips to other semiconductors, got more than 80 percent of its revenue from Japan last year. Most came from Toshiba, Elpida Memory Inc. and Sony, which uses Rambus technology in the PlayStation 3, said Jeff Schreiner, an analyst with Capstone Investments Inc.

Japan is a major source of electronic components for autos and is the primary supplier of batteries and parts for hybrid vehicles, said Hill, the automotive research group economist.

The U.S. relies on Japan for about 14 percent of parts for auto production, Hill said, predicting that Toyota Motor Corp., Nissan Motor Co. and Honda Motor Co. will see the biggest impact to their U.S. operations.

While Ford hasn’t experienced any parts disruptions so far, “We are still working with our Tier 1 suppliers, who are in turn assessing the Tier 2 supply base,” spokesman Nissen said.

Toyota, Honda and Nissan all suspended domestic auto production until at least Wednesday, and until Sunday in Honda’s case. Toyota may lose as much as $72 million for each day of lost production, according to a Goldman Sachs estimate.

“Suppliers’ production stoppages could easily affect global production for these automakers, given that several of the affected component plants supply the (carmakers’) facilities around the world with systems and components that may not easily be shifted to other manufacturing locations,” IHS Automotive said in a report. “Disruption to production of parts that are unique and cannot be easily shifted has the potential to hit output badly at several automakers in the near term.”

Volvo Cars, the Swedish carmaker owned by China’s Zhejiang Geely Holding Group Co., buys about 10 percent of its components from Japan, spokesman Per-Ake Froberg said. “Our production won’t be affected this week, but then we’ll see,” he said.

Supply of batteries, Blu-ray compact discs and magnetic heads used in hard disk drives may also be affected by the quake and power shortage, Taipei-based research company Trendforce Inc. wrote in a report Monday.

Notebook computer and tablet battery output for products, including the iPad, may be affected if Seiko Holdings Corp.’s shutdown persists because the company supplies a chip crucial to regulating power in electronics products, Trendforce wrote.

Murata Manufacturing Co., which supplies specialized communications components for the iPad 2, said Monday it shut down its factory in Sendai because of a lack of gas, power and water.

Taiwanese and South Korean chip makers may also be forced to cut output if shutdowns in Japan persist because the country supplies more than 80 percent of the world’s silicon wafer supply, said Joyce Yang, an analyst at DRAMeXchange in Taipei.

Wafers are thin round slices of silicon that are the key material used in the production of chips.

Samsung and Powerchip Technology Corp., the largest South Korean and Taiwanese memory-chip makers, both stopped offering DRAM chips in the spot market over concern their own production may be affected by a shortage in supply of wafers.

The prospect of shortages prompted Taiwan-based HTC to activate a “secondary supply chain,” it said Sunday in an e-mail. Samsung, which makes phones and televisions as well as components, is preparing for possible shortages of materials, spokesman James Chung said.