updated 03:05 pm EDT, Mon March 28, 2011
Local companies look to move facilities overseas
Apple has been coping with "tight" supplies of lithium ion batteries, according to the Wall Street Journal. A representative from the company is said to have recently contacted the US offices of Kureha, a Japanese company which controls 70 percent of the marketshare for a polymer called polyvinylidene fluoride (PVDF), used as a binder in lithium ion batteries. The only Kureha factory which produces PVDF is based in Iwaki, and was forced to shut down on March 11th after being hit by that day's 9.0 earthquake.
No one from the plant is missing or seriously injured, and some of the board of directors -- in Iwaki for a meeting -- started driving back to Tokyo the night of the quake. The catastrophe has nevertheless impacted the world's PVDF supply, as while the Kureha factory escaped relatively unscathed, the nearby Onahama Port was wrecked and has yet to deliver supplies Kureha needs such as salt and vinyl chloride. It may have a limited amount of PVDF inventory.
Kureha CEO Takao Iwasaki says that the earthquake is accelerating plans to move more production overseas to China and the US. Beyond the reducing threat of natural disaster, such a strategy can help Japanese companies reduce operating costs while coping with changes in the yen. Japan has a highly import/export-driven economy, and fluctuations in currency can hurt both buyers and businesses.