February 29th, 2012
02:23 AM GMT
Hong Kong, China – After a white knight failed to come to its financial rescue Monday, Japan’s biggest memory chip maker – Elpida – filed for bankruptcy protection.
The company's been running from a $5.5 billion specter of debt, but now lays claim to the unenviable title of being the biggest Japanese manufacturer to file for bankruptcy protection since World War II.
The fundamental reason for Elpida’s chips to fall?
That’s almost Darwinian in nature. It failed to adapt to the tech industry’s changing times. It’s now headed towards reorganization. If that fails, it’ll head the way of the dodo.
Elpida’s president Yukio Sakamoto admitted as much in his Monday press announcement as he bowed deeply to the cameras and shareholders.
A mix of falling prices and currency swings conspired to usher Elpida to the exits.
The company makes common DRAM memory chaps that make our laptops and smartphones work. Their prices have plummeted and that’s hurt Elpida’s profits.
According to DRAMeXchange, they’re now hovering around a dollar. That’s more than 50% off from this time last year.
And while chip prices have fallen, the Japanese yen has strengthened. Since 2007, it’s risen more than 30% against the greenback. That walloped Elpida when it sent its earnings back to Japan from overseas markets like the United States.
This drama has unfolded over a five-year timeline:
2007: Elpida admitted DRAM prices started falling
2008: The company’s share price plunged as much as 92% in the global financial crisis
2009: Elpida scored a $1.7 billion bailout in June, but that barely lifts its share price
2010: The company’s share price gains reversed course in late April; Elpida reported just $21 million in net income for the entire 2010 fiscal year
2011: Japan’s quake and tsunami rocked the country’s economy; Floods in Thailand hit Elpida’s manufacturing in the Southeast Asian nation
Over this timeframe - from its 2007 high to Elpida’s bankruptcy filing Monday - the company’s stock has bottomed out by nearly 95%.
The last nail in Elpida’s coffin: on March 28, it will be delisted from the Tokyo Stock Exchange.
But, as always, one company’s loss is another’s gain - in this case Japan’s competition in South Korea.
Earlier Monday, ratings agency Fitch predicted that two South Korean companies would benefit from the end of Elpida. And they did. Shares in Samsung, the world’s number one chipmaker, closed up 1.2%. Hynix Semiconductor, the world’s number two, jumped nearly 7%.
However, Japanese chip-related companies fell on fears that a strong yen will keep on hurting their bottom lines. Shares in Adventest dropped 1.5%.
In the United States, Micron jumped more than 7.5%. The world’s fourth-largest memory chipmaker may be looking to buy one or more of Elpida’s manufacturing plants at a discount. If it does, Elpida’s creditors would also be able to minimize some of their losses.
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