Investors shun Elpida after bankruptcy protection move

DRAM memory chip Elpida is one of the biggest makers of dynamic random-access memory, or DRAM, chips

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There were no buyers for Elpida shares at the Tokyo Stock Exchange as investors shunned the stock after the chipmaker filed for bankruptcy protection.

Despite being marked down by 24%, Elpida shares failed to find buyers.

The firm filed for bankruptcy protection on Monday as it continues to struggle to repay debts of 448bn yen ($5.6bn; £3.5bn).

It is the biggest corporate failure in Japan's manufacturing sector to date.

Investor sentiment was further dented after Japan's Trade Minister Yukio Edano refused to give a hint on whether the government might help to bail out the firm.

"What I can say now is that I will carefully watch with interest how the procedures move forward within the framework of the corporate rehabilitation law," Mr Edano said.

"It is unclear whether Elpida Memory would have been able to operate in the same scale as today in mid-to-long-term, say in the next three, five, or 10 years."

Losing ground

Start Quote

Although this doesn't necessarily mean Elpida will disappear, one can quickly fall behind in the memory chip business if large investments aren't made at the right time”

End Quote Kim Young-chan Shinhan Investment & Securities

Elpida specialises in making dynamic random-access memory (DRAM) chips, which are widely used in personal computers.

However, the sector has seen prices fall due to weak demand and increased competition.

Demand for DRAM chips has been dented by falling sales of personal computers as more consumers turn to tablet PCs, which rely more on flash memory chips.

The firm has also been hurt by a strong Japanese yen which makes its products more expensive to foreign buyers.

Analysts said investors were worried that once the firm was placed under bankruptcy protection, it may lose more ground to competitors.

"Although this doesn't necessarily mean Elpida will disappear, one can quickly fall behind in the memory chip business if large investments aren't made at the right time, which will be very difficult for Elpida under court management," said Kim Young-chan of Shinhan Investment & Securities.

Broader impact

Elpida's troubles have had a big impact on other firms in the region.

Concerns over its long-term future saw investors pick up stocks of Elpida's competitors, hoping they may gain from its problems.

Shares of Hynix semiconductor jumped 6.8% on the Kospi index in South Korea, while Samsung, another big manufacturer of memory chips gained 1.2%.

"With less competition, the stronger South Korean DRAM makers should be able to better control supply-side risks by aligning their investment plans more closely with industry demand," said Alvin Lim of Fitch Ratings.

However, shares of some of Elipda's suppliers and other firms associated with the company dipped.

Tera Probe, an affiliate of Elpida which does chip testing, fell 19%.

Meanwhile, Advantest Corporation, a producer of chip testing equipment, fell 1.5%, while Shin-Etsu Chemical Company, which manufactures silicon wafers for chipmaking, lost 1.3%.

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