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SHANGHAI — Don't bother with the salt and the iodine. Rather than public health in China, the emergency at the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan is a far greater threat to the electronics market.
Japan is the chief supplier of the chips at the heart of cell phones, laptops and television sets manufactured in China. And the recent disasters have disrupted operations for many Japanese chip makers. Industry experts predict normal production won't resume for months.
The effects of an impending supply shortage are already being seen in consumer electronics malls in Shanghai, Beijing and other cities. The prices of various memory chips have jumped an average of more than 10 percent in the past few days, according to the Beijing-based ChinaByte.com, a website for IT professionals.
That has resulted in a nearly across-the-board rise in the prices of a wide range of electronic goods. The price of the 16-gigabyte Kingston flash memory card used in many digital cameras, for instance, has gone up by nearly 10 percent to 250 yuan ($38) since Tuesday, when many Japanese electronics parts makers said publicly that they were closing down some of their plants.
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Ma Renmei, a sales manager in the Cybermart, a digital market in downtown Shanghai, said the price of the discounted 16-gigabyte first generation iPad has risen by 100 yuan.
"We have to raise the price of everything in our store, including the Canon lenses and the Sony Playstations, because of the expected short supply," Ma said. She predicted that prices will go up a further 20 percent to 30 percent in coming weeks and advised potential customers to "buy what you want now".
The massive earthquake may even lead to breaks in the supply chain of the global IT industry, according to the Topology Research Institute, a Taiwan-based research firm specializing in that industry. That's because it's difficult to find suppliers of certain electronic goods in places other than Japan.
"The earthquake will exert the greatest impact on the production of High Density Inverter panels, which are the most important components of smart phones," said Yang Shengfan, a deputy director of Topology. "The consequences for the manufacture of silicon wafers and the production of notebook batteries will follow."
"Since the country has seen from 6 percent to 10 percent of its electricity supply cut off, production in the IT industry in Japan will be reduced by 20 percent. And it will greatly affect the figure for the global market in 2011," Yang said.
Toshiba, which produces a third of the entire supply of a certain type of flash memory chip used in cameras, smart phones and tablet computers, closed its factories in areas with power outages on March 14.