Profits slip for Sharp, SEH parents

Japan-based firms have operations in Clark County

By Gordon Oliver, Columbian business editor

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The parent companies of two Japan-based multinational businesses with major operations in Clark County reported lower profits and sales during the year’s second quarter as the Japan earthquake and worldwide economic uncertainty eroded consumer and business spending.

Sharp Corp., parent to Camas-based subsidiaries Sharp Microelectronics of the Americas, Sharp Laboratories of America and Sharp Solar, reported a 13.7 percent drop in worldwide sales in its most recent earnings report. It also recorded a loss of $644.5 million, compared to a profit of $139.8 million during the same period a year ago. Both numbers are based on Wednesday’s yen-to-dollar conversion rates.

Shin-Etsu Chemical Co. LTD., a part of the Shin-Etsu corporate group that manages Vancouver-based SEH America, reported a 3.7 percent drop in net sales and a net income of $311.8 million, based on current conversion rates. Its net income was down 33 percent from the same period last year.

SEH America manufactures single-crystal silicon ingots and is a world leader in manufacturing silicon wafers for the semiconductor industry.

Both companies said the lingering impact of the March 11 earthquake and subsequent tsunami on manufacturing and on consumer demand in Japan contributed to their weak earnings.

The earnings reports do not provide specific detail into the companies’ U.S. operations, and officials at the local subsidiaries of the two companies declined to comment. But the documents shed some light on issues that could influence corporate operations worldwide. The companies would not disclose current employment. A January report showed 709 full-time positions at SEH America. A city of Camas report in 2010 listed 240 employees at Sharp Microelectronics.

Sharp Microelectronics works primarily in development and LCD technology used in the company’s wide array of industry and consumer products. Sharp Laboratories, with more than 2,000 patent applications since its founding in 1995, conducts research and development on a wide range of products for consumers and industry. Sharp Solar, which recently consolidated its U.S. operations in Camas, develops products for the growing solar energy industry.

Sharp’s quarterly earnings report indicates concerns about another economic downturn in the United States and corporate worries about Europe’s financial stability. Its electronic component sales were down 22 percent, a figure that encompasses drops of 24 percent in LCD sales, 11 percent in solar cells, and 31 percent for the category of “other electronic devices.” The company said it is working to strengthen sales by creating new markets for some of its products, including 60-inch LCD televisions in the U.S. and China. It also hopes to increase sales of its Aquos smartphone.

SEH America’s parent firm Shin-Etsu says its semiconductor silicon business was affected by earthquake damage for its Shirakawa plant. Overall sales in its semiconductor silicon business dropped 4.3 percent, but operating income rose by almost 11 percent.

Shin-Etsu said that even with signs of worldwide recovery, “the business situation still does not allow for optimism.”