Maybe Japan is not as crucial to the global supply chain as those first weeks after the earthquake made it seem. Consider the case of STMicroelectronics, Europe’s giant in the semiconductor business, which buys silicon wafers, chemicals and chip-packaging components from Japan.
STMicroelectronics has more than $10 billion a year in sales. Its major customers span a variety of industries — consumer electronics, autos, mobile phones and computers — and include Apple, Bosch, Hewlett-Packard, Nokia and Sony Ericsson. After the earthquake and tsunami struck Japan in March, STMicroelectronics, like many global companies that buy parts and materials from Japan, quickly set up a crisis task force to assess the health of its supply network there. But the sense of crisis gradually passed. When necessary, suppliers outside Japan have been lined up, and the company’s production has not been disrupted. And even though STMicroelectronics’ sales to Japan — about 4 percent of total revenue — will decline this year because of lower demand, “it is going smoother on the supply-chain side than we had thought,” said Carlo Bozotti, chief executive of STMicroelectronics.
The big European company’s experience is widely shared. More than two months after the disaster, any lingering impact on industries outside Japan from shortages of crucial supplies is limited. Beyond their concerns about a very short list of components, like certain automotive microcontrollers, companies around the world are cautiously breathing easier. “The global supply chain has been able to weather the storm,” said Hau Lee, a professor at Stanford University’s graduate school of business. Barring further unexpected shocks, Mr. Lee said, “This has not been as bad as most people initially worried it might be.”