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Business trends

Consumer gadgets drive record orders at Japan parts makers

'Internet of things' trend also contributed to fifth straight quarter of growth

Murata Manufacturing has been increasing production of its mainstay ceramic capacitors.

TOKYO -- Total order value at six Japanese electronic components producers jumped 15% on the year to an all-time high in the October-December quarter as the growing sophistication of smartphones and video game systems gave Japanese technology a chance to shine.

Murata Manufacturing, TDK, Kyocera, Nidec, Alps Electric and Nitto Denko logged orders totaling roughly 1.58 trillion yen ($14.3 billion) for the quarter, according to calculations by The Nikkei. This beat the record set just a quarter earlier and marked a fifth consecutive quarter of year-on-year growth. Sales were used to approximate orders in some cases.

Murata and Alps benefited from brisk demand for smartphone components, with overall orders at each company apparently up about 20%. Though the global spread of smartphones has largely run its course, handset makers still continually seek to squeeze more performance into the same space. This has fueled keen interest in high-end parts, a highly profitable specialty of Japanese manufacturers.

"The number of electronic components in each [handset] is increasing," Murata President Tsuneo Murata noted.

The company's orders rose thanks to the adoption of its MetroCirc bendable multilayer resin substrate in the iPhone X, along with strong showings by its mainstay ceramic capacitors and communications modules. Expected capital spending for fiscal 2017 has risen from 170 billion yen to 260 billion yen as Murata races to step up production.

Alps saw demand for smartphone camera actuators and haptic components, which provide vibration feedback in such devices as game systems, pick up for the Christmas shopping season.

Nitto Denko's orders apparently climbed 25% on the year on higher sales of its bread-and-butter polarizers and optical films for use in smartphones and tablet devices. These components can be used with liquid crystal displays as well as organic light-emitting-diode panels like those in the iPhone X.

Kyocera enjoyed a boost from growing use of "internet of things" technology, which has spurred a surge in demand for semiconductors for use in data centers. Orders climbed about 27% as the company stepped up output of ceramic parts used in chipmaking equipment.

The across-the-board order growth in the October-December quarter owed in large part to the iPhone X launch being pushed back to that period, an executive at a parts maker said.

Electronic parts orders typically taper off over the course of a fiscal year, reaching a low in the January-March quarter. Demand driven by new products has usually petered out by then, while the outlook gets hazy for smartphone sales in such markets as China and North America. Manufacturers will need to tap demand in the less-volatile area of automotive components to shore up sales during these quiet periods.

(Nikkei)

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