9 electronic parts makers inspected in cartel probe

The Yomiuri Shimbun 

The Fair Trade Commission on Tuesday conducted on-site inspections at nine electronics parts makers on suspicion that the companies had formed a price cartel for sales of capacitors for TVs, cell phones and other digital devices, The Yomiuri Shimbun has learned.

Inspections were performed at Panasonic Corp. and its subsidiary Sanyo Electric Co., both based in Osaka; Nippon Chemi-Con Corp. and Hitachi Chemical Co., based in Tokyo; NEC Tokin Corp., based in Miyagi Prefecture; and Kyoto-based Nichikon Corp. 

These makers are suspected of having made an agreement over the timing and size of product price increases for two kinds of capacitors—aluminum electrolytic capacitors and tantalum electrolytic capacitors—and thereby restricted competition over the past several years, informed sources said. 

These actions constitute an unreasonable restriction of trade, prohibited under the Antimonopoly Law.

The nine firms are believed to have secured profits by uniformly passing the increases in material procurement costs through to product prices, citing shrinking demand after the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008, soaring costs of aluminum and tantalum and other factors.

According to the sources, the scale of the domestic market for such capacitors is ¥50 billion to ¥60 billion, and these nine companies control most of the market share.

Capacitors store electricity and filter electric noise in electronic circuits. Aluminum electrolytic capacitors are used mainly in TVs and PCs while small tantalum electrolytic capacitors are chiefly used in cell phones and digital cameras.     

“We will fully cooperate with the inspection,” said officials from both Panasonic and Sanyo. Hitachi Chemical and NEC Tokin responded with “No comment.”