Sharp president calls for more government action to contain strong yen, protect exporters

By Yuri Kageyama, AP
Friday, September 17, 2010

Sharp calls for more action to contain strong yen

TOKYO — The Japanese government needs to do more to stem the yen’s rise to protect the nation’s export-driven economy as manufacturers increasingly shift production overseas, Sharp’s president said Friday.

Mikio Katayama, who heads the Japanese electronics company, said keeping all production in Japan was growing too risky, and it was moving some flat-panel TV production to China, with a plant in Nanjing set to be running by next year.

Speaking to reporters at a Tokyo hotel, Katayama expressed frustration over the surging yen, coming at a time when Sharp’s production of liquid crystal displays had been finally recovering from the battering it took a year earlier from the global recession.

The Bank of Japan intervened in currency markets Wednesday to prop up the dollar, its first intervention in six years following the yen’s climb to 15-year highs.

“It’s still not good,” Katayama said of the dollar recovering to 85 yen levels over the past two days. “Efforts must be kept up diligently.”

The Japanese currency has risen about 10 percent against the dollar this year, eroding the value of exporters’ overseas income when repatriated and making Japanese products less competitive abroad.

Katayama said prospects for Japanese companies were extremely negative with the strong yen while also facing competition from nearby China, which tightly controls its currency.

Japan’s manufacturers are generally far more sophisticated than China’s though Beijing is making a push for the country’s exporters to move into higher-value products.

Sharp Corp., based in Osaka, Japan, makes Aquos flat-panel TVs and small displays for Nintendo Co.’s upcoming 3DS handheld machine with 3-D imagery.

Katayama was wearing a new gadget on a string around his neck — a 13,000 yen ($150) portable humidifier, which went on sale only in Japan earlier this month, and is supposed to have health benefits although that’s not medically proven.

Katayama acknowledged Japanese products were criticized as too finicky for global markets, overly tailor-made and akin to the exotic animals that evolved on the isolated Galapagos Islands off South America.

Japanese cell phones, including Sharp’s, are pointed to as an example of the “Galapagos effect,” packed with cutting-edge, Internet-linking “smartphone” technology, but ending up either not appealing to global users or not working on some overseas mobile systems.

“Sharp must change in a big way,” said Katayama.

will not be displayed