Apple's component deals should help it weather Japan crisis

Analysts say Apple is likely to be better able to ride out components shortages than other companies due to its pre-payments to suppliers, its tier-1 status, and its large cash balance.

Best not to pay much mind to the supply chain hysterics that dragged Apple shares to their third worst trading low yesterday. While the March 11 catastrophe in Japan will undoubtedly have some effect on Apple's component supplies as partners--like Toshiba, which manufactures about 40 percent of the world's flash memory, and Mitsubishi Gas Chemical, which produces a resin used in iPhone and iPad circuit boards--work to get their plants back up and running, Apple is likely in a better position than most to handle any constraints that might arise.

As Piper Jaffray's Gene Munster reminds us in a research note today, the company often invests massive sums of money to secure component supplies and capacity. Indeed, it spent $3.9 billion earlier this year to do just that. This doesn't mean it won't suffer component delays that may limit supplies of some of its products. But it likely means they'll be mitigated by those long-term supply deals.

"Currently and in the past, Apple buys key components with large pre-payments that guarantee supply and pricing," Munster writes. "This strategy has proven to be an effective way for Apple to leverage its balance sheet and its position as one of the largest buyers of many of the components it uses; moreover, this strategy may prove particularly helpful if supply is limited and pricing increases. Finally, we believe Apple buys futures on important components, which will help offset near-term pricing swings. Our conclusion is that Apple is well positioned to suffer proportionally less than its competitors."

Pacific Crest analyst Andy Hargreaves took a similar view in a note of his own. "Supply-chain investments, cash balance, and tier-1 status should help Apple retain access to key components," he said today. "Apple will be adversely affected if damage to facilities and rolling blackouts impair supply of key components for an extended time. However, we believe Apple's investments in the supply chain, its status as a tier-1 vendor, and its ability to pay in cash will help it retain preferential access to components in the near term."

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