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Fallen DRAMurai warrior Elpida files for bankruptcy protection

Japanese chipmaker finds itself in a $5.6bn hole

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Japanese chipmaker Elpida Memory filed for bankruptcy protection today after failing to find anyone willing to save it.

Despite rumours that a number of suitors were interested in slurping a stake in the DRAM manufacturer, including Micron Technology and Toshiba, Elpida has had to apply to restructure its business under protection as it staggers under debts of ¥448bn ($5.6bn).

"The circumstances around our company turned from bad to worse due to factors such as the record-breaking strong yen against the US dollar, and the steep fall of the price of DRAM products by fiercer competition in the DRAM industry," Elpida said in a canned statement.

"Within such continuing harsh management environment, an additional negative factor, which is a stagnation of demand for DRAM due to the great flood in Thailand in 2011, has arisen. Based on the background mentioned above, we have concluded that if we continue the business by ourselves, we will face cash shortage soon."

Elpida was formed in 1999 when the DRAM operations of NEC and Hitachi merged, and it listed on the Tokyo Stock Exchange in 2004 after it slurped the DRAM division of Mitsubishi the year before.

The Japanese government stepped in to help the firm in 2009 and made Elpida the first company to trouser cash from a government financial aid programme. The firm got ¥30bn in emergency investment from the state-backed Development Bank of Japan and took out some huge loans with some other banks, the Japan Times said.

Unfortunately for Elpida, the DRAM market didn't get any better in the last four years as prices plummeted and the yen got stronger.

The fat lady isn't singing yet for Elpida - it could still get itself a white knight that might invest in or takeover the biz, but in the meantime its customers are likely to defect to Taiwanese or South Korean chipmakers like Nanya or Samsung.

Samsung has been gobbling up the chip market as Japanese firms run into trouble, not least because it boosted its DRAM business with quick diversification into the NAND chips used in smartphones, fondleslabs and cameras. ®

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