The United States Department of Justice confirmed to me in a telephone conversation on April 11, 2014 that they were conducting an investigation into the capacitor industry. A representative for the United States Department of Justice (USDOJ) also noted that since they represented the Antitrust Division of the USDOJ that it could be inferred that their investigation was specifically about the pricing of capacitors.
Previously, on April 2, 2014, MLEX, the global news organization that specializes in predictive analysis of regulatory risk, published an article that further stated that the USDOJ was in fact working with China's National Reform Commission and jointly probing anti-competitive conduct among capacitor manufacturers. The article also stated that the USDOJ effort is originating out of their San Francisco office, which has spent the past decade investigating cartels in the computer parts industry that has led to millions of dollars in fines against manufacturers of memory, liquid crystal displays, optical disc drives and lithium-ion batteries.
A follow-up article on May 8, 2014 MLEX, further cited that the inquiry into the capacitor industry was widening and included regulators in the United States, China, Japan, Korea and Europe. The article also noted that a subsidiary of a Japanese capacitor manufacturer, in fact a sales office in Korea, had been inspected by that country's Fair Trade Commission in conjunction with the growing investigation. This article by MLEX further speculated that the worldwide investigation into capacitors might have begun in the automotive industry, which has been the subject of intense scrutiny by regulators since 2011.
An additional article from MLEX, which was released May 27, 2014, noted that the USDOJ portion of the investigation was focusing only on carbon capacitors (i.e. popularly known as supercapacitors), tantalum capacitors, aluminum capacitors and plastic film capacitors and excluded ceramic capacitors, while the portion of the investigation involving China's National Reform Commission did not specify capacitors by dielectric.
The May 27, an article by MLEX also noted that the case was initiated by a Japanese "whistleblower," who approached regulators in the United States and China with news of antitrust related activities as they pertain to the worldwide capacitor industry. A source interviewed for this article speculated that a company who "comes clean" with regulators about anticompetitive practices in a specific industry may be immune from prosecution as it relates to that specific industry, and that anticompetitive conduct in either the computer parts or the automotive industry (or both) may have led to the current investigation into the capacitor industry.
The reader should also be aware that follow-up phone calls on this issue have been placed to my offices in North Carolina from private attorneys who are already aware of the USDOJ case and are preparing class action lawsuits against manufacturers of capacitors based on the findings of the USDOJ. I find it fascinating that certain attorneys in the United States are aware of the USDOJ investigation while certain manufacturers of capacitors remain in the dark.
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Dennis M. Zogbi
Dennis M. Zogbi is the author of more than 260 market research reports on the worldwide electronic components industry. Specializing in capacitors, resistors, inductors and circuit protection component markets, technologies and opportunities; electronic materials including tantalum, ceramics, aluminum, plastics; palladium, ruthenium, nickel, copper, barium, titanium, activated carbon, and conductive polymers. Zogbi produces off-the-shelf market research reports through his wholly owned company, Paumanok Publications, Inc, as well as single client consulting, on-site presentations, due diligence for mergers and acquisitions, and he is the majority owner of Passive Component Industry Magazine LLC.