Chinese factory shutdown may affect Mac notebook supplies

Catcher Technology makes 60% of Apple's notebook cases, analyst says

The shutdown of production at a Chinese manufacturer may affect inventories of Apple's popular MacBook Pro and MacBook Air notebooks, an analyst said Monday.

Catcher Technology, a Taiwanese company that has factories in the People's Republic, confirmed over the weekend that it had partly shuttered a plant in eastern China after local officials fielded complaints of a "strange odor" emanating from the facility.

Catcher produces 60% of the so-called "unibody" aluminum cases for Apple's MacBook Pro and MacBook Air, some casings for the iMac, and components for the Smart Cover that Apple sells as an iPad 2 accessory, according to Brian White of Ticonderoga Securities.

White said that the remaining 40% of the MacBook Pro and MacBook Air cases are produced by rival Hon Hai Precision, part of Foxconn Technology.

In a press conference Monday, Catcher's president Allen Horng said, "Shipments to our customers will inevitably be affected. We already asked them to make adjustments to their (casings) procurement," the Wall Street Journal reported (subscription required).

Horng added that shipments would fall 20% this month and perhaps as much as 40% in November if the production lines remain shut down.

Catcher has factories in Suzhou, an eastern Chinese city near Shanghai.

"This shutdown at Catcher is a wildcard and could have an impact on Apple's Mac business, especially the popular MacBook Air and MacBook Pro," said White in a note to clients Monday. "Furthermore, we believe a new MacBook Pro is set to be launched soon and this could [also] be impacted."

Mac notebook sales are important to Apple, accounting for 70% of the company's personal computer unit sales in the quarter ending June 30, and 69% of all Mac revenue in that period.

Apple will announce its third-quarter sales figures Tuesday. White expects that Apple will say it sold 3.1 million notebooks during the previous three months, and 4.2 million Macs overall.

Catcher Technology did not immediately reply to questions about the Suzhou factory shutdown.

Supplies of Apple's notebook -- all feature the unibody case milled from a single piece of aluminum -- were unchanged on Apple's website today, with all models showing an "in stock" message.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His e-mail address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

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