Quakes disrupt some factories, boost some sales

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Quakes disrupt some factories, boost some sales


Left: People watching news about the earthquake at Seoul Station in central Seoul on Tuesday. Right: Students on Dongguk University’s Gyeongju campus spend the night at the school track on Tuesday. [NEWSIS]

The effect of Korea’s strongest earthquake in years on business was mixed. Some companies were forced to halt production, while others benefited from a surge of panic buying.

Although no critical damage or loss of life resulted from the two earthquakes Monday evening, including the strongest ever in recent decades, some production was affected even on Tuesday because of aftershocks.

Hyundai Motor, the nation’s leading automaker, said it stopped lines at its automotive plant in Ulsan, which is only 48 kilometers (30 miles) away from Gyeongju, where the earthquake was centered, twice since Monday.

The first halt came at 9:50 p.m. on Monday, two hours after the first earthquake was reported. Conveyor belts were put on hold for two and a half hours to inspect for any damage. Another inspection took place early Tuesday morning, which disrupted production between 6 a.m. and 8:50 a.m.

The automaker’s plant has been operating normally since.

Hyundai Motor’s affiliate and auto part supplier Hyundai Mobis also stopped its lines at its plant in Ulsan at the same times as Hyundai Motor’s plant.

“We stopped the factory in case of damage that could have been caused by the earthquake,” said Hyundai Motor spokesman.

“There was no reported damage and as long as there are no further earthquakes, it will continue to run normally.”

SK Global Chemical, which runs a polymer factory in Ulsan, also temporarily halted operations after the second earthquake jolted the region. Two production lines reported malfunctions. After a three-hour check-up, operations went back to normal around 11 p.m., the company said.

Samsung Electronics said it stopped operations at three of its plants in Gumi, Hwasung and Giheung after the earthquakes.


The Gumi plant, which makes precision molds for smart electronics equipment, was the first to stop. The plants in Giheung and Hwasung, which manufacture semiconductors, temporarily stopped after detecting minor vibrations, but resumed when no damage was found on the main production line.

The public was generally calm and discount stores didn’t report panic buying. But many consumers bought bottled water and instant foods online.

“There were times in the past when people rushed to buy instant ramen, tissues and all that stuff where there was a hint of danger from North Korea or some kind of natural disaster,” said a spokesman for Homeplus.

“But that is not the case anymore. We didn’t see any of those kind of purchases.”

According to Gmarket, Koreas leading online retailer, there was an unprecedented spike in sales of safety equipment such as helmets and first-aid kit. Sales surged Monday by 320 percent compared to a week before.

Sales of outdoor equipment such as tents and flashlights rose by 316 percent and 196 percent, respectively.

“It is an unlikely situation for items like safety kits to enjoy such a sharp rise,” said a Gmarket spokesman. “But there were no significant changes in daily necessities.”

The quakes didn’t shake the stock market.

Small caps that specialize in technology related to earthquakes on the smaller Kosdaq rose.

Samyoung M-Tek, which supplies quake-resistant bearings and other parts, jumped 20.43 percent to close at 4,450 won ($3.98) on Tuesday. Formetal, which manufactures quake-resistant parts for nuclear power plants, rose 2.62 percent to 4,305 won. Unison, parent company of UnisoneTech, a quake-resistant construction designing company, grew 2.04 percent to 1,500 won.

KT Submarine rose 0.74 percent to 5,430 won. It makes optical fiber cables, which sometimes have to be replaced after earthquakes.

Kakao, the operator of the country’s largest chat app KakaoTalk, saw its shares rise 0.75 percent despite a disruption of its instant messenger service for two hours after the first earthquake. The earthquake interrupted connections to some of its servers.

KakaoTalk said the disruption was also due to an explosive increase in messages sent through the app, as users tried to get in touch with family and friends to see if they were safe.

“We usually set the traffic limit higher than the average daily transmissions,” explained a KakaoTalk spokesman. The number of sent messages on Monday evening surpassed the peak time during year-end holidays. There was no damage caused to the data centers of the messenger app.

BY JIN EUN-SOO, KIM JEE-HEE [jin.eunsoo@joongang.co.kr]
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