Early this year, during the IEF 2008 at Dubai, Future Horizons' CEO, Malcolm Penn, had forecast a 12 percent growth for the global semiconductor industry, and that we were all dealing with an industry in 'deep trauma'!
Soon after, the chip market started showing some signs of recovery and actually started to buzz again. This was in early June. Later, in July, the semiconductor industry numbers started indicating that this may not be a bad year after all! It also came to light that lousy memory numbers were holding back overall market numbers.
With the memory market not showing much signs of recovery, several analysts revised their forecasts in August and September, including Future Horizons. In early September, Penn forecast that the global semiconductor industry would probably grow at 4-8 percent.
However, now, with a global slowdown now in place, Penn says that Future Horizons' January (and July) forecast assumptions, and chip market forecasts, are no longer valid. He adds, "We have not yet had chance to fully crunch the numbers, but at first sight, 2008 now looks set to come in at between 4 and 5 percent, with 2009 in the 4-6 percent range."
This is very unfortunate! Just when it seemed a little while ago that the global semiconductor industry was in some stage of a small recovery, the global financial turmoil has more or less, ended that hope!
Penn cautions: "2009, however, could slip negative, depending on what happens to IC unit growth. At the moment we think this highly unlikely, given the 6.1 percent advanced and developing market GDP growth forecast and the fact there have only been two years of negative IC unit growth in the last 23 years, namely 1985 and 2001, both triggered by a massive inventory build."
Obviously, a slowing world economy is bad news for the chip industry! However, the coupling, he notes, is not as strong as one might be lulled into intuitively believing. There have been seven instances in the last 22 years where the chip market has grown in value during a period of slowing economic growth and two occasions when the market has declined in a period of GDP growth.
"IC units have exhibited three periods when they grew in the face of a GDP decline and five occasions when the units declined despite growth in the world GDP. The economy is, thus, not quite king; inventory, excess capacity and ASPs also play a role," adds Penn in his monthly report.
Underlying good news for chip industry
The underlying good news for the chip industry is that all of the other industry trends are good. Inventories do not seem to be seriously bloated; wafer fab capacity utilization levels are high; capital expenditure is low, and has been now for several quarters; and ASPs are in the midst of a long-term structural recovery phase.
Thus, while 2009 IC unit demand must inevitably slow, this slowing will coincide with an inevitable parallel slowing in new capacity additions, itself the result of a significant 2008 and prior Cap Ex cutbacks. The combined effect ought to be a relatively benign decrease in capacity utilisation rates, helping to cushion the inevitable near-term ASP pressures.
Looking at the near-term ASP trends, ASPs overall have been falling during 2008, but they have been falling much slower than the 2007 rate. This means that ASPs are actually increasing when measured on annualised basis.
Slowdown bound to impact ASPs
According to Penn, the economic (demand) slowdown is bound to negatively impact ASPs. What is more important from a market growth perspective however is not that they are falling but how fast they are compared with the same period last year.
While the ASP recovery trend might wobble next year, the underlying trends still look good, providing the world does not slip into global recession.
The immediate world government policy challenge is to stabilize the global financial markets, while nursing economies through a global downturn and keeping inflation under control. "That is quite a steep challenge (it has never before been called upon to be done); the great danger being, aside from the risk of failing, is a return to vested self-interests and protectionism and the impact that this will have on globalisation and future world growth. There is a real danger this is the precursor of World War 3, with economics as the fire-power," he adds.
Penn advises: "Over a longer horizon, policymakers will be looking to rebuild firm underpinnings for financial intermediation and will be considering how to reduce cyclical tendencies in the global economy and strengthen supply/demand responses in commodity markets.
"The electronics industry would also do well to divorce itself from the financial market's casino driven addiction by starting to plan for its longer-term growth needs not the previous (and now seriously discredited) Wall Street greed/bonus-driven quarterly hysteria."
This has indeed been a topsy-turvy year! Apple's iPhone 3G and now, Google's G1 phone have hit the markets. Intel demonstated its Moorestown platform at the IDF in Taipei, promising great things in 2009! Intel also spoke a lot about mobile Intenet devices (MIDs) and what great things these can do.
However, no one, it seems, is able to point out confidently that the cheer in Christmas spend will be back! Or, how, 2009, will pan out! When will the global semiconductor industry see light at the end of the tunnel?