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Global semicon mid-year review: Chip market revival or blip on stats radar screen?

July 19, 2009 Comments off

A recent report from Future Horizons suggests an 18 percent growth for the chip market in Q2-2009! So, is this a sign of the chip market recovery or a mere blip on the statistics radar screen?

It is both, said, Malcolm Penn, chairman, founder and CEO of Future Horizons, and counselled that: “The fourth quarter market collapse was far too steep — a severe over-reaction to last year’s gross financial uncertainty — culminating with the Lehman Brothers collapse in September. The first quarter saw this stabilise with the second quarter restocking, but there are other positive factors also in play.”

Examining a bit further, here’s what he further revealed. One, the memory market is seeing some signs of slow recovery. He said, “This has already started DDR3 driven!” Likewise, companies are also in the process of revising their forecasts. The reason, Penn contended, being, “The maths has changed dramatically since Jan 2009!”

According to him, factors now leading to conditions looking up in H2 2009, include the normal seasonal demand — from a tight inventory base — and tightening capacity. There is also a clear indication of the correction phase to rebalance over-depleted inventories having started. “This is what’s driving Q2’s high unit, and therefore, sales growth,” he contended.

Firms advised to stop seeing and waiting!
This isn’t all! Penn further counselled firms who are still in a wait-and-see mode to ‘stop seeing and waiting’! Next, fabs are also looking to maximize their returns. For one, they have stopped over-investing.

Do we have enough stats from others to back up what’s been happening in the global semiconductor industry? Perhaps, yes!

IC Insights stands out
First, look at IC Insights! It has stood out by pointing out in early July that H2-09 is likely to usher in strong seasonal strength for electronic system sales, a period of IC inventory replenishment, which began in 2Q09, and positive worldwide GDP growth.

IC Insights has predicted global IC market to grow +18 percent; IC foundry sales to grow +43 percent; and semiconductor capital spending to grow +28 percent in H2-09.

DDR3 driving memory recovery? Flat NAND?
Elsewhere, Converge Market Insights said that according to major DRAM manufacturers, DDR3 demand has been on the rise over the last two months and supply is limited.

This is quite in line with Future Horizons contention that there is a DDR3 driven memory recovery, albeit slow. It would be interesting to see how Q3-09 plays out.

As for NAND, according to DRAMeXchange, the NAND market may continue to show the tug-of-war status in July due to dissimilar positive and negative market factors perceived and expected by both sides. As a result, NAND Flash contract prices are likely to somewhat soften or stay flat in the short term.

Semicon equipment market to decline 52 percent in 2009!
According to SEMI, it projects 2009 semiconductor equipment sales to reach $14.14 billion as per the mid-year edition of the SEMI Capital Equipment Forecast, released by SEMI at the annual SEMICON West exposition.

The forecast indicates that, following a 31 percent market decline in 2008, the equipment market will decline another 52 percent in 2009, but will experience a rebound with annual growth of about 47 percent in 2010.

EDA cause for concern
The EDA industry still remains a cause for concern. The EDA Consortium’s Market Statistics Service (MSS) announced that the EDA industry revenue for Q1 2009 declined 10.7 percent to $1,192.1 million, compared to $1,334.2 million in Q1 2008, driven primarily by an accounting shift at one major EDA company. The four-quarter moving average declined 11.3 percent.

If you look at the last five quarters, the EDA industry has really been having it rough. Here are the numbers over the last five quarters, as per the Consortium:

* The EDA industry revenue for Q1 2008 declined 1.2 percent to $1,350.7 million compared to $1,366.8 million in Q1 2007.
* The industry revenue for Q2 2008 declined 3.7 percent to $1,357.4 million compared to $1,408.8 million in Q2 2007.
* The industry revenue for Q3 2008 declined 10.9 percent to $1,258.6 million compared to $1,412.1 million in Q3 2007.
* The industry revenue for Q4 2008 declined 17.7 percent to $1,318.7 million, compared to $1,602.7 million in Q4 2007.

Therefore, at the end of the day, what do you have? For now, the early recovery signs are more of a blip on the stats radar screen and there’s still some way to go and work to be done before the global semiconductor industry can clearly proclaim full recovery!

Before I close, a word about the Indian semiconductor industry. Perhaps, it needs to start moving a bit faster and quicker than it is doing presently. Borrowing a line from Malcolm Penn, the Indian semiconductor industry surely needs to “stop waiting and watching.”

I will be in conversation next with iSuppli on the chip and electronics industry forecasts. Keep watching this space, friends.

Reports of memory market recovery greatly exaggerated: iSuppli

April 24, 2009 Comments off

EL SEGUNDO, USA: Concerned about their image as they face the specter of bankruptcy, many memory chip suppliers are attempting to paint a more optimistic picture of the business by talking up a potential market recovery.

However, while overall memory chip prices are expected to stabilize during the remaining quarters of 2009, iSuppli Corp. believes a true recovery in demand and profitability is not imminent.

After a 14.3 percent sequential decline in global revenue in the first quarter DRAM and NAND flash, the market for these products will grow throughout the rest of the year. Combined DRAM and NAND revenue will rise by 3.6 percent in the second quarter, and surge by 21.9 percent and 17.5 percent in the third and fourth quarters respectively.

“While this growth may spur some optimism among memory suppliers, the oversupply situation will continue to be acute,” said Nam Hyung Kim, director and chief analyst for memory ICs and storage at iSuppli.

“For example shipments of DRAM in the equivalent of the 1Gbit density will exceeded demand by an average of 14 percent during the first three quarters of 2009. This will prevent a strong price recovery, which will be required to achieve profitability for most memory suppliers.”

Painful oversupply
Due to a long-lasting glut of DRAM, the imbalance between supply and demand is too great for this market to recover to profitability any time soon.

“Even if all of the Taiwanese DRAM suppliers idled all their fabs, which equates to 25 percent of global DRAM megabit production, the market would remain in a state of oversupply,” Kim said. “This illustrates that the current oversupply is much more severe than many suppliers believe—or hope.”

Besides cutting capacity, which suppliers have already been doing, they presently have few options other than waiting for a fundamental demand recovery. iSuppli believes that another round of production cuts will take place in the second quarter, which will positively impact suppliers’ balance sheets late this year or early in 2010 at the earliest.

DRAM prices now amount to only one-third-level of Taiwanese suppliers’ cash costs. Unless prices increase by more than 200 percent, cash losses will persist for these Taiwanese suppliers.

While average megabit pricing for DRAM will rise during every quarter of 2009, it will not be even remotely enough to allow suppliers to generate profits in this industry. The industry needs a dramatic price recovery of a few hundred percentage points to make any kind of impact.

iSuppli is maintaining its “negative” rating of near-term market conditions for DRAM suppliers.

Confusing picture in NAND
The picture is a little more complicated in the NAND flash memory market.

Pricing for NAND since January has been better than iSuppli had expected. However, iSuppli believes this doesn’t signal a real market recovery.

Most NAND flash makers are continuing to lose money. The leading supplier, Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd., seems to be enjoying the current NAND price rally as prices have almost reached the company’s break-even costs. However, all the other NAND suppliers still are losing money.

“While the NAND market in the past has been able to achieve strong growth and solid pricing solely based on orders from Apple Computer Inc. for its popular iPod and iPhone products, this situation is not likely to recur in the future,” Kim said. “Even if Apple’s order surge, and it books most of Samsung’s capacity, it would require a commensurate increase in demand to other suppliers to generate a fundamental recovery in demand.”

However, iSuppli has not detected any substantial increase in orders from Apple to other suppliers. Furthermore, Apple’s orders, according to press reports, are not sufficient to positively impact the market as a whole.

It doesn’t make sense for major NAND suppliers Toshiba Corp. and Hynix Semiconductor Inc. to further decrease their production if there is a real fundamental market recovery. This means supply will continue to exceed demand and pricing will not rise enough to allow the NAND market as a whole to achieve profitability.

The NAND flash market is in a better situation than DRAM at least. However, the market remains challenging because fundamental demand conditions in the consumer electronics market have not improved due to the global recession.

One of the reasons why the price rally occurred is that inventory levels have been reduced in the channel and re-stocking activity has been progressing. Overall, memory suppliers will begin to announce their earnings shortly and iSuppli will remain cautious about the NAND flash market until we detect solid evidence, not just speculation, of a recovery.

iSuppli is remaining cautious about the near term rating of NAND market, holding its negative view for now, before considering upgrading it to neutral.

“Production cuts undoubtedly will have a positive impact on the market in the future. However, it’s too early for to celebrate. iSuppli believes the surge in optimism is premature. Supplier must be rational and watch the current market conditions carefully to avoid jumping to conclusions too quickly,” Kim concluded.

2009 DRAM CAPEX decreased by 56 percent: DRAMeXchange

April 19, 2009 Comments off

The 2008 DRAM chip price dropped more than 85 percent, while the global DRAM industry has faced more than two years of cyclical downturn, and the consumer demand suddenly froze because of the global financial crisis in 2H08.

In 1Q09, the DDR2 667 MHz 1Gb chip price rebounded to an average of US$ 0.88, which fell between the material cost and cash cost level. Still, the DRAM vendors encountered huge cash outflow pressure. Not only were capacity cut conducted, the process migration schedules were also delayed in the wake of respective sharp CAPEX cuts.

According to the survey of DRAMeXchange, the worldwide DRAM CAPEX of 2009 has been revised down to US$ 5.4 billion, sharply down by 56 percent, in contrast to the US$ 12.2 billion in 2008.

WW DRAM 50nm process migration schedules all deferred one to two quarters
From the roadmaps of DRAM vendors, the adoption schedule of DRAM mass production using the 50 nm process have now been delayed one to two quarters. DRAMeXchange estimates that by the end of 2009, the DDR3 will account for 30 percent of the standard DRAM.

Regarding the new DDR2 and DDR3 process migration, all DRAM vendors still own different types of strategies of density and types. For example, the Korean vendors’ 50 nm process migration schedules of DDR 3 are earlier than DDR2 and the 2 Gb DDR3 mass production schedule is earlier than the 1Gb chip.

As for the US and Japanese vendors, according to their DDR3 roadmap, the 50 nm process will be introduced between 3Q09 and 4Q09, which is later than the Korean vendors, and also firstly with mass production of 2 Gb DDR3. Therefore, in the DDR3 era, the density will mainly be 2 Gb which is a lower cost driver with more stimulating incentive to the market demand of higher density chips. The Taiwanese vendors are under the high cash pressure and are falling behind in the 50 nm process race. They are mainly focused on “pilot production”.

Gross die increases 40-50 percent as 50nm process drives down cost
According to the Moore’s Law, the number of transistors on an integrated circuit doubles every 12 months. After the process shrinking became more difficult in the recent decade, it increased to 24 months. With new process migration, the closer the line distance is the larger gross die number a single wafer gets, meanwhile the cost is lower and the vendors gain more competitiveness.

The average DRAM output increased about 30 percent during the process migration from 70nm to 60nm. With improvements of process design and die shrink in the same generation of process technology, the output can once again increase 20 percent. In the 50nm generation, the output will increase almost 40-50 percent, compared to 60nm process and the number of gross die increases to 1500-1700 per 12 inch wafer with another 30 percent cost down.

Cost of immersion lithography tools major capex of 50nm process migration
The major challenge of 50nm process migration is the lithography technology. The newest immersion lithography equipment is required and the older exposure equipment at the wavelength of 193nm is no longer suitable under 65nm process, due to physical limitations.

Traditional dry lithography uses air as the medium to image through masks. However, immersion lithography uses water as the medium. Immersion lithography puts water between the light source and wafer. The wavelength of light shrinks through water so it is able to project more precise and smaller images on the wafer. This is the invention that enabled the semiconductor process technology to migrate from 65nm to 45nm.

The current major immersion equipment vendors are ASML, Nikon, and Canon. The largest vendor in the market is AMSL, which is now mainly promoting its XT1900Gi, a tool that is capable to go lower than 40nm and is the most accepted model in the industry. Nikon still promotes its NSR-S610C, which was launched in 2007 and is able to go down to 45nm process. Canon launched its FPA-7000AS7 in mid 2008 that supports the process under 45nm.

No semicon recovery before mid 2010: Europartners

February 11, 2009 Comments off

Connecting with new friends from all over the world is one of the best things that I have experienced while writing a semicon and electronics blog. One such gentleman is Ingo Guertler from Europartners Consultants. He is based in Munich, Germany — a city I have frequented several times.

Guertler has been part of my LinkedIn network as well. He has spent 30 years in leading positions in the electronic components market, mostly with semiconductors, at General Instrument, QT Optoelectronics and Vishay. Since 2005, he has been the senior partner at Europartners Consultants, a network of independent consultants, mostly located in Europe.

Beside individual projects, Europartners analyze the worldwide distribution market for electronic components each year and publish the results in its Worldwide Distribution Report.

Additionally, the company also organizes a two-day conference in Paris every two years, with high-level speakers out of the electronic component industry, discussing actual topics with top managers from component manufacturer and distributors.

This year, the headline will cover the world economy crisis, its effect on the electronics industry, and how companies can successful manage the crisis.

Naturally, our conversation revolved around the global semiconductor market, the memory market turmoil, and how European companies view the Indian semiconductor industry.

Semicon to decline 20 percent in 2009
Ingo Guertler expects a decrease in the global semiconductors market of approximately a minimum of 20 percent. Europartners does not see a recovery before the middle of 2010.

Guertler said: “Maybe, there can be a light recovery in the second quarter 2010 in some regions. Everything will depend on how fast the funds of the governments to the industry will draw. We have to specifically watch, the American and Chinese markets.”

Regarding the memory market, he added that everybody had expected that Vista will stimulate the markets. However, that did not happen. “For the time being, the industry has no direct killer application for memories available or in the design stage. I expect a further price erosion on memories, especially on DRAMs,” he cautioned.

Europe’s interest in Indian semicon
Again, it was natural for me to query Ingo on how European companies view the Indian semiconductor industry.

According to him, for the time being, collaboration between the European and Indian companies is limited in the most cases, or on a one-way service base, using the excellent skills and resources of the Indian software companies and engineers that also includes EDA. “I don’t think that will change in the near future,” he added.

Guertler said: “Personally, I see India as a new market challenge in the next 10 years or more for the European companies, because the local demand will grow faster in India, than we today see in China. Also, I believe and have seen it already, that a lot of companies will likely shift their production bases from China to India the next time, simply because of lower costs, availability of good, graduate engineers and a more Western orientated politics of the Indian government.”

However there is one handicap for the Indian continent! That is: the current infrastructure and the political situation between India and Pakistan.

According to Guertler, India has to set up huge investment programs to invite more investors in the country. Very importantly, is there any feeling that overseas companies’ interest in India is slowing down?

“Definitely not, as far as the European companies are concerned. If India meets the industry’s requirements, I believe their preference will be for India in comparison to China,” he said.

That indeed, is great to hear! The Indian interest is very much intact, in Europe and elsewhere. Now, it is time for India to get some work started on semiconductor product development companies.

Can the Indian semicon industry dream big? (And even buy Qimonda?)

February 9, 2009 Comments off

I had ended one of my previous blog posts by saying whether the Indian semiconductor industry was hitting the right notes?

In a continuation to that specific thought, it is necessary to first examine where India stands in the global industry. We are very strong in embedded design and design services — our traditional strengths. While these will hold good for a long time, these are probably not enough to really help India make a serious mark at the global level.

The Indian semiconductor industry, in its current state, needs a rethinking as far as strategy is concerned. Maybe, it cannot survive on chip design alone. Especially in times of downturn, the global semiconductor industry players would be looking for new markets and even customers, rather than low-cost production centers.

Consider these points: In the current economic environment, is the interest in developing new business relations with India really a top priority for overseas companies? Probably not, at this very point of time!

India is also seen more as a source of resource; and the extra resource is the last thing firms need at the moment, given the recessionary climate. What global firms are looking for are new markets and customers, and these points, along with its infrastructure, have been the areas of Indian weaknesses. Maybe, all of this will change, but definitely not overnight! And it needs some more planning.

That leads me to an interesting comment from a reader of my article on CIOL, who went on to suggest that an Indian investor could consider buying Qimonda!

Now that is some serious thought and vision as far as mid- or long-term planning is concerned. However, will there really be any takers for this? If this really happens, fabs can be built in India for memory production. If these fabs perform well, it just might turn out to be a good investment in the mid-term future of the Indian semiconductor industry. Definitely, it will make the world sit up and take notice. The other players would surely give India a look-in thereafter.

Quite a thought! This suggestion of investing in Qimonda is indeed a vision. Can the Indian semiconductor industry develop the courage to show and work toward making this kind of a vision a reality?

What should India do to develop products?
Speaking with Anil Gupta, managing director, India Operations, ARM, is always a pleasure.

I asked him: Does India have the capability to sustain or even build a product development ecosystem? What needs to be done?

He said: “We need the following for this:

* Entrepreneurs committed to product development and willing to take that risk;
* Investors willing to take risk on product development companies;
* Consumption, and this will happen as the economy improves any way, and
* Deep enough technical/technological knowledge/know-how to put reasonably competent end products together.”

According to him, all of these qualities exist in India, and he cited examples of companies such as Sukam, Tejas, etc.

Well, there you have it!

We need enterprising entrepreneurs in India who are committed toward product development and willing to take that risk, especially in semiconductors. We need investors who can believe in things like even buying Qimonda, or some other company. After all, isn’t this what everyone’s been saying: this is the time to buy!

Dream big, India!

Top NAND suppliers of the world: DRAMeXchange

February 8, 2009 Comments off

DRAMeXchange has recently released its rankings for the top NAND suppliers of the world. I am producing bits of that report here, for the benefit of those interested in NAND and the memory market.

Be aware, that this segment has been hit particularly bad. We have heard of Qimonda’s problems, as well as Spansion’s. They are trying to battle it out, gamefully, and best wishes to them.

The global semiconductor industry needs the flash memory segment to recover, and fast, to bring the health back in the industry, as well as the missing buzz!

Getting back to DRAMeXchange’s report, NAND Flash brand companies released their total revenue of 2008. Samsung’s annual revenue was $4.614 billion and it gained 40.4 percent market share, to maintain the number 1. position.

According to DRAMeXchange, the annual revenue of Toshiba was $3.25 billion, and its market share was 28.1 percent at the number 2 position. Its market share increased 3.1 percent compared to 2007.

Hynix’s annual revenue was $1.727 billion, with 15.1 percent market share. Though it stayed at the number 3 position, its market share declined 4.1 percent, compared to 2007.

Micron’s annual revenue was $897 million. It had a 7.9 percent market share, which enjoyed a 1.8 percent increase when compared to 2007. Micron was number 4. Intel was at number 5. Its annual revenue was $660 million with 5.8 percent market share, which increased 2.1 percent, compared to 2007.

Numonyx’s (STMicro) 2008 annual revenue was $295 million. It was at number 6 position with the market share of 2.6 percent, which remained the same as 2007.

According to DRAMeXchange, the 4Q08 total revenue of worldwide NAND Flash brand companies was $2.227 billion, which dropped 19.3 percent from $2.761 billion in 3Q08. Under the continuing impact of global recession and the influence of declining worldwide consumer confidence, the 4Q08 revenue of NAND Flash brand companies showed signs of decreasing.

The overall demand and expenditure for consumer electronics declined. Although bit growth in 4Q08 increased 18 percent QoQ, the overall average selling price (ASP) dropped 32 percent QoQ, says DRAMeXchange. A big thanks to DRAMeXchange.

Reviewing global/Indian semicon industry in 2008 — top posts

January 3, 2009 Comments off

Greetings, dear readers and friends, in the new year. May you all have all the success and prosperity in 2009!

An eventful year in semiconductors has passed by us. For me, personally, it has been a tremendous 2008, ending with Electronics Weekly of UK selecting my blog (Pradeep Chakraborty’s Blog) as the world’s best in the Electronic Hardware category.

Lot of people have asked me since, how it feels to be a world champion! Well, I do feel elated! However, one point, more of the congratulatory notes have come from overseas, than from India. Perhaps, it is an apt indicator of how semiconductors is perceived in India — though, I may be wrong.

Friends have also asked me how I’ve managed to blog on such a difficult subject sitting in India. Simply put: It has not been easy!

First, I’m just a simple person, and not some brand name. Second, my blog does not represent any large, well known media house, or a big brand semiconductor magazine. Hence, maintaining a semicon blog, with the help of contacts from all over the world has been tough, at times. Why, some folks, with whom I wished to speak with, never even responded to my emails and requests. Quite understandable!

Third, I’ve only managed to blog, when I have the time, unlike many other great bloggers who post regularly (or daily)! Fourth, there have been several instances, where my location has been my weak point. I was unable to blog on several instances simply because I had no way of reaching people whom I wished to speak with, while sitting in India. And, as I said, I did get cold snubs on several instances! :) As a result, I could not present my views at specific instances, even though I dearly wanted to!

However, the unconditional and loving support and encouragement of my family, friends, well wishers, industry leaders and loyal readers such as you have helped overcome all of these deficiencies. It is only because of these people that I’ve managed to come this far! I hope each one of you continues to have faith in me. I shall try my best to provide you with the best information (hopefully) the global semiconductor industry has to offer.

To start off the new year, may I present, what I feel, are the top blog posts on semiconductors during 2008, as a review for the past year.

Being indisposed at the start of 2008, I only managed to pick up speed from April onward. As the year progressed, the Indian fab story with SemIndia started worsening, before finally disappearing, even as fabless India held on sttong, as did the fortunes of the global semiconductor industry, which incidentally, did look quite good till September last year.

I have arranged the blog posts, from January to December 2008, so they will present a better picture of how 2008 behaved! These posts are set in no particular order or preference, otherwise. Some of you may have your own favorites, so kindly let me know, in case those haven’t made the list.

JAN 2008
Power awareness critical for chip designers
LabVIEW 8.5 delivers power of multicore processors

MAR 2008
NXP India achieves RF CMOS in single chip
VLSI as a career in India
Using ‘semicon’ simulation for drug discovery

APR 2008
New camps promise exciting times ahead in memory market
Indian design services to hit $10.96bn by 2010
Staying ahead of clock a habit at Magma!

MAY 2008
Dubai — an emerging silicon oasis
Developers, go parallel, or perish, says Intel
Think AND not OR; Altera first @ 40nm FPGAs
Top 10 global semicon predictions — where are we today
Semicon to grow 12pc in 2008
India’s growing might in global semicon

JUN 2008
10-point program for Karnataka semicon policy
Has the Indian silicon wafer fab story gone astray?
Semicon half year over, what next now?
EDA as DNA of growth

JUL 2008
Semicon is no longer business as usual!
Cadence C-to-Silicon Compiler eliminates barriers to HLS adoption
Practical to take solar/PV route: Dr. Atre, Applied

AUG 2008
What India brings to the table for semicon world! And, for Japan
NAND update: Market likely to recover in H2-09
E Ink on every smart surface!
RVCE unveils Garuda super fuel-efficient car
Indian fab policy gets 12 proposals; solar dominates

SEP 2008
90pc fab investments for 300mm capacity: SEMI
Synopsys’ Dr Chi-Foon Chan on India, low power design and solar
Magma’s YieldManager could make solar ‘rock’!
Motion sensors driving MEMS growt
BV Naidu quits SemIndia; what now of Indian fab story?

OCT 2008
Top 20 global solar photovoltaic companies
IDF Taiwan: Father of the Atom an Indian!
TI Beagle Board for Indian open source developers and hobbyists
Cadence’s Virtuoso vs. Synopsys’ Galaxy Custom Designer!
Synopsys’ Galaxy Custom Designer tackles analog mixed signal (AMS) challenges
Solar, semi rocking in India; global semi recovery in 2010?
No fabs? So?? Fabless India shines brightly!!

NOV 2008
AMD’s roadmap 2009 provides lots of answers… now, to deliver!
Embedded computing — 15mn devices not so far away!
FPGAs have adopted Moore’s Law more closely!

DEC 2008
My blog is the world’s best!
Semicon outlook 2009: Global market could be down 7pc or more
Altera on FPGAs outlook for 2009
Solar sunburn likely in 2009? India, are you listening
Outlook for solar photovoltaics in 2009!

I found it difficult to select the Top 10 posts. If any one of you can draw up such a list, it’d be great!

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