Electronics Production | April 01, 2008

Excess semiconductor inventories decline

A reduction in excess chip inventory levels often indicates a rise in global semiconductor sales, but in the first quarter of 2008, an expected decline in surplus stockpiles is revealing troubling signs of market weakness, according to iSuppli.
Excess semiconductor inventory in the global electronics supply chain is expected to decline to $2.9 billion by the end of the first quarter, down 14.6 percent from a revised $3.4 billion in the fourth quarter of 2007, according to a preliminary forecast from iSuppli's Semiconductor Inventory Tracker service. This follows a 21 percent reduction in the fourth quarter of 2007. The figure below presents iSuppli's forecast of excess semiconductor stockpiles in the global electronics supply chain, including the fourth-quarter preliminary estimate. “The expected drop in surplus stockpiles in the first quarter mainly is due to a pullback in semiconductor production among suppliers,” said Rosemary Farrell, analyst for iSuppli.

“In reaction to the lackluster demand late in December, chip suppliers began throttling back on manufacturing. This allowed their customers to draw down their inventories.”

More inventory to come?
While the semiconductor market is struggling with some particularly sore spots-most notably NAND-type flash memory-mid-quarter updates from chip suppliers indicate broad-based weakness, with most companies likely to miss their first-quarter forecasts. Due to poor visibility of future market conditions, semiconductor suppliers seem to be taking a wait-and-see approach, and keeping production levels low in the first quarter.
Much of the excess inventory is being held by the semiconductor suppliers themselves, rather than by their OEM or contract manufacturing customers, or by electronics distributors.

The large quantity of inventory at suppliers was offset by declines elsewhere in the chain, which helped to reduce overall excess inventory in the electronics industry.

With inventory levels high at the semiconductor suppliers themselves, and with worries mounting regarding market conditions, stockpiles could begin rising again in the second quarter. If the end-demand situation worsens, and order cancellations begin rolling in, then suppliers will be forced to add to their already bloated inventories.

The bright side for semiconductors
All semiconductor segments experienced weak January sales, particularly the memory markets. In the PC supply chain, the year started out with news of reductions in orders of semiconductors. However, amid the glum January semiconductor sales, news was not all bad from chip customers. iSuppli's channel checks indicate that with the exception of some inventory pockets in Europe, the PC value chain is clear of excess supply and levels now conform with seasonal patterns. OEM demand is tracking to forecasts and, although OEMs are placing orders that are slightly lower than typical, this activity has not led to order cancellations. Although the PC supply chain remains concerned about inventory and demand for microprocessors, the slowdown in the price war between Intel Corp. and Advanced Micro Devices Inc. has removed much uncertainty from the market. DRAM inventory increased slightly at the end of February and iSuppli expects Average Selling Prices (ASPs) for these memory chips to keep sliding throughout March. DRAM ASPs are expected to hit bottom in the second quarter.

NAND downturn
Lower-than-expected demand and pricing for NAND flash in the first quarter led Intel to reduce its financial outlook. The company plans to write off excess NAND inventory at the end of March. As iSuppli has reported, weak consumer trends are causing buyers to cut their expected NAND order levels for 2008, with Apple Inc. the most notable example.

iSuppli Figure: Peliminary Estimate of Excess Semiconductor Inventory in the Global Electronics Supply Chain (Billions of U.S. Dollars)

Source: iSuppli Corp. March 2008

About iSuppli's Semiconductor Inventory Tracker Service
iSuppli defines excess inventory as the point where Days of Inventory (DOI) exceed historical averages during a quarter.

The Semiconductor Inventory Tracker Service employs quarter-ending inventory levels for approximately 100 companies at every node of the electronics supply chain, i.e. foundries, Integrated Device Manufacturers, distributors, OEMs, contract manufacturers and system distributors.

iSuppli then compares this data against target levels for each point in the chain by analyzing historical seasonal patterns and surveys of the companies to determine the desired level for inventory. We now do this at the total semiconductor level.

All DOI calculations are based on cost of goods sold, except for semiconductor suppliers, which are calculated on a cost-of-sales basis. For each segment, and for the entire supply chain, iSuppli then calculates what those extra days of parts lingering in inventory are valued at during the quarter based on the target levels.
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