Last month we were surprised to hear some cautionary words out of Semiconductor Industry Association President and chief cheerleader George Scalise. At the time, we said it could either be a positive contrary indicator or a sign things were really bad. Whatever the case, it seems to have passed. According to the association’s latest press release:
The Semiconductor Industry Association [SIA] today reported that global sales of semiconductors reached $22.7 billion in November, an increase of 11.3 percent from the $20.4 billion in November 2005. Sales increased by 3.1 percent from the $22.0 billion reported in October. The November sales figure was the fifth-consecutive month of record sales. For the first 11 months of 2006, worldwide semiconductor sales totaled $225.1 billion, an increase of 9.4 percent from the like period of 2005 when sales were $205.7 billion.Consumer applications continued to drive demand of microchip sales in November. According to the Consumer Electronics Association [CEA], unit sales of consumer electronic products such as flat-panel displays and digital cameras were ahead of forecasts in the holiday season and resulted in strong revenue growth despite some erosion in the average selling price for some products. The CEA reported that November unit sales of digital cameras in the U.S. market were up 30 percent over November 2005 and up over 40 percent for the first 11 months of 2006. Semiconductor product lines that showed strong sequential growth included DSPs (digital signal processors), up 12.3 percent; DRAMs (dynamic random-access memories) up 6.8 percent; NAND flash up 6.3 percent; and microprocessors, up 4.3 percent.
“Despite some signs of slower economic growth in the fourth quarter, consumer purchases of electronic products remained strong and again drove semiconductor sales to record levels,” said SIA President George Scalise. “The latest Conference Board survey of consumer confidence reflected increasing optimism. An improving job market and indications of healthy economic growth going forward should contribute to stronger demand for semiconductor products which are increasingly driven by consumer electronic purchases.
“Inventories are in line with current demand in most major product segments, and there are even signs of tight supplies in some memory products,” Scalise continued. “Global sales of semiconductors for the first 11 months of 2006 are in line with the SIA forecast of 9.4 percent growth for the year. 2007 is shaping up to be another good year for the industry with a forecast of 10 percent growth over 2006,” Scalise concluded.
We have been warning about inventories for some time, and now even the mainstream media is picking up on the theme (which may be yet another contrary indicator.) Still, George Scalise saying inventories are tight doesn’t change the fact that semiconductor companies continue to order equipment at a faster pace than their customers order semiconductors (see chart).
As that equipment gets installed, Scalise won’t be able to wish away the semiconductors already produced, and most of them will go into inventory.