Data from the Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA) show semiconductor sales are hitting depressing levels, though history suggests this might be the fast before the feast.
The SIA statistics suggest worldwide sales of semiconductors reached $98.2 billion during the second quarter of 2019, a minor increase on Q1 (0.3%), but a massive 16.8% crash on the same period of 2018. Cumulatively, year-to-date shipments during the first half of 2019 were 14.5% lower than through to the same point in 2018.
“At the midpoint of 2019, the global semiconductor market remains in a period of decreased sales, with revenues through June lagging the mid-year totals from last year by nearly 15%,” said SIA President John Neuffer.
“Year-to-year sales were down across all major regional markets and semiconductor product categories. One silver lining was that sales during the second quarter of 2019 narrowly outpaced sales during the first quarter.”
Looking at the data, there is a sense of history repeating itself.
Although it is not necessarily the easiest of graphs to read, there are a few peaks and troughs which can loosely be attributed to significant events.
Starting with the troughs, each can be attributed to two or three different things. Firstly, macroeconomic events which would have impacted purchasing patterns and investor confidence, and secondly, the introduction of a new ‘G’, therefore a new refreshment cycle for devices.
For the two troughs which can be seen following ’01 and ’09, these could perhaps be attributed to the burst of the dot-com bubble and the 2008 global financial crisis. Following both of these incidents, not only did consumer spending decrease, leading to fewer device shipments, business confidence in mobile technologies would have been impacted. Naturally, purchases of semiconductors would have decreased dramatically.
Another factor to consider is the prospect of a new ‘G’ on the horizon. This evolution could explain the troughs on the graph, but also the surging spikes. If we are to suggest 2G devices achieved mass market penetration in ‘00/01, 3G in ‘04/05 and 4G in ‘11/12, the spikes in semiconductor purchases could be explained by device manufacturers preparing for flagship launches.
Looking at the troughs, these could be explained by consumers delaying the purchase of new devices in anticipation of next-generation launches.
Perhaps this explains the dip which the semiconductor industry is currently navigating at the moment. Smartphone shipments have been steadily declining year-on-year, while the consumer appetite for 4G devices seems to be weakening with the prospect of 5G on the horizon. Smartphone manufacturers and the telcos are hyping up this new ‘G’ so much perhaps we should have little surprise demand for 4G devices is flagging.
Looking at the big chip manufacturers, the misery has been well spread. At Samsung, the most recent quarterly earnings demonstrated 4% decline in revenues and a 53% crash in net profit. The sluggish semiconductor business, often the profit driver for the business, has been the scapegoat this year. At Broadcom, another significant supplier in the mobile space, revenues attached to the Semiconductor solutions declined 10% year-on-year. For Qualcomm, the CDMA Technologies unit saw revenues decline by 12.7% year-on-year, while the Technology Licensing business felt a decrease of 10.5%.
Although the semiconductor industry will not be happy with declining revenues, if history has taught us anything, a spike in purchasing is not far away. 5G networks have been launched and early adopters have their hands on devices right now. It might be a year or two before mass market penetration is achieved, but the preparation for flagship launches will take place in the short- to mid-term future. This means smartphone manufacturers spending a lot more on new, and potentially more expensive, components.
The semiconductor industry is heading through a tough period at the moment, but this appears to be nothing new; a cornucopia of cash might just be around the corner.