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Chip distributors give mixed signals

Posted: 01 Dec 2009     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:semiconductor  Asia distribution  IC market 

Despite the apparent semiconductor recovery, there are mixed signals in the chip distribution channels.

Asian is soft. Europe is improving. But surprisingly, the United States is robust, with select shortages seen in the channels.

"Recent checks with Asian chip distributors show slight softening, with October shipments slightly below plan," said Craig Berger, an analyst with FBR, in a report.

"Our contacts now say Q4 chip shipments should fall 10 per cent sequentially, worse than our month-ago checks of 2 to 10 per cent sequential declines, driven by lower-than-expected PC chip orders in October and fewer working days in China due to a bigger-than-typical Golden Week holiday," he said.

"Asian distributor inventories rose in October to 35 days, above September's 30-35 days but below June's 39 days, peak levels of 60 days, and targeted levels of 40 days. Further, some Asian contacts suggested that some product lead times are now contracting as the peak seasonal build has already passed. We think lower lead times are a healthy industry positive that could eliminate customers' desires to double-order product or build excess inventories," he said.

And the U.S. channels? "Unlike the Asian distributor commentary, checks with multiple U.S.-based distributors indicate that November revenues should grow (month-over-month) for most firms, with book-to-bill ratios generally remaining above 1," he said.

"Lead times have stretched beyond 16 weeks for various broad-based parts, with inventories likely to fall farther as shortages set in. Some contacts suggested that select suppliers are already discussing 'allocation,' with some contract manufacturers forced to push out OEM product deliveries," he said.

"Some customers are now just beginning to grasp the situation, while others are becoming more desperate for parts. Cancellations are said to be limited, not widespread, and 'not worth getting anxious over.' For Q1, contacts believe that sell-through could actually grow on a sequential basis if enough product is obtained," he added.

Inventory levels remain low
Last week, BofA Merrill Lynch analyst Sumit Dhanda downgraded the chip sector to "neutral" from "buy," warning that rising inventory levels in the supply chain could lead to a correction in semiconductor stock values. Chip stocks traded lower on the downgrade.

In response, Paul McWilliams, editor of Next Inning Technology Research, wrote in a note to clients that there is no evidence of an inventory buildup at this time. Inventory levels at the company's tracked by his firm have been consistently moving down since the fourth quarter of 2008, McWilliams wrote.

Berger of FBR agreed, saying that BofA Merrill Lynch called it wrong. In a report, FBR listed eight basic reasons why chip stocks—and the IC market as a whole—are not tanking.

- Mark LaPedus
EE Times





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