Chipmakers say Covid’s hit isn’t as bad as we once thought

guys in clean room gear on laptops
Sales of chips are actually expected to increase despite COVID-19 but billings for chipmaking machines are down in North America. (Intel)

Some good news emerged for the chip industry in the form of a higher forecast for total sales in both 2020 and 2021.

The World Semiconductor Trade Statistics organization now projects annual global sales will increase by 5.1% in 2020, followed by an increase of 8.4% in 2021. Both figures are higher than that the previous WSTS forecast released in June when growth was forecast at 3.3% for 2020 and 6.2% for 2021.

“The semiconductor market is not that negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic as originally expected earlier this year,” WSTS said in a statement issued earlier this week.

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Growth in 2020 will come in all major product categories except Optoelectronics and Discrete semiconductors with largest improvement in memory at 12.2 % followed by sensors at 7.4%.  The Americas and Asia Pacific regions are expected to grow by nearly 19% and nearly 4% respectively, WSTS said, with the global total reaching $433 billion.

For 2021, growth will reach double digits for memory and optoelectronics and with positive growth in all other categories and regions, WSTS said.

The Semiconductor Industry Association in Washington also reported that global sales in October reached $36.8 million, an increase of 6% over a year earlier. That was the largest percentage increase since March.

The Americas had the biggest percentage improvement of any region in October, increasing by 14% over a year earlier with total sales at $8.35 billion. China had the largest total for October at $13.84 billion, up by 6.3%.

The improvement continues to “demonstrate the global semiconductor market’s resilience so far to headwinds caused by the pandemic and other macroeconomic factors,” said John Neuffer, CEO of SIA in a statement issued Thursday.

The positive news for semiconductor sales was negated by news earlier in the week that semiconductor equipment billings plunged by 45% in North America for the third quarter compared to a year earlier, reaching $1.27 billion  according to the SEMI industry association in the U.S..

Meanwhile there was a 63% improvement in semi equipment billings in China and improvements in Korea (92%), Japan (34%) and Taiwan (22%) for the quarter over a year earlier.  The total billions globally for the quarter were $20 billion, a 30% improvement.

In Taiwan, the government and five industry groups took formal steps on Thursday to create Taiwan-based production of semiconductor equipment.  That step would hurt equipment production elsewhere, since Taiwan now imports about 90% of its chipmaking gear. Taiwan buys more chipmaking equipment than any country and is expected to spend up to $62 billion in 2020 according to SEMI Taiwan.

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