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IHS boosts 2012 chip market forecast

04 May 2012  | Dylan McGrath

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IHS has released a promising forecast for this year's semiconductor market, citing strong consumer demand for wireless products like mobile phones and media tablets. According to the market research firm, total chip sales will reach an estimated $324.6 billion in 2012, up by 4.3 percent from last year. Previously, IHS forecasted an increase of 3.3 percent for the chip market this year. Rival company Gartner Inc has increased its forecast for the 2012 chip market last March—- expecting chip sales to increase 4% to $3.16 billion this year.

Barring an unforeseen economic slump in world markets or grave missteps by the chip industry, revenue should continue to climb during the next few years, hitting approximately $412.8 billion by 2016, according to the latest IHS forecast. "Semiconductor revenue growth is expected to rise in 2012 compared to last year as consumers begin to believe that the global economic recovery is for real," said Len Jelinek, director and chief analyst of semiconductor manufacturing at IHS. Jelinek said the biggest drivers of semiconductor demand in 2012 would be consumer-oriented products like smartphones and tablets. In addition to Apple Inc's iPhone and iPad, a swarm of competing products will also help drive semiconductor sales, Jelinek said.

semiconductor revenue forecast

Figure 1: Worldwide Semiconductor Revenue Forecast.

IHS predicted that the Intel-backed Ultrabook low-power notebook PC platform would have only a minimal impact on 2012 semiconductor revenue. But the forthcoming introduction of Microsoft Corp's Windows 8—the first version of the PC operating system that will support touchscreen capability—means that Ultrabooks have the potential to become a key market revenue driver in 2013, IHS said.

The three major areas of strength for the semiconductor industry this year will be NAND flash, logic ASICs, and microprocessors, according to the IHS forecast. The revenue increases in NAND and logic ASICs will come as a result of growth in sales of tablets and smartphones, while the revenue expansion in microprocessors will be driven by renewed growth in notebooks and the gradual emergence of Ultrabooks.

But IHS warned that the semiconductor industry is in a tenuous position because inventory remains at high levels, despite the fact that chip suppliers have reduced their inventory by 7.5% over the last six months. Further inventory reductions are necessary for manufacturers to experience sustained demand, and companies must continue to monitor inventory levels closely to reduce them through the first half of the year, IHS said.

According to IHS, the largest portion of inventory is held by integrated device manufacturers, which traditionally do not reduce inventory as aggressively as fabless semiconductor companies. Since the end of the second quarter of 2011, IDMs have reduced their inventory by only 5.4%. The firm warned that sustainable growth will not occur until the semiconductor industry reduces total inventory by at least another 5%.

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