Some thawing in the opto end markets?

By Tom Hausken
There are signs that some markets for optoelectronic products are thawing a little bit. Foundries in Taiwan have hired back workers. Large-area flat panel display production in Taiwan was up in March over the previous month. Sales of flat panel TVs and video recorders were up in Japan . Memory chip prices are up and Samsung, for one, expects improving demand for memory chips this quarter. Hon Hai, a major contract manufacturer, is hiring in Taiwan, China, and the Czech Republic, with expansion plans in Mexico, Turkey, Russia, and elsewhere. Even equipment supplier EV Group announced that it will add a shift to accommodate demand for through-silicon via (TSV) and nanolithography tools. Compound semiconductor supplier Triquint has also announced a bounce as inventory burns off.

At the least, this is an indication that inventories are now worked out of the supply chain. But, it's interesting that a lot of the news comes from one place: Taiwan.

Dominique Numakura of DKN Research Group notes several reasons for Taiwan's thaw in his recent newsletter . First, it's based on two successful products that are emerging now, just as the recession hurts sales for just about everything else. Those products are the netbook computer and the smart phone. Another reason is that spillover of demand from mainland China's stimulus package has driven up demand for large screen TVs supplied from Taiwan. Numakura also suggests that Taiwan has a more urgent and proactive approach to the downturn, more aggressively seeking out opportunities than Japanese and American counterparts that take a more reactionary approach.

It helps to note too that the semiconductor downturn dates all the way to 2007 already, so improvement is well overdue.

Any thawing will be good news for anyone making optoelectronic chips for common appliances: things like image sensors, displays, LEDs, etc.

There is still plenty of bad news coming out every day. For example, iSuppli doesn't buy the hype about a memory chip recovery, arguing that the supply will still exceed the growth in demand. And for the most part, the demand for fab tools and other manufacturing equipment remains frozen solid. But the chip demand has to improve before anything else can.
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