A brightening market outlook?

To many of us who cover the world of optoelectronics there seems to be an almost interminable stream of "doom and gloom" from the telecom markets that overshadows much of what else is happening out there.

To many of us who cover the world of optoelectronics there seems to be an almost interminable stream of "doom and gloom" from the telecom markets that overshadows much of what else is happening out there. So it was a pleasant surprise when I came across some relatively upbeat news recently. At the Conference on Laser and Electro-Optics (CLEO) in Long Beach, CA, in May there was much anecdotal evidence that in the nontelecom markets the photonics business is actually not too bad (assuming, of course, that your yardstick was calibrated before the telecom bubble came along). Although exhibitor perspectives on CLEO itself were decidedly mixed, there did seem to be a consensus that business could certainly be worse, with several firms telling me that some markets show definite signs of an uptick.

One of the largest of these markets is semiconductor and microelectronics processing. That industry's book-to-bill ratio in March 2002 was 1.02, ending a 16-month streak in which the value of new equipment being shipped exceeded that of new orders being received. The preliminary number for April showed a further increase to 1.2.

Within the microelectronics processing market, sales of excimer lasers for photolithography—the application featured on this month's cover—currently represent the largest segment (see p. 107). Other applications of excimer lasers include material structuring and flat-panel display processing and—outside the microelectronics arena—biomedicine and marking (see Optoelectronics World, following p. 70).

Of course excimer lasers are not the only ones involved in this market and any improvement in the semiconductor industry's health will help us all. Stanley Myers, president and CEO of SEMI (www.semi.org) was fairly optimistic when—commenting on the April book to bill number—he said, "While the jump in April's numbers likely reflects an end-of-quarter uptick in bookings, the fact that we have seen bookings improve for five consecutive months is a promising sign that the market for semiconductor equipment is beginning to recover from the downturn of 2001."

"Recent announcements by leading foundries of increased capital spending plans for 2002 are another sign of a brightening market outlook," he noted. Good news indeed on the eve of Semicon West, the industry's leading trade show.

Stephen G. Anderson
Associate Publisher/Editor in Chief
stevega@pennwell.com

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