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One word…materials: Some whimsical data points from SEMI’s midyear forecasts

15 July 2008 | By Tom Cheyney | Chip Shots

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The materials revolution in the semiconductor industry since the turn of the century has been well documented, and SEMI's just-released midyear forecast numbers underscore the economic realities of this megatrend. It also doesn't hurt that the solar materials market, especially in the polysilicon sandbox, will soon absorb a profound growth spurt.

At a Monday press conference, SEMI president/CEO-for-life Stan Myers said that while the July midyear forecast for the worldwide equipment sector continues glum--a 20% decrease this year, shrinking from $42.77 billion in 2007 to $34.12 billion--the materials side continues its upward mobility. The admittedly less-volatile wafers/masks/chemicals/gases/etc. segment should jump to $46 billion, a nice pop from 2007's $42 billion, which will be fueled in part by a better than 20% increase in 300-mm wafer shipments and increasing deployment of new materials cocktails.

The only region to see either parity (tools) and growth (materials) this year? China, of course. The worst hit on the tool side? Taiwan, with a withering 37% drop in equipment revenues from the foundry giant. If the two Chinas became one, the numbers would change, but don't count on that happening until after the Beijing Olympics.

While the equipment business is expected to recover (or perhaps, has to recover is more accurate) in 2009 and 2010--to $38.62 billion and $41.04 billion, respectively--the materials space will continue its journey north, reaching $48 billion and $51 billion in the years ahead. If this pattern holds, it will mark perhaps the longest stretch of revenue dominance by the materials crew over the tool guys in the industry's history (at least that I can recall). Keep up that plundering of the periodic table, molecule mavens!

One data factoid delivered by Stan was almost as mind-blowing as the estimated price tag for the 450-mm wafer-size transition (well, maybe not that mind-blowing). The bar chart featuring the trends for polysilicon capacity, including solar (the big kahuna of poly these days) and semi apps, showed the announced capacity in metric tons (yes, metric) per year rising from just over 50,000 in 2008 to nearly 250,000 in 2010.

There's a big "if," though, since most of that quarter-million-ton number is forecast to come from fresh-faced entrants to the poly biz and there could be some, shall we say, failure to execute among the newbies. But if all of that good wafer-rock manufacturing comes online as planned, Stan said it "will help balance supply and demand and continue to fuel growth" on both the sunny and semi sides of the street.

Nothing like a nearly 500% increase in capacity over two years to propel growth. Or create overcapacity.

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