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March 30, 2012

Tablets and smartphones keep semiconductor market buoyant

Strong sales of mobile devices have countered the effects of flooding in Thailand and the Japanese tsunami.

By Vinod

Strong sales of mobile devices have countered the effects of flooding in Thailand and the Japanese tsunami, says Gartner.

The worldwide semiconductor foundry market totalled $29.8 billion in 2011, a 5.1 percent increase from 2010. The semiconductor supply chain did experience some impact from the Japanese disasters and Thailand flooding, but was countered by strong mobile device sales and the steep depreciation of U.S. currency.

Gartner analysts said that foundry growth in 2011 would have been just 0.7 percent without the US depreciation, which preserved export margins.

"Thanks to stable media tablet and mobile phone sales, a slide of the semiconductor and foundry revenue in 2011 was prevented," said Samuel Tuan Wang, research director at Gartner.

"After 40.5 percent growth from 2009 to 2010, the foundry market maintained relatively flat business in 2011 due to the weakness in PC production and an overall consumer demand hit, as well as a leaner inventory practice by customers that started in mid-2011."

The semiconductor foundry market remains dominated by the Taiwanese, through Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC), which grew its market share from 47.1% in 2010 to 48.8% in 2011. Second place United Microelectronics Corporation (UMC), also Taiwanese, lost market share, going from 13.5% to just 12.1%.

TSMC remains dominant in the sector, and picked up Apple’s contract late last year to develop its new A5 and A6 chips for ‘The New iPad’ and upcoming iPhone 5. It also produces chips for companies such as Nvidia who also produce ARM based ‘Tegra’ chips for Google Android based smartphones.

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The USA’s GlobalFoundries, China’s Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corporation (SMIC) and Israel’s TowerJazz rounded out the top 5, with 12%, 4.4% and 2.1% respectively. The top 5 semiconductor foundry players account for 80% of the market.

Samsung has been aggressively expanding in the market, expanding from $370m in revenue to $470m in just a year, putting it in 9th place. The company has long been working to create a vertically integrated production process.

Gartner’s notes also added that the figures excluded Samsung’s estimated $1 billion Apple wafer business. If this had been included, Samsung would rank as high as No. 4 in the foundry ranking.

Communications, consumer and data processing continued to be the three key drivers for the semiconductor foundry business; accounting for 42.7 percent, 20.9 percent and 20.3 percent of all revenue in 2011.

"Advanced technology for mobile applications was the driver for the growth of foundry business in 2011, and the demand is expected to remain high during the next few years," said Wang.


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