At every turn, we seem to be hit with information that's throwing us off the scent of recovery, putting our nation in a suspended sense of uncertainty that we've never quite experienced before.
Right before press time, we learned that National Semiconductor Corp. plans to cut 500 jobs on its way to profit-improvement, DRAM manufacturer Micron Technology has a 10 percent work-force reduction planned and the North American-based manufacturers of semiconductor equipment posted a lukewarm January book-to-bill ratio of 0.92 (meaning that $92 worth of new orders were received for every $100 of product billed for the month).
In response to the book-to-bill news, SEMI's Director of Industry Research and Statistics, Dan Tracy, mentioned that equipment manufacturers “continue to see a weak industry environment…[while] the current outlook remains uncertain with few indications of a strong rebound in the immediate future.”
In the meantime, our news staff is filtering through reports from SEMI and analyst firms such as Standard & Poors (S&P) that tell us capital expenditures should increase five to 10 percent later this year based on news that the semi industry is looking to bring on 15 new fabs capable of 0.2 micron technology during the course of 2003 and 2004.
What should we be making of all this? I recently witnessed tried-and-true semi industry watchdogs literally throw up their hands with a smile saying that they can only forecast that the forecast is probably going to change.
Over in the regulated markets, there's yet another mist of ambiguity. The FDA has taken steps to pull back from a “bully” position to that of a warm and tender caregiver.
As Correspondent Sheila Galatowitsch finds in this month's Special Report, the FDA's move to issue its aseptic processing guidance draft paper drummed up the kind of proactive response it was hoping for in what is being called an unprecedented outreach to regulated industry on behalf of the agency.
And while there's a new communication, there remains an uncertainty as to how all of the messages from all the different interests will be boiled down into an agreement based on sound science.
When this current mist lifts, we can be nearly certain that whatever market or workplace conditions that emerge from our current “suspended” state will be better, stronger and more viable than at any time in the past.