SEMI’s July chip tool data begs comparison to meltdown…but which one?

by James Montgomery, news editor

August 20, 2010 – Just when we thought we could (should?) stop comparing the chip industry’s recovery and growth to the beginning of the most recent downturn, now we’ve got to compare it to the meltdown before it.

North-America-based vendors of semiconductor manufacturing equipment reported $1.83B in orders for July (a three-month average), the highest dollar amount since January 2001 — the last month before the two-year plunge which, until late 2008, was the industry’s benchmark for "sturm und drang." Billings, meanwhile, are still growing too, but slower in July, just 1.8% to $1.49B. Year-on-year comparisons are still outrageously high (220% for bookings, 177% for billings), which reflects both the softness then and the strong demand now. The B:B ratio pushed up to 1.23, meaning $123 worth of orders was received for every $100 of product billed during the month.

SEMI president/CEO Stanley Myers said the growth "shows continued momentum" for new chipmaking equipment demand, though he acknowledged " there are some questions" whether this growth might evaporate by year’s end.

More inside the July stats:

  • Bookings are at their highest levels since January 2001 (was August 2006, and have risen for 15 out of 16 months (one month was flat). In June, bookings surpassed their peak from before the economy-induced crisis. Now we’ve got a new milestone: they’re now comparable to the surge that peaked in early 2001….which of course was followed by the 2001-2002 plunge.
  • Billings are still on a roll, at levels not seen since October 2007 (unchanged from June’s comparisons) and risen sequentially for 15 straight months. Note, though, that month/month growth in July slipped below <2%, as low as we’ve seen since May 2009 — which was the first month in over a year of billings growth.
  • Once again SEMI had to retroactively tack on more dollars to its previous-month figures. For June’s final tally, that means ~$45M each in billings (raising M/M increase to 9% vs. 5.7%) and bookings (raising M/M growth to 13.4% from 10.5%).
  • The B:B has stayed above the 1.0 parity mark for 13 consecutive months — the past seven of them above 1.13. Generally speaking this means more business continues to come in (orders) vs. go out (sales) — in this case, though, the B:B is inflated by a slowdown in billings.


In Japan, the market built on June’s 6% growth in bookings with another 11% hike to ¥112.51B (US $961.19M). After a -15% June swoon, billings returned to growth (barely) in July, up 2.3% to ¥82.17B ($1.47B). That pushed the B:B up to a sky-high 1.53 ($153 worth of orders was received for every $100 of product billed during the month) — the highest in at least five years, according to SEAJ archives.


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