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Fab utilization near capacity in Q3

November 17, 2010 // Mark LaPedus

Fab utilization near capacity in Q3

Despite an apparent slowdown in the IC industry, the utilization rate of the world's wafer fabs was 95 percent in the third quarter of 2010, according to the Semiconductor International Capacity Statistics (SICAS) group. This compares to 95.6 percent in Q2 and 86.5 percent a year ago, according to the figures.


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Total 300-mm utilization was 97.2 percent in the third quarter, compared to 98.4 percent in the second quarter and 96.1 percent a year ago, according to SICAS.
Total 200-mm utilization was 95.4 percent in the third quarter, compared to 94.6 percent in the second quarter and 80.2 percent a year ago, according to SICAS.

Total foundry utilization was 99.3 percent in the third quarter, compared to 98.8 percent in the second quarter and 91.9 percent a year ago, according to SICAS.

At 60-nm and below, utilization was 97.2 percent of capacity in Q3, down from 98.6 percent in Q2 and 93.8 percent a year ago, according to group. Between 80- and 60-nm, utilization was 97.2 percent of capacity in Q3, down from 98.8 percent in the previous quarter and 95.3 percent a year ago.

''Heading into 3Q10, expectations were muted, at best, on increasing macro worries about the sovereign debt crisis, volcanic eruptions, inflation concerns and currency pressures,'' said Steven Pelayo, an analyst with HSBC, in a report.

''The technology sector was not immune, as LCD demand softened, inventories built, and pricing rolled over. PCs were also soft as notebook builds fell sharply in July, memory pricing accelerated downward, and Intel lowered guidance,'' he said. ''Thankfully, the mid-quarter pre-build ahead of the Asian holidays began to offset and helped drive a rebound. In the end, we estimate that average 3Q10 revenue for Asia tech companies increased 8 percent quarter-over-quarter.''

Still, it was a mixed bag. ''However, the variation was wide, with solar and smartphones outperforming, while fabless chipmakers and LCD declined. Net/net, 3Q10 was clearly below historic seasonality, but reset expectations early in the quarter resulted in a 'not-as-bad-as-initially-feared' tone afterwards,'' he said.

There are some inventory issues, however. ''3Q10 foundry customer inventories were plus 9 percent quarter-over-quarter, the fifth quarter of growth, with DOI up three days to ~70 days. While restocking won't continue forever, inventories still appear 'controlled' and >10 days below historical peak,'' he said.

''Foundry customer (excluding Intel, memory and analog) inventory levels rise for
fifth consecutive quarter. No longer lean, but not in excess, in our view. We call it 'controlled,' he said. ''Looking to the first quarter of 2001, ''we are starting to foresee 1.) continued strength in communication segments, 2.)PC and LCDs segments inventory correction nearly complete, 3.) controlled foundry customer inventory levels; and 4.) increased price elasticity driving unit demand, may allow a more resilient 'rolling peak' and prevent any steep roll over near term.''

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