This Number Bodes Well for Semiconductor Stocks in 2017

Semiconductor stocks continue to ride a powerful wave six months into 2017. 

Global semiconductor sales increased by 22.6% year-over-year to $31.9 billion this May from $26 billion in May 2016, according to the Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA). This year-over-year growth is the largest the industry has seen since September 2010. Industry sales in May also climbed 1.9% from April's $31.4 billion. 

"The global semiconductor market has settled into a period of significant and steady growth in 2017, with sales through May well ahead of the total from the same point last year," SIA CEO John Neuffer told DigiTimes. "Significantly, recent market growth has been consistent across all major regional markets and semiconductor product categories, with sales of memory products continuing to lead the way."

Chip stocks have seen a nice boost from the tightening supply of DRAM and NAND memory chips in the past year. The VanEck Vectors Semiconductor ETF (SMH) is up by 66% year-to-date, while the S&P 500 has risen 8.65% in the same time period. 

Lam Research (LRCX) is up 34.81% to $142.53 year-to-date (YTD). Nvidia (NVDA)  has climbed 34.02% to $143.05 YTD. Micron Technology (MU)  has seen a 39.19% bump to $30.51 YTD. Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) is up 16.31% to $13.19 YTD. Cypress Semiconductor (CY)  has increased to 18.79% to $13.59 YTD. 

The semiconductor fingerprint sensor industry is facing particularly strong competition, which is driving down per-unit prices to as low as $1.50, Oppenheimer analyst Rick Schafer wrote in a note on Wednesday. "Less-competitive players are expected to be forced to withdraw from the competitive fingerprint sensor market, said the sources, adding that a wave of elimination is set to kick off," he wrote. 

Competition among fingerprint sensor semiconductor suppliers has picked up ever since Apple (AAPL) first released them on the iPhone 5s in September 2013. Apple's 2013 iPhone model created an expectation for all smartphones to have a fingerprint sensor, which led to an increase in the number of suppliers. "On the supply side, a number of fingerprint sensor suppliers has grown as new entrants - mainly China- and Taiwan-based companies - have gone through their learning curves and obtained orders from brand handset vendors," Schafer wrote. 

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The fingerprint sensors for the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus, released in fall 2016, was supplied by Advanced Semiconductor Engineering (ASX) . For the upcoming iPhone 8, due out this October or November, Apple is expected to introduce a fingerprint scanner that is located under the screen to create a bezel-free look for the edge-to-edge screen. Ironically, smartphone competitor Samsung (SSNLF) will actually be providing the OLED, curved screens to Apple for its new iPhone. Apple ordered enough screens from Samsung for 70 million handsets this year. 

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