SAN FRANCISCO -- Not to spoil anyone's rooting interest in the notion that we've touched bottom in demand for technology products, but the latest monthly sales figures for semiconductors suggest otherwise.
The trade group Semiconductor Industry Association said Friday that worldwide chip sales in November (note the one-month lag) fell 9.8% from a year ago to $20.8 billion.
To put that in perspective, a month ago the SIA said October sales fell just 2.4%.
But for an even broader perspective, have a look at this 13-year table of the industry cycle:
It seems unlikely that we'll ever again see anything like the verticalness of the trough-to-peak-to-trough run of the tech investing watershed era of mid-1998 to late 2001, but if the red line were a stock chart, would you bet on a swing higher in the next six months?
The speed of the SIA's fall in confidence also is instructive. Back in September, when announcing July global sales growth of 7.6%, the trade group was keen on the continuing drivers in the sector.
"LCD TV units are projected to increase 32% this year, and digital set top boxes and digital still cameras will both be up around 20%," said SIA President George Scalise at the time. "Taking into account PC unit growth of about 13% and cell phone growth of over 10%, we are enjoying the benefits of the strong 3.3% second-quarter GDP growth in the U.S ,and continued strength in world markets."
Ah, actual GDP
, remember that?
Fast forward four months to Friday's release and listen to the SIA: "The worldwide economic crisis is having an impact on demand for semiconductors, but to a lesser degree than some other major industry sectors. We expect the industry will remain the second largest exporter in the U.S. for 2008," Scalise said.
You can almost feel the man-hours that went into coming up with that "second-largest exporter" line. This is something like the auto industry saying it continues to sell more cars than
And, for good measure, the SIA reiterated its interest in getting a bit of help: "Scalise noted that the SIA has urged Congressional leaders to move quickly to pass legislation that will strengthen consumer confidence and stimulate government and industry investment that will drive near term economic growth." In other words, we need serious help now.
All of this puts a little more uncertainty into calls for a pick-up by mid-2009. On Tuesday, Needham analyst Quinn Bolton boldly called for an end to the pain, seeing some sequential quarterly growth by this year's second quarter. He also said now's the time to pick up shares of stocks like
, which is 43% off its 52-week high, and
, which is still 62% below its peak of last year.
For investors, who want to believe a bottom is out there somewhere, near-term clarity on the sector is hardly at an all-time high. The
Philadelphia Semiconductor Sector Index
has now climbed 30% from its low on Nov. 21, yet traders are only three weeks removed from awful fourth-quarter profit warnings from a slew of chip companies, including
With earnings season -- and updated corporate outlooks -- just a few weeks away, traders who missed the recent run-up may want to wait for another round of data to determine if much near-term upside remains.