US chipmakers hit by sudden downturn after pandemic boom, reports FT
After dealing with booming demand and global shortages since the start of the pandemic, the semiconductor industry is facing a sudden downturn. But even for an industry accustomed to frequent cyclical slumps, this one has defied easy analysis and left researchers struggling to predict how the setback will play out. The sudden glut in memory chips, PC processors and some other semiconductors has come at a time when manufacturers in many automotive and industrial markets still lack a reliable supply of chips. It has also forced some of the biggest US chipmakers to slash billions of dollars from planned capital spending, at the very moment that Washington has passed a long-awaited law to subsidise a huge increase in domestic chip manufacturing capacity.
The speed of the turn, and the conflicting forces at work, had been unprecedented, said Dan Hutcheson, the veteran chief executive of VLSI Research who has analysed chip cycles since the 1980s. “I’ve never seen a time when we had excessive inventory and we had shortages,” he said. The immediate cause has been a rapid build-up in inventory in the chip supply chain since early this year. Compared with February, when there were enough chips on hand to support about 1.2 months of production, global inventory levels jumped to 1.4 months in June and then 1.7 months in July, according to VLSI Research.