The global wafer fab equipment (WFE) spending is forecast to total $27 billion in 2013, a 9.7 per cent decline from 2012.

In 2012, WFE spending is on pace to reach $29.9 billion, a decrease of 17.4 per cent from 2011 spending. The market is projected to return to growth in 2014, according to a study by Gartner.

Gartner said the outlook for semiconductor equipment markets has softened due to macroeconomic weakness and that capital investment is expected to remain flat over the forecast period as the memory and logic segments invest counter-cyclically to each other.

“In 2012, WFE started off the year strong, as foundries and other logic manufacturers ramped up sub-30-nanometre production. The need for new equipment was stronger than originally anticipated, because strengthening demand for leading-edge devices required higher production volumes as yields had yet to reach mature levels,” said Bob Johnson, research vice-president at Gartner.

“However, demand for new equipment for logic production will soften as yields improve, leading to declining shipment volumes as the industry heads into 2013,” Johnson added.

Gartner predicts that wafer fab manufacturing capacity utilisation will decline below 80 per cent by the end of 2012 before slowly increasing to about 85 per cent by the end of 2013. Leading-edge utilisation declined to the mid-80-per cent range by the second half of 2012 and will move into the low-90-per cent range by the end of 2013, providing for a somewhat positive capital investment environment.

Memory will continue to be weak through 2013, with maintenance-level investments for DRAM and a slightly down NAND market until supply and demand are in balance.

“Although a period of inventory correction that led to lowered production levels in the first half of 2012 appears to be over, inventories remain at critical levels. High inventories, combined with overall market weakness, will continue to depress utilisation rates into the first half of 2013,” said Johnson.

(This article was published on December 18, 2012)
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