Ahead of the COVID-19 virus, worldwide semiconductor revenue declined 12.2% in 2019 to $418 billion, according to the latest update of the IDC Semiconductor Applications Forecaster (SAF). The global economy in 2019 grew at its slowest pace since the global financial crisis in 2008, and US-China trade disputes grounded semiconductor sentiment and demand.
Higher levels of inventory in specific areas like mobile phones and cloud infrastructure brought pricing pressure and negatively impacted semiconductor sales. Driving the downturn were declines of 37.3% and 27.7% in the DRAM and NAND markets respectively, after more than two years of strong growth.
While most companies witnessed revenue declines in 2019, a few outperformed the market.
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Intel regained its leadership in the market becoming once again the largest company in terms of revenues — due to a more diversified business seeing solid returns and better than expected PC demand from the Windows refresh in the enterprise.
MediaTek and AMD also grew revenues significantly last year as both companies began to see strong traction in their respective core businesses and gained market share. Sony achieved the highest growth among the largest semiconductor companies with its image sensor business taking advantage of the adoption and growth in the number of cameras on flagship smartphones.
Instead of an anticipated bottom and gradual recovery in 2020, the emergence of COVID-19 will drive another contraction in the overall semiconductor market.
“The strength in demand in March and early April have made computing, connectivity, and memory products more resilient. However, the global shelter in place orders and ongoing shift in buying behavior toward essential goods and services will negatively impact consumer and business spending in the second quarter and second half of the year,” said Mario Morales, program vice president, Semiconductors at IDC.
Based on the latest information available, IDC expects the overall semiconductor market to decline by 4.2% as the global economy fights to recover from this unprecedented crisis in 2020. Excluding the DRAM and flash markets, semiconductors are expected to decline by 7.2%. The demand for semiconductors will be very uneven across the different industrial markets.
Smartphones will continue to be the largest demand driver and will remain weak overall given the concentration in volumes being 4G. A large Chinese OEM will need to work down inventories after stuffing the channel over the past couple of quarters. This will drive the rest of the OEMs in China to concentrate on launching 5G devices to leverage potential subsidies by carriers later this year.
IDC expects 5G volumes will grow this year despite the demand uncertainty, driving strong semiconductor content as OEMs position 5G in lower tiers to broaden the reach. There are 5G phones that have started selling for under $300 in China. Every percent drop in smartphone unit volume expectations will have a couple of percentage points of impact on overall semiconductor revenues for the year.