A recession in the semiconductor market is coming in Q4 of 2022 or Q1 of 2023, says leading industry analyst Malcolm Penn of Future Horizons.

Penn was speaking in an online conference where he provided his forecast for the global chip market in 2022. His analysis is that the market momentum is at a turning point with a collapse likely to hit in the 4Q22, possibly masked by the normally seasonal downturn. Penn’s mid-range estimate is for 10 percent annual growth in 2022, with the fourth quarter hit badly.

Penn’s mid-range prediction is just below IC Insights forecast of 10.8 percent growth but ahead of the 8.8 percent growth figure given by World Semiconductor Trade Statistics at the end of 2021. Other analysts have also predicted overcapacity in 2023, with the move to building fabs in the US and Europe, so-called onshoring, as the biggest risk. 

These plans to build capacity in mulitple regions – US, Japan, Europe – are likely to be focused behind the leading-edge and give rise to overcapacity in 2023 and 2024 and possibly further into the future, Penn warned.

Penn observed that spike in the front-end capital expenditure in 2H21 was 75 percent above the long-term average as a percentage of sales.That is likely to give rise to overcapacity as demand settles back. Current demand includes double-ordering and markets inflated by increasing average selling prices, Penn said. When companies start burning off inventory orders will dry up and ASPs will reduce, he added.

Penn pointed out that the leading foundry, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. Ltd., remains committed to Taiwan and is only installing capacity overseas that will behind the leading edge when it comes on stream. Penn said he considers TSMC to be an exemplary performer in the chip market, but that others are piling in and may not be so successful, and at the same time China is building its own capacity to reduce chip imports.

Next: Building pre-assigned capacity

One thing that marks TSMC out is that they no-longer build speculative capacity, Penn said. The company is largely building to pre-assigned demand, even to previously paid-for demand. “TSMC is currently building two 3nm fabs in Taiwan; one for Apple and one for Intel. The on-shore capacity will be at N-minus-2,” he said indicating a couple of manufacturing nodes behind the leading edge. “On-shoring production is the biggest post-crash recovery risk. They will be building yesterday’s products tomorrow,” Penn said.

Penn estimates that residual market strength will likely last through the first three quarters of 2022 and give rise to a 10 percent annual market growth to create a semiconductor market worth US$609 billion. If the turn in the market is delayed into 2023 the annual growth in 2022 could be high as 14 percent. If the turn comes early, the 2022 growth could be as low as 4 percent, Penn said.

Speaking of gross domestic product forecast figures from the International Monetary Fund Penn said: “Overall the balance of growth risk is tilted to the downside.” 

He added: “Don’t be surprised if [chip] market growth goes negative. It often does during these cycles.”

“The 17th [chip market] downturn is on its way. The chip market is not driven by 5G, AI or other sexy stuff. We’ve always done things like that. It is driven by cyclicality. And that is driven by the mismatch between supply and demand. Demand is short-term and turns on a dime. Supply is very slow to change and takes 18 months to two years to do so.”

Penn did find one market with a strong outlook. EDA software licensing is benefitting from the increasing numbers of companies aggregating supply chain capabilities and that are determined to develop their own chips. “A general shift to an OEM direct business model is promoting EDA growth,”‘ said Penn.

Boom for SiP design tools

The market was up 17 percent in the 3Q21, according to the Electronic System Design Alliance industry body. “All these OEM direct customers: Google, Facebook, Amazon, Tesla are likely to keep that going,” he said.

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