ASML sees 'pretty dire' memory chip market in 2013

16 November 2012
By David Spencer
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Block-based chip design

Leading supplier of chip-making equipment, ASML, has announced that is expects demand in the memory sector to be weak in 2013, despite a rise in NAND memory prices in recent weeks.

Peter Wennink, chief financial officer, told a conference organised by Morgan Stanley that the outlook for memory chips for 2013 was "a pretty dire picture".

Wennink said he was not counting on any uptick in NAND memory, yet the company will build buffers to hedge for any potential upside.

Demand in the logic chip industry would remain strong, stated Wennink, adding that next year would be second-half weighted due to expansion in the 28 nanometer node and demand for equipment for the ramp-up to 20 nanometer in 2014.

"There is no doubt in our minds that there is going to be any backtracking on current plans" he said. Chipmakers are set to start producing even thinner 14 nanometer microprocesses in the near future. These will require less voltage to function and also less power.

Wennink stated: “We see 2013 (as) memory very weak, logic and microprocessors strong.”

Demand for memory is constrained by a weakening PC market and by tablet makers using memory as a price differentiator.

"The price difference between a 16GB tablet and 32GB tablet is $100, but the cost of the additional 16GB is a fraction (of that)," Wennink said.

Demand for DRAM memory would be lifted by mobile, which consists of just over 15 per cent of the market, but it would be a medium-term trend.

“There will be an acceleration in DRAM in the next couple of years, but the big question is when will that turning point be? It is definitely not 2013. Anywhere between two and four years we hope to see something.”

Morgan Stanley analysts have calculated that DRAM currently represents a mere 2 per cent of ASML's backlog, reducing the downside for the company from the bleak outlook for the memory sector.

Wennink remains confident that ASML's plan to buy Cymer Inc, a supplier of lithography light sources used to make chips, will be cleared by competition authorities.

The Dutch company said last month that the €1.95bn ($2.5bn) deal would speed up the development of extreme ultraviolet (EUV) semiconductor lithography, which will help produce chips to power future generations of smartphones and tablet computers.

ASML needed to own the US group to overcome legal and contractual obstacles that were hampering attempts to develop newer, smaller chips, Wennink stated. "We do this for the industry (and) for the end consumer, and from a regulatory point of view that will weigh very heavily."

Shares in ASML were down 2.2  per cent at 1141 GMT, underperforming a 0.8  per cent weaker index of European technology companies

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