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Thursday, October 14, 2010

LED Market Entering a Lull?

So, is the red hot LED market about to cool off?

According to DigiTimes, LED chipmakers including Epistar, Formosa Epitaxy and Tekcore expect revenues in September to continue to drop amid dropping demand for TV backlighting, and gross margins for the third quarter of 2010 are expected to drop 4-5 percentage points due to increases in component prices, as well as shortages of such components as sapphire substrates and special gases.

In August, IMS Research estimated that over 300 MOCVD systems were installed in Q2'10 to serve the rapidly growing high brightness (HB) LED market. This segment is benefitting from rapid gains in penetration into the notebook PC, LCD monitor, LCD TV and general lighting markets as well as a healthy subsidy in China. IMS also estimated that LED capacity will need to rise by 352% from 2009 to 2014 to keep up with demand, driving tool shipments throughout the HB LED supply chain.

According to IMS Research SVP Ross Young, "MOCVD is the single hottest category in the semiconductor manufacturing space with shipments expected to rise by nearly 500% in 2010 and to keep growing through 2013. With TVs, monitors and general lighting still early in the adoption cycle and the Chinese government encouraging a healthy LED infrastructure with a generous $1.5M subsidy per tool, this segment should remain hot.

Deutsche Bank and JP Morgan also see the MOCVD market growing through 2011. Canaccord Genuity predicts tool orders to peak in 1H’11.

Part of the reason for the near-term optimism in LED and MOCVD growth was the projected healthy demand from LED TVs. According to DisplaySearch, LCD TV panel makers are targeting aggressive growth for LED panel shipments, with plans to reach 40 percent LED penetration in Q4’10, and to exceed 50 percent in Q2’11. They estimated that Q2’10 vendors have shipped 9.5 million, or 18.5 percent, of the LCD TV panels with LED backlights, which was 110 percent growth quarter-to-quarter.

So what’s with the disappointing LED sales from Taiwan? Accorording to DigiTimes, Epistar indicated that decling September revenues were due to weakening demand for TV backlighting and general lighting, but the company expects revenues to start picking up in October as capacity adjustments for different applications have been completed and production is getting back on track.
Tekcore also believes that its September revenues will drop, while market observers expect the company's revenues to drop by 10-20% sequentially to about NT$200-220 million in September and revenues for the third quarter to increase by 10-12% sequentially to NT$700 million. Furthermore, component supply in the fourth quarter is expected to improve, helping to boost shipments.

Formosa Epitaxy expects its September revenues to drop 10% mainly due to low TV backlighting demand and tight component supply. Although TV backlighting demand may increase due to vendors' launch of new models in the fourth quarter, the small- to medium-size segment will enter the low season.

As the LED market scales to meet higher demand, predicting the point where overcapacity will cause a decline in capital spending and MOCVD tool orders will become an important planning issue for the industry. With over 80 manufacturers of epi wafers, serving increasingly diverse and dynamic markets, capital spending and pricing trends could be volatile for the next few years.

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