Fab lite, fewer startups to fuel doubling of IC growth rates

Putting a finer point on a surprisingly bullish semiconductor-market outlook, IC Insights said Tuesday (Sept. 18) that fewer startups, reduced capital spending ratios and the “fab lite” movement will reverse three decades of declining semiconductor revenue growth. In August, IC Insights (Scottsdale,…

Putting a finer point on a surprisingly bullish semiconductor-market outlook, IC Insights said Tuesday (Sept. 18) that fewer startups, reduced capital spending ratios and the “fab lite” movement will reverse three decades of declining semiconductor revenue growth.

In August, IC Insights (Scottsdale, Ariz.) President Bill McLean forecast that IC sales growth rates will rise 54 percent to an average compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 8 percent between 2011-21. Since 1996, the industry has experienced an average annual growth rate of 5.2 percent, according to the report. (At that time, McLean looked at an historic window of 2006-11, rather than 1996-2011, but reached the same bullish outlook).

McLean’s prediction noted that unit growth rates will slow from 9.5 percent per year (1996-2011) to 7 percent in the next 10 years, but that average selling prices will jump. The outlook runs counter to long-held assumptions that relentless manufacturing improvements in components and fewer “killer” high-margin apps like servers and early communications infrastructure devices have conspired to fix IC growth rates permanently in the low single-digits.

McLean tied improving sales growth rates to:

  • Fewer startups: “The IC industry is now closed to new major manufacturing startups. This will help moderate over-investment in new fabs.”
  • Fab-lite foundry movement: “This should lead to less overspending for IC fabrication capacity.”
  • Shrinking capital-expenditure ratios: IC Insights sees the ratio falling from 21 percent in 2011 to 19 percent this year and 15 pecent by the end of the decade.
  • Wafer size pause: 450-mm wafer manufacturing will be delayed along with the attendant cost reduction phase for IC manufacturing.