Charmaine Decena and her family had always dreamed of buying their own apartment in Singapore, but they are now staring at the possibility of returning to their hometown in the northern Philippines.
The 35-year-old quality engineer for a semiconductor firm saw friends and colleagues fired in recent weeks as their company responded to the worst global economic crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
Traditionally the vanguard of the region’s exporters, Asia’s chipmakers are reeling from the impact of falling global demand. Decena, like thousands of other industry employees, is wondering whose job will go next.
“It feels like there’s a sword hanging by a thread over your head,” said the mother of two, whose husband also works in the technology sector.
“We have already started packing our things just in case. We have also scrapped plans to buy an apartment,” Decena said.
She asked that her real name or that of the company she works for not to be used.
Global sales of semiconductors fell 2.8 percent to US$248.6 billion in last year from 2007, the first year-on-year drop in seven years, the US-based Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA) said this month.
In the Asia-Pacific region, sales were down nearly 22 percent last December from the same month in 2007, figures on the association’s Web site show.
“Weakening demand for the major drivers of semiconductor sales —- including automotive products, personal computers, cellphones, and corporate information technology products resulted in a sharp drop in industry sales that affected nearly all product lines,” SIA president George Scalise said.
The trend is seen continuing this year, and Asia is expected to feel the economic impact more severely because much of the world’s production of electronic equipment is concentrated in the region, analysts said.
They predict more job losses, mergers and bankruptcies in the semiconductor industry, a major employer of skilled workers.
“For 2009, we do see the market being affected quite substantially,” said Philip Koh, a vice president at market research firm Gartner.
Japanese electronic giants have announced thousands of job cuts, and as demand for microchips softens, their earnings have plunged.
Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (台積電), the world’s leading contract microchip maker, said last month that its net profit in the fourth quarter plunged 63.9 percent against the same period a year earlier. Singapore-listed Chartered Semiconductor, another major global chipmaker, announced a fourth-quarter net loss of US$114 million.
The industry should hit bottom this year, with a feeble recovery likely to begin in 2010, Koh said. However, this scenario will depend largely on global economic conditions in the first six months of this year, he said.
“Of course if the situation gets worse over this quarter or into the next quarter, the recovery will be much slower,” he said.
Gartner forecasts global semiconductor sales to plunge by more than 20 percent this year from last year, and the Asia-Pacific region is likely to mirror that decline, Koh said.
Market intelligence firm IDC expects worldwide semiconductor revenue to contract by an annual 22 percent to US$192 billion this year.
Shane Rau, a research director at IDC, said that overall, the recession in the chip sector should bottom out in the first half followed by a gradual recovery later in the year, although some segments may take longer to rebound.