It's getting harder to find out what is going on at U.S. semiconductor companies, both large and small.
Take last week's news item, when John E. Kelly III was moved from IBM's microelectronics operation to a new job within IBM concerning intellectual property.
Normally, stock analysts would be willing, even eager, to comment. Under the new Securities and Exchange Commission rules, however, securities companies now limit access to their analysts. Before a reporter can ask questions, someone must approve the interview and, at Merrill Lynch for example, approval is forthcoming only if the analyst has published a report or comment about the topic.
When a gatekeeper at Merrill discovered that the analyst who follows IBM had not written publicly about Kelly's job change, the interview request was politely tabled.
And IBM itself provides so little information about its semiconductor operation that one can only assume the worst. Usually, word trickles out about the situation there through customers or suppliers, leaving IBM publicists in reactive mode.
Are investors in IBM well-served by all of this?
"I would be steaming if I were an investor in IBM," said Len Jelenik, foundry analyst at iSuppli Corp. "I would be demanding a lot more information about the financial situation within these divisions. Microelectronics has been like a boat anchor to IBM's earnings."
Things are equally bad at startups. There, investors (and the press) must rely on the honesty of management to tell the real story. At one Austin-based startup, the CEO has been gone for several weeks, but his name is still listed on the Web page.
Are startups obligated to provide accurate information on their Web sites? Only management's reputation is at stake.
When a startup claims it has several design wins at "tier one" customers, how is a reporter, investor or job applicant to know if that is true? I've asked several startup companies to provide a contact name for a person at the tier-one customer. Often, these customers don't want to go public. Other times, the startup's story doesn't completely hold up.
In my opinion, full disclosure is heading backward.
David Lammers covers SoC process equipment. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.