The global economy is caught in a perfect storm as the greatest financial crisis since the Depression continues to unfold, accompanied by sky-high crude oil and commodity prices--a one-two punch that is resculpting the world's economic landscape.
The maelstrom has wreaked havoc across the world's banking, investment and industrial sectors, unnerving traders, consumers and industry leaders alike. Where it ends, no one knows.
Historically, the technology sector has gotten roughed up by lesser economic downdrafts, with chip companies and PC makers especially prone to industry boom/bust cycles. But the semiconductor, electronics and PC sectors appear to be riding this latest storm uncharacteristically well.
The reason? Today's technology industry is much more international and interconnected than it has ever been, and many more tech centers around the globe are getting their first taste of a Silicon Valley-style boom/bust cycle. As the tide turns, observers should watch not just the supply/ demand exigencies of the global chip industry, but the course of innovation itself--especially in emerging markets, where technology demand remains robust and the trend in electronics design and R&D investments is up and to the right.
"Digging beneath the layers reveals a set of market fundamentals that are in remarkably strong form," Malcolm Penn, CEO and chairman of Future Horizons, observes in his June chip market report. As we head into summer, the field of industry players is "overcrowded" and technology is "irrelevant," Penn argues, adding that what really matters is "being first, good enough and competitive. Falling capex, tight capacity, focus on profits, continuing strong market demand, second-half seasonal effects--the industry has reached a positive turning point. The penny may not yet have dropped to the table, but--even for the chip industry, ever full of surprises--let the market beware; it is no longer business as usual."
It's no longer "innovation as usual" either, as companies jockey for position amid intensifying competition in emerging economies around the globe.
As EE Times India correspondent K.C. Krishnadas recently reported, Indian technology companies facing cost pressures from the global economic slump and domestic competition are seeking a way out by boosting research and development investments in semiconductor intellectual property. Known best for design services, India is slowly shifting away from the service economy in favor of a silicon IP licensing model.
Wireless communications, analog components and DSP-based intellectual property are all areas of promise for Indian companies, according to A. Vasudevan, vice president of semiconductor and system solutions at Wipro Technologies.
The shift toward more-innovative products will not happen overnight in India or any other country. But the climb toward higher-value-added, IP-intensive design and development activities is storm insurance against the inexorable economic cycles that have proved devastating for companies--and for the emerging economies that remain at the bottom of the industry's design and supply chain.
Worldwide PC shipments also appear to be weathering the economic downturn, according to international market research firms Gartner and IDC. Loath to be left behind as technology and innovation march on, emerging markets are overtaking the more-established PC markets, keeping demand buoyant.
Indeed, the Asia-Pacific region, excluding Japan, surpassed the United States last year as the world's largest PC market. By 2012, market watchers predict, Asia-Pacific, Latin America, eastern Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Canada will collectively account for about 59 percent of global volume, up from 48 percent in 2007.
"The underlying fundamentals are sound, and there is no end in sight to the 'make lunch or be lunch' ethos," Penn observes. "Companies have to compete, innovate and aggressively march into new markets because all the rules of the game have changed."
In short, the pundits are telling us that this is not your father's recession.
Too good to be true? Time will tell.
Richard Wallace (firstname.lastname@example.org) is vice president for global business development and editorial director of EE Times.