Nobody was willing to call the start of an upturn, or even to say that the semiconductor industry has yet sighted bottom, but optimism was a reoccurring theme of the recent Semico Summit 2009 conference in Scottsdale, Ariz.
Though their speaking topics and presentation slides differed, executive after executive who took the podium said, essentially, two basic things: "This is the worst we've seen" and "Semiconductors remain critical to solving the world's problems and will grow again."
Tim Lloyd, a supply chain director at Intel Corp., may have said it best: "We wouldn't be in this business if we didn't feel there was going to be continued adoption of electronics and semiconductors."
Hector Ruiz, the former chairman and CEO of Advanced Micro Devices Inc., and now chairman of AMD joint-venture foundry spinout Globalfoundries, told the audience that he was an eternal optimist. "There will be a recovery," he said, and the changes underway in the industry will lead to "a tremendous amount of opportunity."
Jim Feldhan, president of Semico Research, projected that the industry would decline by 15 percent in 2009. But Feldhan sees steady growth from 2010 through 2013 that will result in industry revenue crossing the $300 billion mark. And he believes that inventories have gotten so lean that a recovery could happen very quickly once the economy starts to recover.
That's not to say that the presenters see business as usual around the corner. Some suggested some very fundamental changes in the way the semiconductor business operates will go hand and hand with an eventual recovery.
Ruiz highlighted what he called a "flight to value" in consumer productsa favoring of lower cost products over the latest and greatest bells and whistlesthat could have ominous implications for the industry as we know it. He also said this downturn would lead to more consolidation than any before it.
Moshe Gavrielov, president and CEO of programmable logic supplier Xilinx Inc., predicted that venture capital funding won't return to the semiconductor industry even after the recession, something that, if true, would challenge a time-tested model for incubating innovation.