SAN JOSE, Calif. - Are we in a fab tool lull, slowdown or downturn?
Based on the results from major tool vendors this week, it could be all of the above. But the prevailing theme is the dreaded ''P'' word: pushouts. In other words, chip makers are delaying-or pushing out-select tool orders amid a slowdown in the overall IC market.
''The book-to-bill ratio for IC equipment has been decelerating considerably in the last few months and it’s expected to fall below parity in October. This earnings season, equipment suppliers have been bullish about their prospects in the coming quarters while chipmakers have turned cautious,'' according to a report from VLSI Research Inc. ''This, along with crashing spot prices, is a sign that we could see equipment pushouts become publically visible in the next few quarters.''
For example, Novellus Systems Inc. this week posted strong results in the third quarter, but the company's fourth quarter looks slower due to tool pushouts. MOCVD specialist Veeco Corp. has the same problem. And the same is true for the backend, as Teradyne Inc. warned about a pending ''downturn'' in the logic test arena.
''Novellus discussed cautious tone from customers and uncertain timing of both foundry and memory projects while we believe this is due to push-outs in the last week from TSMC (and) UMC,'' said C.J. Muse, an analyst with Barclays Capital, in a report. ''Novellus was very upbeat on NAND outlook.''
Veeco, which is selling into the LED houses and others, ''discussed delivery push-outs of (about) 10 tools into 1Q11 by Korea/Taiwan and the potential for some facility-related revenue delays in China,'' he said.
And for ATE, Teradyne's ''actual 3Q revenues/EPS came in at slightly above our estimates, aided by lower opex and somewhat lower share count. However, (guidance) fell short of our below consensus estimates, as SOC orders fell sharply,'' he added.
Some fab tool vendors are bucking the trend. Varian Semiconductor Equipment Associates Inc. announced results for its fiscal year 2010 fourth quarter ended Oct. 1, 2010.
Revenue for the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2010 totaled $258.8 million, compared to revenue of $117.5 million for the same period a year ago. Varian Semiconductor recorded net income of $59.2 million, or $0.79 per diluted share during the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2010, compared to net income of $7.6 million, or $0.10 per diluted share for the same period a year ago.
Revenue for fiscal year 2010 totaled $831.8 million, compared to revenue of $362.1 million for fiscal year 2009. Varian Semiconductor recorded net income of $159.6 million, or $2.12 per diluted share for fiscal year 2010, compared to a net loss of $38.0 million, or $0.52 per diluted share for fiscal year 2009.
Bob Halliday, chief financial officer, provided forward guidance for the first quarter of fiscal year 2011: "First quarter revenue is expected to be between $270.0 and $280.0 million and earnings per share are anticipated to range from $0.84 to $0.89, which would be a new quarterly record for Varian Semiconductor."
Metrology giant KLA-Tencor reported GAAP net income of $154 million and GAAP earnings per diluted share of $0.91 on revenues of $682 million for the first quarter of fiscal year 2011.
In the previous quarter, KLA-Tencor reported GAAP net income of $113 million and GAAP earnings per diluted share of $0.66 on revenues of $559 million. A year ago, KLA-Tencor reported GAAP net income of $20 million and GAAP earnings per diluted share of $0.15 on revenues of $343 million.