Optical components

Report Predicts Chip Rebound

Boom. Bust.

Two little words that perfectly characterize the painful recent history of the communications chip market. Just one year ago, a perceived shortage of components drove chip manufacturers into a frenzy of production, resulting in mountainous inventories that nobody wanted. As the bubble burst -- pop! -- chipmakers wound up writing off more than $1.5 billion in excess inventory.

However, happier days will return again for the chip manufacturers and their investors -- probably next year. That's the conclusion of "Communications Chip Chaos," the latest report from Optical Oracle, Light Reading's subscription research service.

Makers of broadband communications chips should finally have sold through their current glut of inventory, and be ready to start new and profitable manufacturing cycles in mid-2002, it says (see chart). However, it cautions that some will recover from the current crisis faster than others.

In addition to forecasting a peak of the inventory glut, the 20,000-word report delves into the financials of the top 12 public chip companies in the broadband networking sector, examining chipmakers' inventory charges, revenue declines, gross margins, and expenses to rank them by the speed at which they're likely to return to profitability.

Who's numero uno? By all measures applied by Optical Oracle, the company in this sector that’s shaping up best is Broadcom Corp. (Nasdaq: BRCM).

”Broadcom has consistently garnered a premium valuation due to its solid technology, diversified markets, and strong management team,” says Optical Oracle research analyst Chris Bulkey. But he cautions that the company’s high valuation may cause concern about its stock performance. “We recommend paying very close attention to September quarter results,” Bulkey notes. “If key performance metrics worsen, the high relative valuation creates downside risk.”

The company at the bottom end of the report’s ranking is TranSwitch Corp. (Nasdaq: TXCC). Reduced revenues, significant inventory writedowns, and poor visibility make the near-term outlook dire, the report says, and a history of profitability declines compel lingering concern. And while it's kept development going, the overall dollar amount spent on R&D is still relatively small.

In fact, research and development spending is a key metric when measuring any company's recovery prospects, the report concludes. According to Optical Oracle, companies that have continued to spend on product development stand a better chance of meeting future challenges than the lily-livered idlers that have waited by the sidelines for things to improve. Broadcom, Applied Micro Circuits Corp. (AMCC) (Nasdaq: AMCC), TranSwitch, and Vitesse Semiconductor Corp. (Nasdaq: VTSS) are among the chipmakers that have kept R&D a priority, despite a financial pinch.

The report points out that at the peak of the inventory glut, which appears to have been in the first half of this year, the value of inventory for chip customer companies averaged well over $1 billion, and comprised an average 146 percent of those companies’ annual cost of goods sold.

The good news is that there is a growing consensus that present inventory levels have peaked and now are moderating and stabilizing (see chart, below). If this proves out, it’s likely that a new order cycle will commence in the second or third quarter of 2002, according to Optical Oracle calculations. The new scenario would move the industry back to a state in which the value of OEM inventory would be 95 percent of cost of goods sold, a much healthier situation (the ideal value would be 100 percent).

The report covers the top 12 public companies in depth, and it also profiles more than 60 private companies. To date, these firms have scored better than $1.5 billion in funding, and, the report posits, they focus on a range of new technology areas that will help drive the market once it renews itself.

More information about the report is available on the Optical Oracle Web site.

— Mary Jander, Senior Editor, Light Reading

Editor's Note: Light Reading is not affiliated with Oracle Corporation.
sayWhat 12/4/2012 | 7:42:26 PM
re: Report Predicts Chip Rebound I have two concerns about the report from reading the article. One, how do you know how much inventory overhang still exists if the actual component vendors do not? Second, your graph for percentage R&D growth is year to year. It really should be quarter to quarter over the last couple quarters. Q2 2000 was the peak of the market and acquisitions were still being made. For example, didn't AMCC acquire MMC during the summer of 2000. I would rather see who cut R&D and by how much during the last 6 months.
Scott Raynovich 12/4/2012 | 7:42:19 PM
re: Report Predicts Chip Rebound sayWhat,

We anlyzed the OEM inventory data to help to better understand the overhang. Maybe the components vendors do that on their own, maybe not.

As for the report--it's 20,000 words so we're limited in what we print here.

As for your R&D questions--would you like us to cook dinner for you, too?
Jakewk 12/4/2012 | 7:42:16 PM
re: Report Predicts Chip Rebound Guys, guys, settle down here. I give Rayno a lot of credit because I've seen him do some great work (I don't even remember the name of that Canadian Linux/Java/whatever's tomorrow company that he called when he was at RH). I think the report is timely. It's better than what the major brokerages are putting out right now.
I don't know if this is in the report, but I would really like to see analysis showing who the top 5 customers for each company are (usually provided in the 10K's) and what the outlook for those customers is. Additionally, I would like to see which companies operate in which subsegments (optical chips, wireless chips, etc...). Lastly, I would like my filet medium rare with a side of au gratin potatoes and a spicy polenta.
Scott, get the apron.
steve 12/4/2012 | 7:42:14 PM
re: Report Predicts Chip Rebound Are you suggesting that one years inventory is "ideal"? That sounds high
geof hollingsworth 12/4/2012 | 7:42:10 PM
re: Report Predicts Chip Rebound then I am afraid we are in for an even longer, colder, darker winter. In their recent Q3 report, they were able to grow revenues, but by shipping to Motorola (now representing 22% of revenues) which sounds like cable modems. Instat just reported that Q3 cable access growth slowed significantly, and now that AtHome is BK and not installing any new hook-ups who wants to bet me on the number of boxes (and chips) piling up in Comcast and AT&T warehouses?

On other businesses, they are getting their butts kicked by Marvel in GBE, their telecom business sucks (like everyone's), which leaves Serverworks (dependent on boffo partner Compaq) to try to maintain that premium valuation.

If that's the best investment of the lot, I think I'll choose cash.
reoptic 12/4/2012 | 7:41:42 PM
re: Report Predicts Chip Rebound Hear bunch of chip start-ups and projects in networking on life support...AMCC, Xilinx, PMC Sierra not looking pretty at all. How come no stories on this? Hear major networking developments getting shut down like the Abrizio project at PMC...will be pretty bad for the folks using them like Equipe, right? Is there more of that coming?
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