Smartphones a brightspot amid Asian chipmaker gloom

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Smartphones a brightspot amid Asian chipmaker gloom
Asia's top chipmakers are set to join Western peers in flagging caution over the outlook when they report their latest earnings in coming weeks, though those with exposure to hot mobile gadgets like tablets and smartphones may be spared the worst.

Reporting over the next three weeks are Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing (TSMC) and United Microelectronics (UMC) the world's top two contract makers, as well as Toshiba Corp, Japan's top chipmaker, and South Korea's SK Hynix, the world's No.2 memory chip firm.

Restructuring Japanese specialist maker Renesas, which is in talks to secure 100 billion yen in support from major shareholders and banks, will also report.

They will do so against a backdrop of a flurry of warnings from major global players, including industry leader Intel Corp, of a coming slowdown as economic malaise saps consumer demand globally.

Companies that make chips for desktop and laptop personal computers, a more saturated market, will be hit hardest.

"Demand in smartphones will outperform PCs because the penetration rate is 40-50 percent and there is still upside growth," said Daiwa Capital Markets analyst Eric Chen. "But that demand is still weaker than originally expected."

The fast-growing world of mobile devices such as Apple Inc's iPads and iPhones remains a bright spot for those chip makers who can make small but powerful processors that control functions on the devices.

South Korea's Samsung Electronics earlier this month forecast record second quarter profit thanks to red-hot demand for its Galaxy smartphones.

That is in stark contrast to tough times for makers of chips for PCs, for which demand is weak as straitened consumers opt for fewer devices and choose mobile options instead.

Japan's Elpida, one of the top makers of PC memory, filed for bankruptcy in February, becoming one of the highest profile casualties of falling demand for mainstream PC memory.

Intel warning
Intel cut its growth forecast on Tuesday, seeing weaker consumer spending in Europe and the United States than thought, while earlier in the month Advanced Micro Devices Inc said second-quarter revenue may fall 11 percent.

But TSMC, the world's largest contract chip maker, or foundry, will report on Thursday an April to June net profit of some T$42.18 billion, according to 22 analysts polled by Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S, just shy of the record T$46.94 billion recorded in July-September 2010.

TSMC can make chips with the latest 28-nanometre technology that packs much more processing power into a smaller chip, and because of this could fare better in the coming industry downturn.

"We continue to expect demand headwinds and inventory correction to lead to a weaker outlook for the foundry sector in 2H12. However, we anticipate 28nm to enable TSMC to deliver relatively resilient earnings momentum amid an unfavourable macro backdrop," said Deutsche Bank analyst Michael Chou.

Also set to benefit from the demand for mobile gadgets and the planned launches of new models such as Apple's iPhone 5 -- expected some time between August and October -- is SK Hynix, which reports on July 26.

It is seen posting 64 billion won in operating profit for the second quarter, according to a Reuters poll of 20 brokerages.

That would come after three straight quarters of losses, with its earnings forecast to rise to 312 billion won in the third quarter and 476 billion won in the fourth quarter.

"Consumer demand is shifting from PCs to mobile devices, helping improve second-half earnings of South Korean chipmakers who have more exposure to mobile devices than Taiwanese peers," said John Park, an analyst at Daishin Securities in Seoul.

Japan's biggest chipmaker, Toshiba Corp, is expected to report a net loss of 1.19 billion yen in its April to June quarter when it reports on July 31, but it will make a small operating profit, helped in part by its NAND flash chip business, a type of memory widely used in mobile devices.

Analysts believe April-June will be the worst quarter this year for Toshiba's NAND memory operation, when it will report a loss, but it will turn to profit again in the coming two quarters.

Renesas, whose flagship product is microcontroller chips used in cars, is expected to post an operating loss of 17.1 billion yen for the April to June quarter according to Thomson Reuters Starmine. It reports in August 2.

Copyright Thomson Reuters 2012


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