ASML sees a slowdown in chip industry

Steve Dinneen
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DUTCH chip equipment maker ASML has said that tablets and smartphones are driving the sector, but it sees signs of slowing growth elsewhere in the industry.

ASML, seen as a bellwether for the technology sector, said 2012 will be a “difficult year” to forecast. Chief financial officer Peter Wennink said the slowdown in the semiconductor industry is evident from ASML’s fourth-quarter order book, although this is still understood to be higher than its third quarter.

Technology investors eagerly await details of ASML’s order book developments, which serve as a barometer for the big chip makers such as Intel. The reaction was largely positive yesterday, with ASML shares surging more than six per cent. Intel and chip designer ARM Holdings also rose by around one per cent.

Wennink said that unlike this time last year, when bookings for technology upgrades and capacity expansion reached record levels, now “customers aren’t certain about what the future will bring, which isn’t giving us any confidence to say anything about 2012”.

However, he said the semiconductor equipment used for producing chips in smartphones and tablet computers will continue to see demand. He added that, if necessary, ASML is able to cut its cost base by up to 20 per cent within six months.

ASML said it expects fourth-quarter sales to be above €1.1bn (£960m). In the third quarter it made a net profit of €355m, up 32 per cent from a year ago, on sales up 24 per cent at €1.46bn.