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Chip sales edged up in November

Worldwide semiconductor sales grew slightly in November, shrugging off slumping memory prices to reach a yearly high of $12.1 billion.

Worldwide semiconductor sales grew slightly in November, shrugging off slumping memory prices to reach a yearly high of $12.1 billion, but not yet reflecting the impact of Asia's struggling currencies, according to a major industry trade group.

Revenues grew by the slim total of $113 million, or 0.9 percent, compared to October 1997; and by the healthier sum of $1.01 billion, or 12 percent, compared to November 1996, reported the Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA). Chip sales are typically stronger each month of the quarter. The semiconductor market is expected to have grown by about 5 percent in 1997.

Microprocessor sales led the way. On the strength of increased volume and a nearly $10 jump in the microprocessor's average selling price (ASP), the industry took in $2.08 billion in November, against $1.49 billion in October.

By contrast, revenue from memory chips fell $120 million to $1.48 billion. Unit volume rose only slightly, while the ASP dropped by another 51 cents. The price of the 16-megabit dynamic random access memory (DRAM) chip, the industry's bellwether, slid steadily throughout 1997.

Sales in the Asia-Pacific region declined slightly, by 0.1 percent to $2.37 billion. The smallish shortfall partially reflects the fact that Asian manufacturers principally sell the majority of their products outside of the region.

It's also likely that currency crises in South Korea, Taiwan, and elsewhere had not yet manifest themselves, said SIA spokesman Jeff Weir. ""Realistically Asian turmoil has not shown up in the sales numbers yet. I would expect in a month we might see some of that showing up," he observed.

The sales figures, prepared by the World Semiconductor Trade Statistics organization, are not one-month aggregations, but the latest three-month averages. In other words, November's figures are an average of the revenues posted in September, October, and November.

Of the four regions tracked by the World Semiconductor Trade Statistics organization, only Europe showed month-on-month growth from October, growing by six percent to $2.69 billion. As usual, the Americas market finished first, with $3.97 billion in sales but a 0.2 percent downturn. Japan slumped to $2.71 billion, a 1.1 percent decline.

Despite the month's slight gains, November's favorable year-on-year comparison underlines that 1997 has been an improvement on the poor showing of 1996, said Jim Feldhan, president of Semico Research, a market research firm. "The really positive note is we are ending the year on an up trend, unlike last year. In 1996 it was declining."

Both Semico Research and the SIA anticipate market growth of about 14 percent in 1998.