Intel retook semiconductor top spot from Samsung in 2019

Worldwide semiconductor revenue declined 12% in 2019, Gartner says.

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Image: Artiom Vallat, Intel

Intel has reclaimed the top spot in the semiconductor market from Samsung in 2019, research firm Gartner has said.

Worldwide revenue for semiconductors, however, was only around $418 billion -- a decline of 12% from 2018, it said.

Intel was top in 2019 revenue at around $65.8 billion, followed by Samsung's $52.2 billion. SK Hynix and Micron earned $22.4 billion and $20 billion for semiconductors, respectively, taking third and fourth place.

Samsung had become the top vendor in worldwide semiconductor revenue for the first time in 2017, and again in 2018, thanks to unprecedented demand for memory chips which helped it clinch record profits during the third quarter of 2018.

But the memory market began to face a downturn from the fourth quarter of 2018 onwards, which saw the South Korean tech giant's annual operating profits for 2019 drop by 53% from the previous year. Out of Samsung's various business, its memory business has experienced the steepest fall during this period.

"The memory market, which accounted for 26.7% of semiconductor sales in 2019, experienced a 31.5% decline in revenue in 2019," said Andrew Norwood, Gartner's research vice president.

"Within memory, DRAM revenue declined 37.5% due to an oversupply that started at the end of 2018 and lasted throughout 2019. The oversupply was caused by a sudden fall in demand from the hyperscale market. This revealed excessive OEM inventory levels that took the first half of the year to correct. Excessive inventory at DRAM vendors in the second half of 2019 pushed pricing lower and resulted in an average selling price (ASP) decline of 47.4% in 2019," he added.

Though Intel did reclaim the top spot, it also saw revenue decline of around 1% in 2019 compared to the year prior. Constrained CPU supply and the sale of its modem business to Apple were also reasons for the slight revenue decline, Gartner noted.

Meanwhile, other semiconductor companies focused on memory saw drastic declines in their revenue: Samsung fell 29% from 2018, SK Hynix dropped 38%, and Micron 33%.

"In 2020, we expect to see semiconductor market revenue increase after the high inventory clearance to drive up the chip ASP, especially in the memory sector," said Norwood.

"The US-China trade war seems to be easing as we move into 2020. However, during 2019, the US added several Chinese companies, including Huawei, to the Entity List restricting the sale of US components. The immediate impact was to push Huawei into looking outside the US for alternative silicon suppliers, with wholly-owned HiSilicon at the top of the list as well as alternative suppliers based in Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, and China. This will be an area to watch in 2020," he added.

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