The Cyclic Nature of Electronics Manufacturing

Perhaps the most frustrating thing of enduring the electronic manufacturing industry year by year, is the inevitable nature of its cyclic nature.  For some reason, equipment manufacturers and OEM product manufacturers cannot escape the desperate cycles that this industry suffers.  While there are natural cycles of consumption and excess, it usually is a result of consumer spending variations that thread down through the supply chain and create havoc with the supplier base and end product life-cycles.

Every supplier wishes it would stabilize, yet it does not.  The worst hit is the equipment suppliers who are whipped by the combination of end user demand and OEM manufacturer whims concerning predicted fulfillment.  The chain reaction of supply series makes this boom/bust scenario chaotic and excessive in terms of forecasting revenue.  It is often an accumulative effect in which the tail-end of the chain gets whacked the most – usually the equipment/manufacturing guys, while the distributors and EMS suppliers get left with excess or deficient inventory.

This is all specific to product industries – things like PCs, notebooks, LCD monitors/TVs, set-top boxes and video console games, just to mention a few.  To be sure, the OEMs are their own worst enemies – that is, they hedge against upside demand and over-predict against down-side supply – to their, and their supplier’s demise.  Yet, who can claim to be accurate and wise after the fact?  As a forecaster, I can truly claim that when we are spot-on, it is sheer luck, and when we are wildly off, we simply hide undercover until the storm passes.

One hopes that time will provide wisdom and sanity to such swings of prediction.  Yet, there are always new and emerging pundits willing to state an option as to the market trends.  Who to believe – the experienced or the lucky prognosticator?

We try and integrate the knowledge gained from watching such cycles time and again with our current forecasts.  Conservatism seems to pay dividends, yet we have often been wrong, regardless.  Sometimes we have been astoundingly accurate – shockingly – yet we know that we must attribute it to luck.

A few examples can make this point.  In 2000, when the market was booming, we accurately predicted the growth of the electronic manufacturing services (EMS) market to a very concise degree, however, this was because it was exploding and there seemed to be no end in sight.  When the downturn arrived, it was very embarrassing to revise our forecasts, chagrined with the entire industry downturn.  Similarly, we expected a solid 2009 year without the unpredicted contraction.  We lick our wounds and beg for forgiveness and forgetfulness.

Yet, who could know?  Such cyclic cycles exist that seem to beyond our awareness.  The Center for Cyclic Studies is well aware of this, if you believe in such things as planetary or cosmic/organic cycle studies.  It is a fascinating organization, that examines not just economic cycles, but other systemic cycles in nature and life that seem to follow patterns that go outside our predictive natures.  I can’t say that I agree with all these predictions, but I am interested in them in so far as they help us to understand our businesses.

The Foundation for the Study of Cycles makes this bold statement, “Cycles are meaningful, and all science that has been developed in the absence of cycle knowledge is inadequate and partial. …any theory of economics, sociology, history, medicine, or climatology that ignores non-chance rhythms is as manifestly incomplete as medicine was before the discovery of germs.” – Edward R. Dewey[1], Harvard Economist – 1967.

Cyclic prizes have been awarded for solar and lunar cycles in the ‘El Nino’ which correspond the droughts in Northeastern Brazil, Morrocco and the American Southwest, specific markets, economics, and forecast turning points in the international business cycle, and even go so far as to predict the systematic cycles of war, cycles of tree ring widths, weather forecasting, biophysical science, civil violence, insurance, motivation and yes, corporate lifecycles!  It can all become a little esoteric when it comes down to biocybernetics and new option markets, but so it goes.

Coming back to earth, cycles do exist and seem to re-occur.  In electronics it seems to be one of boom and bust, much to the consternation of the participants.  Yet, growth endures and we look forward to new gains every year.  In this regard, I can positively predict that the EMS, electronics assembly market and corollary industries will continue to grow, albeit at varying rates.  The recession cycles are the most disturbing and unpredictable.

I am not advocating cyclic studies to help us understand the economics of electronic manufacturing.   Yet, it is something we must consider in the larger context of things.  Macroeconomic cycles are real despite our subtle denial.  I wish we were able to harness them better to help us in our work.  In the meantime, we will try our best to work with our best knowledge, intellect and intuition to help our clients to predict future product demand.  Otherwise, suppliers must rely on their own intelligence, and where does that come from?   Is it best guess, economic indicators, prognosticators – cyclic studies?  We would be silly to promote such a view as cyclic studies, yet it introduces a fascinating dimension to a world that has not been completely proven.

New Venture Research continues to monitor the emerging electronics industries with reserve and hope.  Please feel free to contact us concerning your concern.

[1] In 1931 the Department of Commerce assigned Edward Dewey the task of discovering the cause and underlying dynamics of the Great Depression. As Chief Economic Analyst for the Department, Dewey had unprecedented access to resources and information. Dewey’s work on understanding the Great Depression led him to his lifelong calling in cycles. He combined his enormous research in business cycles with research from leading biologists on cycles in nature and in wildlife. Dewey was astonished to discover that cycles of identical length were found in both disciplines and that similar cycles from different areas reached their peaks and troughs at the same time.

Although Dewey’s work was generally regarded as inconsistent with mainstream economists, his research has held great credibility amongst those searching for a new paradigm to understand the inter-relationship of all of life.

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