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Large-area thin film transistor liquid crystal display (TFT LCD) profit margins reached 10 percent in the first quarter (Q1) of 2015, their highest level since the first half of 2010. However high factory utilization rates at leading panel makers, and swelling inventories at set makers, are now pressuring prices and margins downward. According to IHS Inc. (NYSE: IHS), the leading global source of critical information and insight, large-area TFT LCD profit margins are forecast to fall to zero percent in the fourth quarter (Q4) of this year.
Based on the latest IHS Display Supply Demand & Equipment Tracker, large-area TFT LCD displays have remained profitable since the end of 2012. However, this year, end-market demand for TVs, monitors, notebooks and tablets has weakened significantly. The demand outlook has deteriorated, due to a variety of product and economic reasons. In particular the rise of the U.S. dollar against most other global currencies has caused local prices for a variety of consumer electronics products in many countries to rise, stifling demand in those regions.
“Despite declining demand, panel manufacturers have maintained high utilization rates well above 90 percent at their larger glass fabs since last year,” said Charles Annis, senior director at IHS.
“Even with recent price declines, many large panel sizes currently sell at marginal profits,” Annis said “At least for now, panel makers have decided to keep utilization high and minimize overhead costs, in order to chase as much profit as possible while they are still able to. The downside to this strategy is that panel inventories at set-makers have ballooned, widening the gap between TV panel shipments and TV set shipments.”
As this excess inventory is sold down, panel prices are also expected to decline rapidly. Large-area display profitability will likely follow the same trajectory. At the same time, a substantial number of new eighth-generation (Gen 8) factories are currently ramping up production. Dedicated capacity for large-area displays will grow at a rate of 6 percent in 2015 and 8 percent in 2016, the highest rates in several years.
“Growing concerns about the global economy and its effect on end-market demand --combined with high utilization rates, inventories at set makers and increasing capacity -- will likely weigh heavily on large-area display profit margins for the remainder of 2015 and even well into 2016,” Annis said.
IHS is the leading source of insight, analytics and expertise in critical areas that shape today’s business landscape. Businesses and governments in more than 150 countries around the globe rely on the comprehensive content, expert independent analysis and flexible delivery methods of IHS to make high-impact decisions and develop strategies with speed and confidence. IHS has been in business since 1959 and became a publicly traded company on the New York Stock Exchange in 2005. Headquartered in Englewood, Colorado, USA, IHS is committed to sustainable, profitable growth and employs about 8,800 people in 32 countries around the world.