A decade of under investment by governments is responsible for a crisis in the European chipmaking industry, which has prompted two major sell-offs and the promise of dramatic upheaval in the months to come.
The UK's GEC Plessey Semiconductors and Germany's Temic were both put up for sale in recent weeks and now ITT's German subsidiary says it plans to sell its specialised chip operations to a US company, General Semiconductor. Although the unit has annual sales of $75 million, the sale price is only $8 million.
Analysts expect many more semiconductor businesses to be put up for sale in Europe as companies see little prospect of greater back-up from governments or bankers to make the huge investments necessary to keep ahead of the game in chipmaking. The sale prices will be helped by the upturn in chip prices that looks set fair for the rest of 1997.
The consensus among many analysts is that only three European companies have viable semiconductor operations now - Siemens, SGS-Thomson and Philips - even though falling labour costs and high levels of technical talent make Europe more competitive with Asia than ever before in this sector.
"A decade of under investment" has left companies behind US and Asian rivals even at a time when conditions should be favouring European manufacturers, said Joe D'Elia, senior analyst at Dataquest.
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