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Caveat Lector

Mike BuetowHave all the supply chain tools companies have developed and their customers put into place worked? We are about to find out.

I’ve been a journalist through four PCB recessions and counting. By my estimates, we are about to hit number five.

According to ECIA, lead times for most types of passives and actives are down since last winter. Likewise, component distributor TTI reports similar trends. Its weekly reports show demand for most types of parts are either stable or dropping over the past several months.

Semiconductor capital equipment and device revenues are now forecast to contract this year.

And while researchers disagree whether semis are leading or trailing indicators, most forecasts from the leading economic nations and regions are subdued or tilting down too.

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Mike BuetowThe headlines of late have been filled with reports on the pending US ban on domestic companies from conducting business with Huawei.

In submitting the order, President Trump cited cyber-warfare, espionage and threats to US national security as rationale for the ban.

Less noted: the impact on bare board suppliers from China. After all, the executive order “prohibits transactions that involve information and communications technology or services designed, developed, manufactured, or supplied, by persons owned by, controlled by, or subject to the jurisdiction or direction of a foreign adversary” as determined by the Commerce Secretary.

So, while Huawei is a $100 billion company, larger than IBM, Sony, Hitachi, Panasonic and all but a few other tech firms, the declaration could have tentacles that reach far beyond the Chinese OEM. Even if all the defense industry primes, for instance, buy all their boards onshore (doubtful), many others do not, including the financial markets and key industries such as nuclear, power, and so on.

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Mike BuetowThe arrival of a new stock exchange for Silicon Valley tech companies raises the profile of the tech industry’s best and brightest (and perhaps notorious) even more – as if that were possible.

It also is a significant reminder of what – or whom – is not represented in the public markets: the printed circuit sector.

Has it really been 20 years since the investment banks surrounded our industry, sniffing out hot new buys and running up hearty banking fees – along with tremendous amounts of debt – while encouraging players to buy or sell? Scale and exit strategies were the name of the game then. It made multimillionaires out of folks who only years earlier were pumping gas on the graveyard shifts.

Reality was bound to re-clutch those out-of-body experiences, and it did.

In the years since the Tech Crash of 2001, however, something approximating sanity has returned. If anything, perhaps the pendulum has swung too far the other direction. The number of publicly traded PCB-related companies has been trending down for years. Often, this has been due to merger activity. Valor was acquired by Mentor, which in turn was consumed by Siemens, which previously nabbed UGS Tecnomatix. Amphenol digested Teradyne’s PCB operations. TTM now owns the formerly public DDI, Coretec, Merix and Viasystems. Circuit World disappeared as part of a reverse merger with Firan Technology Group.

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