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Tech rally haunted by ‘palpable fear’ of chip industry weakness

Tech rally haunted by ‘palpable fear’ of chip industry weakness

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Semiconductor chips are seen on a circuit board of a computer. — Reuters

NEW YORK: Technology stocks are treading on shaky ground despite last week’s rally, as chipmakers signal more trouble may be ahead in an industry notorious for its booms and busts.

Semiconductor shares have been tumbling amid a series of corporate warnings about slowing demand for chips that are used in an array of electronic devices like mobile phones.

The Philadelphia semiconductor index is down 11% over the past four weeks, underperforming the 7% drop in the Nasdaq 100, with laggards such as Nvidia Corp hitting lows for 2022.

Investors are concerned slowing orders that are already plaguing makers of memory chips and other components used in personal computers could spread to the rest of the semiconductor industry.

Nothwithstanding the Nasdaq 100 Index’s 4% rebound this week, technology stocks were already pressured from a Federal Reserve (Fed) bent on aggressive rate hikes to snuff out inflation.

“There’s a palpable fear that the semiconductor cycle has begun to turn negative and demand is slowing,” said Jason Benowitz, senior portfolio manager at Roosevelt Investment Group.

“If the downturn turns out to be deeper and longer and more broad, then we would expect technology to also underperform.”

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The selloff since mid-August is a reversal from two months ago when tech stocks led a rebound in the S&P 500 amid optimism that inflation was waning, a scenario that traders believed would give the Fed flexibility to slow its campaign of interest rate increases.

That optimism was squelched on Aug 26 by central bank chief Jerome Powell, who pushed back against the idea that it would soon reverse course.

Samsung Electronics Co added to concerns last week after a senior executive at the world’s largest chipmaker said the outlook for the second half of the year is gloomy and it isn’t seeing momentum for a recovery in 2023.

That followed weak sales forecasts from companies such as Micron Technology Inc and Western Digital Corp.

Semiconductors take months to go through a complicated manufacturing process and chip buyers are acutely concerned about a recurrence of supply chain shortages that arose after the Covid-19 pandemic caused demand to soar, making the industry’s orders an indicator of future demand for electronics and other goods.

Nvidia, which makes graphics processors used in personal computers and data centres, has lost more than half of its market value this year amid a rout in stocks with lofty valuations.

The stock, however, remains a favorite for retail investors who have made more than US$600mil (RM2.69bil) in net purchases over the past two weeks, research firm Vanda said.

Analysts have slashed profit estimates for semiconductor companies more than other parts of the tech sector.

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