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Critical Inflection Point for Semiconductor Lithography Market

The semiconductor industry is coming down to a critical inflection point for lithography, according to the report "Sub-100nm Lithography: Market Analysis and Strategic Issues," recently published by The Information Network , a New Tripoli, PA-based market research company.

The report points out that the semiconductor industry is coming down to a critical inflection point for lithography. Nikon recently shipped its first model S620 tool and ASML recently shipped its first NXT tool recently. The NXT and S620 will be running off against each other at multiple key customer sites around the world over the next 6-8 months. After that time, the market share for the lithography market will be set for the next several years as semiconductor manufacturers design-in DUV immersion processes in their future chips.

"Once customers make a decision they will use that immersion tool for the next 3-4 year before EUVL comes along. Customers don't want to change after they optimize their immersion process", noted Dr. Robert Castellano, president of The Information Network.

By mid 2010 the market will change - either ASML will be set as the dominate immersion company probably through the end of the immersion era (since no new immersion tools are being developed after these) or Nikon will take a big jump forward and gain position with the new S620. Nikon's S620 has a throughput increase of >70% vs. its older S610. The S620 immersion tool is already shipping to companies like Intel. ASML recently reported DRAM manufacturers, in particular Samsung and Hynix, are placing new orders with ASML for 193nm ArF immersion tools.

The S620 is Nikon's most competitive product in the last 10 years. It is capable of achieving 200 WPH, 2 nm overlay and a resolution equivalent to the NXT. ASML has commanded a price premium over the years because they had a throughput advantage. That advantage will be gone when the NXT and S620 run off. Customers will make decisions by mid-2010 based on these run offs.

ASML already has a large market share so best case they keep their dominant position. On the other side, if Nikon wins 1-2 major accounts with the new S620, it will be a major win for Nikon and shift in market share. In 2008, our analysis shows that there were a total of 69 immersion lithography tools sold. ASML sold 54 and Nikon sold 15.

"I'm not sure the market realizes how critical the next 6-9 months will be. Canon is out of the running so it's only two players. If ASML wins, then litho tool prices for the industry will jump up as they become more dominant and will be able to dictate prices even higher than today", added Dr. Castellano.

The largest sector in the semiconductor equipment market is lithography, and revenues for 2008 reached $5.4 billion dollars according to our analysis. Advanced immersion 193nm tools that are capable of making the most advanced circuits today can cost tens of millions of dollars each. The market leader, ASML, announced in Q2 that the average selling price for its new systems was 31.1 million Euros or roughly $45 million. Our calculations show that the ASP was $42 million in 2008. While the dollar price is exchange related, clearly ASML has not reduced prices in 2009 AND chip companies are willing to pay the price.

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