In 2013, Flexible pcb industry enjoyed a high-speed growth with the market size approximating USD12.03 billion, up 16.2% from the level in 2012. The South Korean vendors developed rapidly and were excessively upbeat about the industry’s outlook, aggressively expanding capacity starting from the very beginning of 2012. As a result, most of new capacity was available in Q2 2013. However, the FPCB companies in South Korea without diversified customers, were heavily dependent on the key accounts such as Samsung and LG, thus making them less competitive during negotiations. Therefore, these vendors cut the prices steeply in Q4 2013, sending them into price war.
In 2014, price decline continued to deteriorate, which led to a sharp fall in revenue of South Korean vendors. The implications of high-speed capacity expansion are high fixed costs, which would thus result in a plunge in profit margin. It is projected that the revenue of INTERFLEX, a leading South Korean FPCB company, would tumble by 50%, and its operating margin would record a 27% loss in 2014 in contrast to no-profit-no-loss in 2013. Additionally, affected by the order shift of Apple, the company has hardly received any orders from Apple in 2014.
Another pressure for the vendors in South Korea came from the depreciated yen, and the won appreciated against the yen. However, the Japanese products have better performance; coupled with the reduced prices bought on by yen depreciation, they are more competitive.
Apple shortened the supply chain, giving more of its orders to the vendors in Taiwan, which resulted in a fall in revenue of M-Flex, at an estimated 20% drop in 2014. And as the losses expand, M-Flex’s operating margin is expected to slip from -8.4% in 2013 to -11.8%.
Despite a substantial decline in revenue of the South Korean vendors, the biggest customer of FPCB market—Apple did not bring down the purchase price. Meanwhile, the new iPhones have bigger size and therefore need more FPCBs. Consequently, the vendors in Taiwan and Japan saw a big increase in revenue, thereby filling in the vacuum. We predict that in 2014 the market size of FPCB worldwide reached USD12.608 billion, up 4.8% from 2013.
Of the Taiwanese vendors, ZDT generated the most revenue. ZDT under Hon Hai obtained more of the orders from Apple. It is forecasted that its revenue will jump by 55% to USD1.518 billion in 2014, overtaking Japan’s SEI as the world’s second. In contrast, the world’s first NOK reduced the capacity in Japan, instead expanded the capacity in Thailand and Mainland China, which helped not only substantially increase its revenue but also rapidly turn out of red. At the same time, the global HDD market tends to be stable, with the shipments rising mildly from 2013. The HDD for FPCB is the main product of NOK, an Apple’s leading supplier.
We project that in 2015 smartphones will present a slowing growth, tablet PCs will begin to decline, notebook computers will grow slightly or be flat. Moreover, LCD-TVs are expected to grow by a small margin. And wearable devices are very likely to rise significantly, but its application of FPCB is too small to fuel the market. In 2015, it is more than likely that LCD-TV will be the mainstay to drive the market. And after 6-8 years of popularization, LCD-TV is expected to undergo a boom of TV set replacement. And consumers will choose 4K TV with higher resolution or change the original smaller 32-37 inch television to 40-42 inch television.
We expect that it will be very hard for the South Korean vendors to reverse the downtrend when Samsung’s mobile phone shipments slow down and its LCD shipments are falling with losses. It is more likely that the South Korean vendors will suffer collapse, while the companies from Japan and China’s Taiwan will benefit from it, especially Japanese ones that had improved the competitiveness after the repeated depreciation of yen.