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Aixtron hopes for €300m peak year

The German epitaxy equipment maker is making the most of the momentum in the Asian LED industry, recording a vintage year in 2007 as it predicts an order slowdown for 2009.

Continued strong LED-related orders saw Aixtron s net profit treble to €17.3 million ($27 million) in 2007, but the company is warning that this figure may slide back beyond 2008.

The MOCVD tool maker has topped the €40 million order intake level for seven quarters in succession "“ hitting €89.4 million in the last quarter "“ but is beginning to see quotation enquiries slow down slightly.

Aixtron s CEO explained that as part of the company s familiar business cycle a slowdown in orders at the end of 2008 would be no surprise. “That there will be another investment cycle is not in doubt in my mind,” Paul Hyland said. “The only question for me is when it will start.”

For the time being, however, the company is looking forward to trying to hit €300 million in sales in 2008. Overall sales for 2007 jumped 25 percent on 2006 to €214.8 million, and the company already has orders to meet 44 percent of its low-end guidance of €270 million for 2008.

Purchases coming into the Aachen-based company are currently dominated by those destined to produce LEDs for display backlighting. In this area, Hyland was able to shed some light on recent speculation that LCD panel manufacturers like AU Optronics (see related story) are moving upstream into LED fabrication.

“There are discussions going on with display manufacturers who are interested in making LEDs,” he said, “but there s nothing substantial in our order backlog that shows these coming to a conclusion.”

AUO would be just the latest in the stream of Asian LED makers beating a path to Aixtron s door, and who provided 81 percent of its revenues in 2007. Hyland said that although mainland China s recent steady growth had picked up in order to fully exploit LEDs at this year's Beijing Olympics, Taiwan continues to be the strongest growing location for Aixtron.

The global economic backdrop to Aixtron s 2007 performance makes it all the more impressive. 80 percent of the company's sales were made in the weakening dollar currency, while only 25 percent of its costs can actually be paid in dollars.

The equipment maker is determined to improve its performance in 2008 even though the euro remains strong against the dollar, and it is wary of a US recession.

“Although we are taking advantage of strong winds in our favor now,” Hyland said, “it isn t lost on us that a storm may not be far away.”

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