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Weak iPhone demand drags down Taiwan tech sales

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Apple's new iPhone 7 smartphone   © Reuters

TAIPEI -- Major Taiwanese technology companies saw their sales drop in September from a year ago, after a slight rebound in August, due to lukewarm demand for Apple Inc.'s new iPhone 7s.

In September, the revenue of 19 Taiwanese tech companies on the Nikkei Asian Review's watch list fell 1.52% from a year ago, compared with a year-on-year gain of 5% in August after a prolonged 9-month drop.

Ten out of 19 of the Taiwanese tech players have seen revenue slides in the period. The bad news came as the trade-reliant island's exports also unexpectedly tumbled from a year ago in September.

Apple suppliers are the main culprits. Seven out of nine Apple suppliers on NAR's watch list reported a decline in sales from a year ago in a traditionally robust month, while more than half of their revenues slipped by double digits year-over-year.

"Apple's iPhone sales could turn out to be slightly better than the extremely pessimistic view three months ago," said Jeff Pu, an analyst at Yuanta Investment Consulting.

"The shipments for the flagship smartphone is still in a downtrend, and the orders for the supply chain are still quite conservative, compared with a year ago," Pu said.

Apple will ship around a total of 207 million handsets for all 2016, according to Pu, down from some 230 million in 2015.

Pu says he is still watching to see if Apple will benefit substantially at some point after South Korean tech giant Samsung Electronics pulled the production of its premium Galaxy Note 7 due to a string of explosions over the past two months.

The monthly revenue of Largan Precision, a major iPhone camera lens provider, fell 10.19% from a year ago, while TPK Holding, which provides 3D touch modules for iPhone's home button, posted a year-over-year drop of 32.45% in sales in September.

Catcher Technology, a key metal casing supplier for Apple, saw a 3.26% fall in revenue from a year ago.

Key iPhone assembler Pegatron saw its revenue decline more than 9% in September. Its bigger rival Hon Hai Precision Industry fared better, with September sales rising 1.62% from a year ago.

Revenue of major Apple Macbook maker Quanta Computer dwindled 22.44% year-over-year due to the delayed release of a new Macbook model as some components ranging from keyboards to batteries did not meet Apple's standards.

For all of 2016, shipments for Macbook are expected to fall to around 14.5 million units, from 16.4 million in the previous year, according to Yuanta Investment Consulting.

For the first nine months of 2016, sales of Largan, TPK, Catcher, Quanta, Pegatron and Hon Hai all declined from a year-ago period.

The best performers in September came from the chip sector. Four out of 5 chip companies on NAR's list saw their sales grow, with combined revenue rising more than 27% year-over-year.

Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co., the world's largest contract chip maker, reported a 39.04% increase in sales from a year ago thanks to the robust sales of chips used in Chinese smartphones and its monopoly over iPhone's core processors.

TSMC's smaller rival United Microelectronics also saw sales gain 22.16% from a year ago. Revenue of MediaTek, the largest mobile chip provider to China, surged 38.29% from a year ago.

Nanya Technology, Taiwan's major dynamic random access memory chipmaker, began to see signs of recovery in price after suffering an extended downturn since the last quarter of 2014. The company's revenue advanced more than 8% in September despite having faltered for 16 consecutive months since May last year.

"We have finally seen the memory chip market rebound in the three-month period ended in September," said President Lee Pei-ing of Nanya Technology. "It's likely that market recovery would last until the last quarter of 2016, and even till the first quarter of 2017."

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