The global technology industry may have passed a turning point, showing a marked recovery in recent weeks after an extraordinarily deep downturn, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
Production of semiconductors, computers, mobile phones and other electronic equipment is still considerably below pre-crisis levels but has rebounded strongly from the end of 2008 and early 2009, the organization says in a report set for publication this week.
“Even a few weeks ago, we didn’t see the bounce-back in the data,” said Sacha Wunsch-Vincent, an O.E.C.D. economist. “We were still grappling with the size of the downturn. Now, this could be the turning point.”
The slump was even deeper than previously thought, Mr. Wunsch-Vincent said, particularly in Asia. In Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, production of information technology products at its trough was down around 40 percent from a year earlier, according to the O.E.C.D. data, which are compiled from national statistics offices.
After suffering the steepest fall, Asia has also recovered the most rapidly, with South Korea leading the way, the report shows. There, output in May was down only 3 percent year-on-year.
Other big Asian electronics manufacturers, like Japan, have also shown recovery, along with European countries like Germany, France and Britain. Through June, there was no recovery yet in the United States, though the previous decline was less steep than in Asia, according to the O.E.C.D. figures; in June, U.S. production was down around 15 percent year-on-year, but stable from the previous month.
The report on the crucial information technology sector follows a modestly optimistic overview of the global economy by the O.E.C.D., a Paris-based research and policy coordination body representing 30 leading industrialized countries. The O.E.C.D. said this month that it had seen signs of recovery emerging in several large economies this spring.
Other gauges of the health of the information technology business have also shown improved health of late. Gartner, a research firm, says that global shipments of PCs fell 5 percent in the second quarter, but the drop-off was only half as big as it had expected. For the full year, Gartner forecasts a 6 percent drop, with a 10 percent rebound in 2010, helped by the popularity of new, low-cost netbook computers.
Mobile phone sales have been mixed, with high-end smartphones doing well but mass-market models from manufacturers like Nokia and Sony Ericsson building up in warehouses.
Semiconductors, a key component of PCs, mobile phones and other devices, have been especially hard-hit. The O.E.C.D. said that it expected production for the year to be down around 20 percent, with no recovery before the end of the year at the earliest. Capacity utilization of chip plants is at unusually low levels as customers work their way through inventories that surged in late 2008 and early 2009.
While some analysts worry that the technology sector could suffer from a second dip if consumer demand fails to grow as expected, Mr. Wunsch-Vincent said he thought the recovery looked more robust than that. He said there was actually a risk of capacity shortages in the middle to long term, as chip makers cut back on investment in research and development and close plants.
The question of how to balance current overcapacity against future demand has been particularly pertinent in Taiwan, which has a big but fragmented memory chip industry. The government, having previously announced plans for a still uncompleted consolidation of the sector, said last week that it would provide nearly $1 billion in state funds to aid individual chip makers.
Taiwan and other Asian electronics manufacturers like Japan have been playing catch-up with South Korea, which has been helped by a weak currency, making its exports more affordable. The government’s longstanding involvement in framing technology policy, including sizable incentives for the spread of broadband connections, also may have helped South Korea weather the downturn, Mr. Wunsch-Vincent said.
In recent months, other governments, from the United States to Australia, have moved to introduce or accelerate investments in broadband and other information-technology programs as part of their economic stimulus packages.
“Having a government thinking about where it wants the economy to be in five years is an idea that seems to be coming of age,” Mr. Wunsch-Vincent said.