After plunging by more than 80 percent in January, shipments of 9.7-inch liquid crystal display (LCD) panels intended for the iPad rebounded 158 percent in February as Apple resumed purchasing in big numbers, according to an IHS LCD Shipments database report from information and analytics provider IHS.
Shipments of 9.7-inch panels rose to 3.0 million units in February, compared to 1.1 million units in January. Apple had slashed orders in January for the 9.7-inch after ordering approximately 6.1 million units a month earlier in December, ostensibly to fulfill annual contract purchase agreements with suppliers Samsung Display and LG Display. Apple resumed ordering in February on a larger basis as it prepares to transition to its next-generation iPad later this year, its fifth iteration-not counting the iPad mini-of the industry's best-selling tablet since it was first released in 2010.
But despite the spike in Apple's orders, global shipments overall of large-sized LCD panels fell in February to 62.1 million units, down 4 percent from 64.9 million units in January. Declines occurred in three out of the four applications where the panels are used-in TVs, monitors and tablets-with the notebook panel space the only area to see a rise in monthly shipments.
Shipments of the panels contracted in February in light of sluggish demand worldwide and fewer working days in China because of the Lunar New Year holiday. Demand and pricing for large-sized LCD panels are being negatively affected, in turn, by the traditional slow season during the start of every year. The shipment downturn in February could have been larger had it not been for well-controlled inventory levels and production utilization rates on the part of the panel makers, which helped moderate the general retreat for the month.
The shipment increase enjoyed by the 9.7-inch size in February was the only one of its sort in the tablet segment. All other tablet sizes posted decreases, including 8 percent for the 7.9-inch, used in the Apple iPad mini; to 12 percent for the 7.0-inch, used by several brands and the white-box space. Tablet panel shipments amounted to 18.3 million units for the period, down 7 percent from 19.6 million units.
In the television segment, shipments of panels amounted to 16.8 million units, down 10 percent from 18.7 million units. Demand, according to the Chinese brands, continued to decelerate as excess inventory remained in the channel and had to be first digested. All told, TV panel shipments have experienced three consecutive months of decline, and February's drop was the largest seen among the four large-sized LCD panel applications. A total of five panel makers saw double-digit shipment decreases, led by Taiwanese-based Innolux, down 20 percent.
Demand for monitors was also weak, and the 12.1 million monitors that panel makers shipped was down 4 percent for the month from 12.6 million units.
The notebook panel segment was the only large-sized LCD sector to make gains in shipments, increasing to 14.0 million units, up 7 percent from 13.1 million units. Growth was the result of special, short-term commercial orders with LG Display, which proceeded to enjoy the largest increase of 27 percent for notebook panel shipments during the period. AUO from Taiwan and BOE from China were two other panel makers that saw positive notebook panel shipments in February, but HannStar Display from Taiwan will no longer focus on notebook panels, making these displays only when customer demand necessitates shipments, according to the company. Sales of notebook computers have suffered on the whole as consumers shift to tablets and smartphones, and notebook panels have become victims of the change in market as well.
Demand for large-sized LCD panels is expected to return beginning in March. TV brands will seek to purchase more panels to meet first-quarter sales targets, while demand for notebooks and monitors is anticipated to grow slightly, even though there are no real indications yet of recovery for both segments. Tablet panel shipments are also forecast to rise, but any significant increases will have to wait until after the second quarter of this year.