Infineon, ever full of surprises these days, is thinking about getting out of the DRAM business.
If it's not various lawsuits over patent infringements and anti-competitive behaviour, it's the abrupt dismissal/resignation of hard-driving CEO Ulrich Schumacher in March this year. And then the loss of more executives as a Siemens putsch was dramatically pulled of.
Half-year results in April were fairly good with no obvious dramas, certainly not in the DRAM department. But now, it looks as the whole thing is up for sale. In the second quarter, the company had revenues of 1.671 billion euros, an increase of three percent sequentially and 13 percent year-on-year.
In the last couple of years, the DRAM unit has been a prime cause of heavy losses at Infineon so the recovery was welcome. However, it has been reported that average memory-chip prices matched production costs in the recent quarter, so no profit was made.
More positive news followed with the announcement of a $1 billion expansion of Infineon's DRAM capacity at its Richmond plant in the US, announced in April. This expansion was to begin with an initial equipment move in to start production of advanced DRAM chips on 300mm wafers beginning in early 2005.
However, Infineon's rollercoaster ride dipped a few days later with news that Finisar was to buy Infineon's Fibre Optic business in a transaction valued at $263 million.
It rose again on 10 May with the appointment of a new CEO, car-man Dr Wolfgang Ziebart, who starts on 1 September. At that point, acting chairman Max Dietrich Kley will step down and resume his post as chairman of Infineon's supervisory board. Ziebart has been deputy chairman of the executive board of Continent AG, an automotive supplier, and BMW prior to that. His CV shows no experience whatsoever of memory products.
And the rollercoaster dropped, quite a lot, with reports that a spin-off of the DRAM unit is being considered. The DRAM business represents some 40 percent of Infineon's business and its departure would leave Infineon making chips for mobile phones, fixed line telecommunications (but not fibre optics) and, surprise, surprise, the automotive industry. They are certainly less volatile markets than the gloom and glut cycles characteristic of memory chips.
The Richmond plant investment would appear to be part of making the DRAM business unit more attractive. How the separation will work is not yet known. It could be a sell-off, a listing as a separate company or a joint venture. Hynix, Micron, Samsung and others may well be interested.
Infineon, it seems, just wants to get off the rollercoaster and become a good steady German busines making good steady profits. No more DRAM dramas please.
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