Semiconductor sales slowing -

The Dutch outfit which makes gear for the world's chipmakers has warned  that things are getting dire in the semiconductor industry.

ASML is the world's largest maker of semiconductor lithography machines which map out electronic circuits on silicon wafers. True, it does compete with Canon and Nikon but it has Samsung, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing and Intel among its customers.

Chief Financial Officer Peter Wennink warned that 2012 will be a difficult year and it is difficult to predict what will happen. He said he is listening to his customers and it sounds like they have been attending the Sylvia Plath school of optimism.

Wennink added that the slowdown will appear in the next quarter's order book. He said that fourth-quarter orders were above the third-quarter level of 514 million euros, but didn't say exactly how much.

Analysts surveyed by Reuters had expected fourth-quarter bookings of between 500 and 700 million euros so they were not shocked by the comment. In fact some analysts are relieved that orders were at least rising, rather than falling.

Some are even predicting that it will improve its order book by 100 million euros which is better than a poke in the eye with a short stick.

Of course a lot of nay sayers are saying nay, but most think that ASML will be able to cut its costs by a fifth in six months if it had to.

ASML's order book development serves as a barometer of what is going on in the minds of Chipzilla and TSMC.

Chief Executive Eric Meurice had his fingers crossed that there is a sustained need for leading-edge systems.

It looks like the chipmakers want machines that can build smaller, faster, smarter chips found in the latest mobile devices including smartphones and tablets.