Europe debt to have mixed impact on exports: analyst


TAIPEI — European demand for Taiwan-branded notebook computers and smartphones will remain stable this year despite the region’s sovereign debt crisis, but demand for Taiwanese solar products will falter, according to a Taipei-based market researcher.

Topology Research Institute (TRI) Vice President Simon Yang saw consumer demand, on which notebook sales rely, as being more stable than the government subsidies needed for solar product sales to thrive.

“The smart terminal market (smartphones and notebooks) looks fine at present because there is still clear momentum driving consumer demand. But government demand for solar energy products has declined, because of reduced budgets,” Yang told CNA in a recent telephone interview.

Yang noted that some European countries, including Spain, Italy and Germany, have cut their subsidies for installing solar equipment, shrinking the market for vendors. “Given that the global solar panel market is forecast to be flat or to grow only slightly this year, we think there will be higher pressure,” he said.

Given the importance of Western Europe as a market for Taiwan’s exports, market uncertainty there could play on the country’s economy. According to the Topography Research Institute, Taiwan’s exports to Western Europe accounted for 27-29 percent of its total exports, with about a third going directly to the region and the remaining two-thirds shipped via China.

Western Europe also had a 28 percent share of the global smart terminal device market by value in 2011, the institute said, so any volatility in demand could hurt exports by Taiwan main IT brands — Acer Inc., Asustek Computer Inc. and HTC Corp.

Major European economies, including Germany, France and the United Kingdom, accounted for a combined total of 55 percent of the European smart device market.

Spain, Italy and Greece, which are suffering the most serious financial constraints, accounted for only 20 percent of the European smart device market, the institute said.

Yang forecast that the sales value of smart devices in Germany, France and the UK will decrease by 10-percent in 2012 due to the European sovereign debt crisis, while those in Spain, Italy and Greece will decline by 30 percent.

For the Western European market as a whole, smartphone sales are expected to rise 10 percent after hitting US$43 billion in 2011, and notebook sales will likely remain close to last year’s US$36 billion.

Lin Chien-fu, head of the National Policy Foundation and an economics professor at National Taiwan University, said recently that Taiwan had only negligible exposure to European debt. But he feared the country would still be hurt by the region’s debt problems if they led to falling demand for Taiwan’s exports, especially information and communication technology products.

The Directorate General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics has trimmed its 2012 growth forecast for export-oriented Taiwan to 3.91 percent, down from the 4.19 percent forecast last November.

The Taiwan Institute of Economic Research also cut its forecast for Taiwan’s real gross domestic product growth in 2012 to 3.96 percent from 4.22 percent it forecast last November on continuing global economic uncertainty and the country’s weak export outlook.