Home working boosts demand for laptops and chips

SEOUL/TOKYO • With more employees working from home as part of measures to slow the spread of the coronavirus, demand is surging for laptops and network peripherals, as well as components along the supply chain such as chips, as companies rush to build virtual offices.

Many firms have withdrawn earnings forecasts, anticipating a drop in consumer demand and an economic slump, but performance at electronics retailers and chipmakers is hinting at benefits from the shift in work culture.

Over the past month, governments and companies globally have been advising people to stay safe indoors. South Korea, home of the world's biggest memory chipmaker, Samsung Electronics, on Monday reported a 20 per cent jump in semiconductor exports over roughly the same period.

Pointing to further demand, nearly one in three Americans have been ordered to stay home, while Italy has banned internal travel.

"With more people working and learning from home during the outbreak, there has been rising demand for Internet services... meaning data centres need bigger pipes to carry the traffic," said Cape Investment & Securities analyst Park Sung-soon.

A South Korean Trade Ministry official said cloud computing has boosted sales of server chips, "while an increase in telecommuting in the United States and China has also been a main driver of huge server demand."

In Japan, laptop-maker Dynabook partly attributed brisk demand to companies encouraging teleworking. Rival NEC Corp said it has responded to demand with telework-friendly features such as more powerful embedded speakers.

Australian electronics retailer JB Hi-Fi said it has seen demand "acceleration" in recent weeks from both commercial and retail customers for "essential products they need to respond to and prepare" for the virus, such as devices that support remote working as well as home appliances.

China is leading chip demand, analysts said, as cloud service providers such as Alibaba, Tencent and Baidu quickly responded to the government's efforts to contain the virus.

"Cloud companies opened their platforms, allowing new and existing customers to use more resources for free to maintain operations," said Canalys analyst Yih Khai Wong.

"This set the precedent for technology companies around the world that offer cloud-based services in their response to helping organisations affected by the coronavirus."

China's cloud infrastructure build-up has pushed up chip prices, with spot prices of DRAM chips rising by more than 6 per cent since Feb 20, according to price-tracker DRAMeXchange.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 25, 2020, with the headline 'Home working boosts demand for laptops and chips'. Subscribe