LETTER TO SHAREHOLDERS
ANOTHER YEAR OF HEALTHY GROWTH
2015 has been another year of healthy growth for our company. Thanks to continued strong momentum in our ALD business we increased our revenue by solid double digits and again outperformed the broader wafer fab equipment market. We significantly increased investments in R&D during the year. Profits further improved and cash generation was again solid. We increased the dividend and started another share buyback program, while maintaing a strong balance sheet. With the need for ALD further increasing at the next technology node transitions ASMI is well positioned for a continued strong performance.
Looking back at 2015, conditions in the semiconductor end-markets slowed down in the course of the year. The market for wafer fab equipment ended the year relatively flat, with the first half being stronger than the second half. For the year as a whole Memory was again the strongest segment within the wafer fab equipment market. Our company increased revenue by 14% on a constant currency basis in 2015, which was again driven by the ALD business. ALD now accounts for clearly more than half of our equipment revenue.
After the strong improvement in 2014 the gross margin further improved by 100 basis points to more than 44% in 2015. We continue to benefit from various efficiency programs that we started in 2013 including new outsourcing initiatives and the migration of a larger part of our supply base to Asia. Successful execution of these programs has contributed to an improved and competitive cost structure as well as structurally increased and more robust gross margins.
We stepped up our investments in research and development and raised our staff numbers in R&D by 15% during the year. The operating margin remained at a solid level of almost 17%, despite one-off charges included in R&D related to the write off of the remaining 450 millimeter assets. Net profits increased by 11% in 2015.
Working capital remained well under control during the year. Combined with the strong level of profitability, free cash flow increased by 33% to EUR 104 million in 2015. Our financial position remains solid.
With the publication of the third quarter results we announced a second consecutive share buyback program, again for an amount of €100 million and to be executed in the 2015-2016 timeframe. This is part of the company’s policy to use excess cash for the benefit of its shareholders. In addition, we remain committed to our policy to pay a sustainable dividend. We will propose to the Annual General Meeting of Shareholders 2016 an ordinary dividend of €0.70 per share, an increase of 17% compared to the dividend of €0.60 paid in 2015.
ALD FIRMLY ESTABLISHED AS A KEY ENABLING TECHNOLOGY
ALD is now firmly established as a key enabling technology. Today, ALD has become a critical technology for the manufacture of virtually all leading-edge semiconductor devices. The leading customers in our industry have already ramped several device generations based on our ALD equipment – for high-k metal gate applications in Logic and Foundry and for multiple patterning applications in the Memory sector.
In the more recent years, we have also broadened our customer base beyond the leading device manufacturers. In 2015, for the first time, all of the top 10 semiconductor companies, ranked by capital spending, have adopted our ALD technologies in high-volume manufacturing. In combination with an expanded client base, we have also achieved a more robust and balanced customer mix over the years. Apart from expanding our presence in the Logic-Foundry segment we have built a much stronger exposure and customer relationships in the Memory sector. Our ALD technology for multiple patterning is used by virtually all of the Memory customers and has been a strong growth driver.
Over the last five years we have positioned our company as a leader in the ALD market. As the number of customers and ALD applications continued to expand we have grown our total revenue by an average annual growth rate of 18% since 2010. The wafer fab equipment market grew by an average annual growth rate barely above 0% during the same period.
We believe that growth prospects for the ALD market remain strong. Further miniaturization, introduction of 3D device architectures such as next generation FinFET devices and new and complex material integration schemes increase the need for more precise film deposition. We expect that this will in turn continue to drive the demand for ALD at the most advanced technology nodes.
Building on our leadership in ALD remains a key element in our strategy to further grow our company. As reflected by the increase in R&D investments during the year we continue to commit significant resources in further enhancing our leading platforms and to grow the pipeline of new ALD applications that will help transitioning our industry to the future technology generations.
Our VF and EPI activities continue to show a healthy contribution to the bottom line. Moreover the increase in our installed base shows a gradually increase in our Spares- and Services business. In the past years, thanks to our leading ALD position, we have been able to build up a stronger relationship with all major Logic, Foundry and Memory players. On the back of this relationship we are now increasing R&D efforts in our other activities, which will create further growth opportunities for the future.
In 2015 we continued to strengthen Corporate Responsibility (CR) across ASMI and into our supply chain. We raised the bar with our performance objective to EICC (Electronics Industry Citizenship Coalition) Code of Conduct. We validated our progress with external audits, and are driving expanded accountability in our supply chain with our Supplier Code of Conduct and assessment process. We continue to make progress against key CR objectives. We are releasing our second Corporate responsibility report with the release of this Annual report.
ASMPT’s net profits decreased markedly in 2015 following a strong recovery in 2014. At a strategic level, ASMPT reported a number of important achievements. In SMT Solutions the company continued to increase its market share and overtook the number 1 position. In the Back-end Equipment activity, ASMPT strengthened its position in the Advanced Packaging segments. Despite the overall drop in revenue, ASMPT managed to increase gross margins last year due to a strong improvement in SMT and an effective strategy to reduce the volatility of the gross margin in Back-end Equipment.
Against the backdrop of an uncertain macro-economic outlook, market research firms have forecasted the wafer fab equipment market to be down by a low- to mid-single-digit percentage in 2016. At the same time, 2016 wafer fab equipment spending is expected to be supported by healthy investments in leading-edge manufacturing capacity. The transition to the most advanced technology nodes continues to enable our customers to produce new semiconductor devices that are smaller, faster and more power efficient. This in turn will support their customers to bring new and innovative end-products to market such as solid-state drives (SSD) and smartphones with enhanced functionality. Our ALD solutions support our customers to stay on Moore's law and to transition to the next-technology nodes.
2016 spending in the Logic and Foundry segment is expected to be driven by the transition to the 10 nanometer technology node. The first investments in 10 nanometer volume manufacturing have started in the early part of 2016, although the ultimate size and timing of this ramp are still uncertain. This node transition in Logic and Foundry is expected to result in a significant increase in the number of single wafer ALD applications.
The market research firms expect 2016 equipment spending in the DRAM segment to drop by a double digit percentage compared to the strong level in 2015. At the next technology node, however, the number of multiple patterning layers is expected to increase further. Our company is well-placed to support DRAM customers in their ever increasing technology and productivity requirements, as soon as equipment demand for the next 1x node starts to pick up.
In NAND Flash a larger part of spending is projected to shift from planar NAND to the new 3D NAND technology. This transition is initially expected to have a mixed impact on the ALD market opportunity. The requirements for patterning are less in 3D NAND. At the same time, our company is engaged with customers in new 3D NAND applications that are expected to start contributing to revenue in 2016 with a growing contribution in the coming years.
As a leader in the ALD market we believe our company is well positioned for further healthy growth. The continued strong performance of ASMI in 2015 strengthens us in our belief that we have taken the right strategic steps over the last years. We would like to thank our employees for their continued dedication and hard work that contributed to the successful results in 2015. We are also grateful for the trust of our customers and the continued support of our shareholders. Our focus remains the creation of sustainable value for our all our stakeholders.
April 13, 2016
Charles D. (Chuck) del Prado
President and Chief Executive Officer