Changing Profits in Passive Components

08.21.2013 // Dennis M. Zogbi // Passives

Historical Trends in the Gross Profit Margins of the World’s Top Producers of Passive Electronic Components: FY 2007-FY 2013

The following figure (Figure 1) illustrates an alarming trend in the worldwide passive electronic components market. Vendors of passive components are having their gross profit margins eroded to a point that is coming dangerously close to that which was demonstrated during the global economic downturn of FY 2009. Based on the result of a comparative survey of the combined component revenues from the world’s top producers of passive electronic components, gross profits have declined from an average of 25% in FY 2007, to 17% in FY 2013. What is alarming about this trend is that the erosion in gross profit margins for vendors of passive electronic components in FY 2013 is only 1% higher than the 16% gross profit margins recorded during the global economic downturn of FY 2009. In FY 2009 however, the global credit markets had faced an unprecedented lack of solvency, resulting in a breakdown in significant portions of global GPD output, which eventually spilled over and negatively impacted the high tech economy, as customers could no longer afford to buy handsets, computers and automobiles.

Figure 1: Operating Profits for Passive Electronic Components Over Time: FY 2007-FY 2013


Source: Paumanok Publications, Inc. Based on The Gross Profit Margins of The World’s Top Producers of Passive Electronic Components Combined For Each Fiscal Year Noted- The Fiscal Year Ends March 31 for Each Year Noted.

In FY 2013, the market conditions are different, global stimulus packages in FY 2010 and FY 2011 resulted in a global turn around in many sectors, including components, and this had a positive impact on profit margins of the top passive component producers; which in fact increased to 20% in FY 2010 and 22% in FY 2011. However, in FY 2012, on the heels of a new global economic crisis in Europe, profitability began to slip again, and this continued into FY 2013 as gross profits began to slip dangerously low once more. However in the FY 2012 and FY 2013 downturn we see some interesting developments that are continuing to push profitability dangerously low including aggressive competition, severe price erosion, and changing end-use markets.

  • Aggressive Competition
    And while there has always been an exceptional degree of competition in the passive electronic components industry, there has also always been a technology gap between the market leaders and those that would unseat them from their enviable share position. This technology gap would manifest itself in the form of a price premium that was available to the technology leaders for up to two years before competitive forces would improve their own technology to a point where it would emulate that of the market leaders and effectively erode and then remove the technology price premium. Today however, the length of time between technology innovation and competitive emulation are being blurred- so much in fact that the premiums generated by innovations are becoming too narrow to impact the bottom line.
  • The Acceleration of Price Erosion
    Price erosion has also been a constant in the passive component industry over the past 25 years. Vendors continuously look for ways to alter their variable and fixed cost structures to generate even the smallest incremental increase in gross profit margin in order to be able to drop price just slightly more than the competition in order to win contract awards. The process usually involves finding the right location in the world where the combination of low cost to produce and worker productivity is maximized. The low cost to produce aspect is usually determined based on the valuation of the currency where the manufacturing is taking place. This process favors Asian production locations that are dependent upon currencies such as the Chinese yuan, the Korean won, the Philippine peso, the Indonesian rupiah, the Indian rupee, the Vietnamese dong and the Thai baht. The trend to manipulate fixed and variable costs is prevalent among all vendors, which makes differentiation difficult and ultimately results in vendors struggling to create and maintain any semblance of a consistent price strategy over the component lifecycle. This leaves the decision to be made by sales representatives based on an emotional response or personal intuition that is largely dictated by what the salesperson believes the competition is going to do at the particular account. Therefore price approval lacks coherence and is largely based upon exception, and therefore greatly increases the acceleration of price erosion.
  • Changing End-Use Markets
    It has become increasingly apparent over the past four years that the smartphone is displacing the need for additional consumer audio and video imaging products such as digital still and video cameras, portable gaming devices, MP3 audio players, GPS devices, alarm clocks, wristwatches, landlines and television sets. The negative impact on the supply chain for electronic components has been substantial. At the same time, in the computer markets, demand for the tablet computer has skyrocketed, and has cannibalized the market for higher component content desktop and notebook computers, therefore negatively impacting the overall market for component supply based upon lost overall component sales volumes. This loss of business also contributes to the current atmosphere of aggressive competition and the overall price erosion.

Historical Trends in the Cost of Goods Sold for the World’s Top Producers of Passive Electronic Components: FY 2007-FY 2013

The following figure (Figure 2) illustrates the alarming corresponding trend in the worldwide passive electronic components market, the average cost to produce passive components are increasing as a percentage of overall sales. It is Paumanok’s conclusion that the primary costs associated with the production of passive electronic components are the variable raw material charges. However, variable raw materials charges have actually remained largely stable since early 2011, and yet the costs-to-produce as a percentage of overall sales continues to rise. The reason for this is that aggressive competition, accelerated price erosion and changing end markets are negatively impacting the profit margins of the industry as a whole and causing the cost of goods sold to increase as a percentage of overall sales.

Figure 2: Average Cost of Goods Sold for Passive Electronic Components Over Time: FY 2007-FY 2013


Source: Paumanok Publications, Inc. Based Upon Cost of Goods Sold of The World’s Top Producers of Passive Electronic Components Combined For Each Fiscal Year Noted- The Fiscal Year Ends March 31 for Each Year Noted.

Total Cost (TC) of Goods Sold

Total cost (TC) describes the total economic cost of production for passive electronic components and is made up of the variable costs, which include quantities produced, labor and raw materials, plus fixed costs, which are independent of the quantity of a good produced and include inputs that cannot be varied in the short term, such as buildings and machinery. In the end the total costs are equal to the sum of the variable costs plus the fixed costs. The fixed costs and the variable costs are described below.

Fixed Costs

In the passive component industry, fixed costs are business expenses that are associated with all businesses and are not dependent on the activities of the specific business at hand. Fixed costs tend to be time-related, such as salaries or rents being paid per month; or utility bills that are incurred and paid each month regardless of the activities of the business. This is in contrast to variable costs, which are volume-related (and are paid per quantity).

Variable Costs

Variable costs are expenses that change in proportion to the activity of a specific business; in this instance the passive components industry. In other words, variable cost is the sum of the marginal costs associated with component production. In economics and finance, marginal cost is the change in total cost that arises when the quantity produced changes by one unit. In passive components, the variable largest cost associated with production is raw materials.

Raw Material Costs

Costs associated with raw materials consumed in the production of a finished product.

Raw Materials consumed as DIELECTRICS in the surface mount capacitor industry include:

  • Barium Titanate and related ceramic materials
  • Aluminum Foil
  • Tantalum
  • Polyester
  • Activated Carbon

The primary Raw Materials consumed as ELECTRODES in the surface mount capacitor industry include:

  • Nickel
  • Palladium
  • Silver
  • Aluminum

The primary Raw Materials consumed as TERMINATION materials in the surface mount capacitor industry include:

  • Copper
  • Silver
  • Aluminum

OTHER Raw Materials consumed in the production of passive components include:

  • Epoxy Molding Compounds
  • Cans and Sleeves
  • Electrolytes
  • Dielectric Fluids
  • Lead Wires and Lug Terminals
  • End Seals and Gaskets
  • Foot Pads and Tapes
  • Lead Frames
  • Ruthenium
  • Nickel Chromium
  • Antimony
  • Iron Oxide

Variable Overhead Costs

Variable manufacturing overhead costs are variable costs that are not a direct cost, but indirect cost. Variable costs are sometimes called unit-level costs as they vary with the number of units produced.

Variable Labor Costs

Labor is in some cases considered as a variable cost, especially in the passive components industry, where part-time labor is brought on in accordance with increases in unit demand. Variable labor charges are an aspect of the capacitor industry that continues to be under scrutiny because this is where the industry usually falls short in an upturn not enough personnel to meet short term demand, which increases lead times and stabilizes pricing.


A recent survey of the top manufacturers of passive electronic components conducting by Paumanok Publications, Inc. has revealed an alarming trend, the cost of goods sold as a percentage of overall industry revenues is increasing at the expense of corresponding profit margins. The conclusion is that costs of production for passive electronic components are increasing because aggressive competition, accelerated price erosion and changing end-use market segments are having a negative impact on the bottom line for vendors of passive electronic components as an entire industry.

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Statements of fact and or opinions expressed in MarketEYE by its contributors are the responsibility of the authors alone and do not imply an opinion of the officers or the representatives of TTI, Inc.

Featured Contributor:
Dennis M. Zogbi

Dennis M. Zogbi

Dennis M. Zogbi is the author of more than 260 market research reports on the worldwide electronic components industry. Specializing in capacitors, resistors, inductors and circuit protection component markets, technologies and opportunities; electronic materials including tantalum, ceramics, aluminum, plastics; palladium, ruthenium, nickel, copper, barium, titanium, activated carbon, and conductive polymers. Zogbi produces off-the-shelf market research reports through his wholly owned company, Paumanok Publications, Inc, as well as single client consulting, on-site presentations, due diligence for mergers and acquisitions, and he is the majority owner of Passive Component Industry Magazine LLC.

Paumanok, Inc.

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