SAN FRANCISCO — Spending on semiconductor capital equipment is on pace to set a new all-time high for the third consecutive year, led by strong sales in South Korea and China, according to the latest forecast by the SEMI trade association.

The latest SEMI forecast calls for spending to rise 14 percent this year, reaching nearly $65 billion. Spending is forecast to rise an additional 9 percent next year to top $70 billion for the first time, SEMI said.

Only once before in the 71-year history of the semiconductor capital equipment industry has fab tool spending risen for four straight year — during the mid 1990s — according to SEMI.

South Korea is expected to remain the top region for chip equipment spending in 2018. While Samsung Electronics is expected to reduce its equipment spending from its 2017 level of about $18 billion, Samsung is still expected to account for about 70 percent of the equipment spending in South Korea this year, according to SEMI. SK Hynix is expected to increase its equipment spending in South Korea this year, SEMI said.

Meanwhile, China — which is expected to be the top region for semiconductor equipment sales beginning next year — continues its dramatic rise in fab tool spending. Equipment spending in China is expected to increase by 65 percent this year and by an additional 57 percent in 2019, SEMI said.

Semiconductor equipment spending by region 2013-2019

SEMI noted that more than half of the semiconductor equipment spending in China in 2018 and in 2019 is expected to come from non-Chinese companies including Intel, SK Hynix, TSMC, Samsung and Globalfoundries. Domestic Chinese companies — backed by large government initiatives — are building a considerable number of fabs that are starting to equip this year and next year, according to SEMI. These companies are expected to double their equipment investments in 2018 and again in 2019, SEMI said.

The trade group said other regions are also ramping up investment in semiconductor equipment, including a projected 60 percent increase in spending in Japan this year. Spending in Europe and the Mideast is expected to increase by about 12 percent, SEMI said, while growth in Southeast Asia is expected to be about 30 percent.

— Dylan McGrath is the editor-in-chief of EE Times.