In spite of its considerable challenges, 2020 ended up being a good year for the semiconductor industry. According to figures compiled by the Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA) and released on Monday, total global sales increased to $439 billion during the year, up 6.5% over the 2019 figure.

It was an up-and-down year for the sector. In the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, sales declined precipitously in March and April as many customers sharply curtailed their spending plans. But they later eased the brakes; in the fourth quarter, for example, sales totaled $117.5 billion, a more than 8% improvement over the same period of 2019.

CPU being inserted by hand.

Image source: Getty Images.

U.S. companies were responsible for nearly half the annual total. Zooming out, in the Americas region, sales rose briskly -- by nearly 20% -- for the year.

This was due in no small part to the seemingly endless hunger for greater computing power from major purveyors of it, like Amazon(AMZN 0.23%) and Microsoft (MSFT -0.32%). Those two companies and their peers continue to face strong demand from clients for their cloud computing services in particular.

In spite of that, this country actually represents only a fraction of overall production, as the output of many U.S. companies is sourced from Asia. 

The SIA quoted its CEO, John Neuffer, as saying, "While global demand for semiconductors is on the rise, the share of global chip production done in the U.S. has declined from 37% in 1990 to 12% today, and that disparity will only intensify without U.S. government action to level the global playing field." 

As for other markets, China remains the largest individual one for semiconductors. Sales there were nearly $152 billion, for 5% growth. By contrast, Europe was sluggish, with sales dropping by 6%.