Semiconductors


2022-04-21

Opportunity and Risk for Taiwan’s Supply Chains

(AmCham Taiwan|Associate Editor: Julia Bergström) As more countries look to diversify their supply chains, Taiwan has a chance to strengthen its position in the global economy. But is its infrastructure robust enough to support expanded business?

Over the past few years, the U.S. and Taiwan have intensified their efforts to reduce reliance on China in their supply chains as a way to increase resilience. First came the U.S.-China trade dispute, in which American companies were encouraged to leave or decrease operations in China, followed by the Tsai Ing-wen administration’s reshoring initiative to bring investment from China back to Taiwan.

At the onset of the global pandemic, the flow of critical products halted, global supply chains were disrupted, and supply chain resilience became a priority for all industries. Then, just as commerce began to bounce back, Russia launched an attack on Ukraine, giving rise to new worries of geopolitically induced shortages and inflationary effects.

Meanwhile, China is pushing to indigenize its supply chains, most notably with its Made in China 2025 plan, which aims to upgrade Chinese industries’ manufacturing capabilities into more technology-intensive powerhouses and achieve independence from foreign suppliers.

Although the U.S. and Taiwan are not decoupling from China, they have significantly changed the flow of goods and investments, says Rupert Hammond-Chambers, managing director of BowerGroupAsia, a consultancy.

“Instead of 10 dollars flowing into China, you’re seeing five going to China and the other five to the Southeast Asia region, or even Taiwan,” he says. However, there is no certainty that Taiwan will gain some of China’s lost business. Rather, achieving that goal will require significant policy changes and government efforts.

For Taiwan, strengthening its role in global supply chains is more than an effort to ensure economic stability – it also has political and security implications. Hammond-Chambers sees Taiwan’s role in the semiconductor industry in particular as a “geostrategic lever that focuses other countries on the importance of Taiwan and peace and security in the Taiwan Strait.”

Taiwan accounts for over 60% of the global chip foundry market, and the island plays a pivotal role in many high-tech industries, a trend expected to continue despite pushes from the U.S. and EU to revitalize their semiconductor industries.

In fact, says Joanne Chiao, senior analyst at Taiwanese market research firm TrendForce, her organization “expects Taiwan’s market share [in the chip foundry sector] will further increase to 66% in 2022,” as some of the newly added capacity will enter mass production by the end of 2022.

Although Taiwan leads in semiconductors, domestic expansion has its limits. During a discussion on Taiwan’s role in global supply chains organized by Washington, D.C.-based public policy organization The Brookings Institution, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. (TSMC) Vice President of Global Government Affairs Peter Cleveland noted that the company operates “at such a massive scale that it’s mind-blowing to people. [Production] takes over 4 million gallons of water per day, the power requirements are enormous, and STEM talent is critical.”

Cleveland said he sees geographic dispersion as an advantage for the company, and the expansion of Taiwan semiconductor operations in the U.S. as a way to strengthen supply chains while alleviating chip manufacturing’s strain on Taiwan’s resources. TSMC is constructing a US$12 billion fab in Phoenix, Arizona, which is scheduled to start producing chips in 2024. It is also building a plant in Japan and is in early discussions regarding a possible fab in Germany.


Apart from expanding manufacturing abroad, Taiwan also needs to implement policies that strengthen its infrastructure, according to BowerGroupAsia’s Hammond-Chambers. Of what has been termed the island’s “five shortages” (land, power, water, labor, and talent), he refers to labor, talent, and electricity as the most critical areas for government scrutiny of existing policies.

“The energy policy of Taiwan is just not working at the moment,” he says, adding that “there’s no time to waste” when it comes to improving the power grid. “It’s a strategic issue, military issue, social issue, and economic issue – it ticks every single major box.”

Jason Hsu, a former Taiwan legislator and currently senior research fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School, stressed at the Brookings seminar that the shortage of semiconductor talent is already noticeable in both the U.S. and Taiwan. The island’s recent establishment of a Semiconductor Research Institute is a step in the right direction, but not enough to fill the gap, he said.

“There needs to be a comprehensive program that links U.S. and Taiwan talent development and ensures that Taiwan can continue to develop its manufacturing capability and talent,” with innovation shared between the U.S. and Taiwan, Hsu noted.

Taiwan has relaxed immigration laws to attract foreign talent, particularly from Southeast Asia, and developed work and study programs for university students, said Minister Without Portfolio John Deng during the Brookings event.

But considering that the island is on track to become a super-aged society, Taiwan could and should implement a much more robust and open immigration policy that attracts more people to make up for the shrinking labor pool. The island’s decreasing population could pose an existential threat to Taiwan if not managed, says Hammond-Chambers.

Meanwhile, Taiwan could take advantage of what some scholars have dubbed “brain circulation” to strengthen economic ties with the U.S., according to Michael Nelson, senior fellow in the Carnegie Endowment For International Peace’s Technology and International Affairs Program.

“A lot of people from Taiwan have studied overseas, and some of them bring that knowledge back to Taiwan and start companies or teach the next generation,” he says, citing the founders of TSMC and the Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI) as two examples. “But a lot of them are still working overseas, and they’re part of this diaspora that forms a built-in advantage for Taiwan.”

Cloud opportunities

As the world undergoes the Fourth Industrial Revolution, digital supply chain technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), algorithms, and machine learning can be used to analyze and learn from big data, which powers intelligent automation and provides supply chain managers with real-time insights that can assist quick responses to disruptions.

“When we think about how to boost our competitiveness, it doesn’t all have to be about manufacturing,” said Meriya Solis, Director of the Center for East Asia Policy Studies at Brookings. “We need to be mindful of the fact that we’re moving toward a digital economy.”

But while smart tools will mitigate human error, they pose a supply chain risk if they are not backed up by robust cybersecurity systems. Carnegie’s Nelson says that improving cybersecurity and investing in the Cloud of Things – integrated Internet of Things and Cloud Computing technology – would not only benefit biotech and other high-tech industries, but also create more robust supply chains for traditional industries. “It could help us do a better job of tracking fishing ports, ensuring the quality of food, and making sure cold chains are not broken,” he says.

The current global software infrastructure, notes Nelson, is built on a precarious system. Commercial software products tend to rely on complex open-source software repositories, and vulnerability in a single aspect of these repositories could compromise every commercial product that uses it.

Following an increase in cyberattacks, Taiwan’s government declared cybersecurity to be a national security issue in 2018 and proceeded to implement its Cyber Security Management Act in January 2019. The law stipulates obligations for providers of critical infrastructure, including water, energy, ICT production, and financial and healthcare services. The U.S. and Taiwan held their first joint Cyber Offensive and Defense Exercise (CODE), hosted by the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) and the Executive Yuan’s Department of Cyber Security, in 2019.

In the past, Chinese tech seemed like it was on a steady path to market domination. But due to a high incidence of poorly written Chinese software and concerns that state actors could impel companies to embed security backdoors into their products, trust in its software is now generally low among global users. Nelson sees a lucrative opportunity for Taiwan to increase its involvement in data supply chains by establishing itself as a trusted source for more secure and better-tested software.

“Through the hardware sector and the semiconductor industry, you have all these links to all the major players,” he says. “By leveraging those links and showing that Taiwan can ensure that the software running on the chips they built is doing the job it’s advertised to do, Taiwan can help integrate different pieces of software from different companies and gain a reputation for being a trusted integrator.”

But to establish such a competitive advantage, Taiwan’s government will need to implement mechanisms that encourage local IT companies to uncover security vulnerabilities and adopt quality verification tools.

“Nobody thinks Taiwan is going to become the only source of systems software, but it can be a hub that works with different players and shows emerging markets in particular how technologies can be better designed,” says Nelson. “And it’s not just in healthcare, the high-tech sector, banking, and e-government applications – it’s also in agriculture, food production, and retail.”

Nelson says that rather than providing a long list of detailed requirements, the government should form a cybersecurity framework that focuses on goals and milestones without stipulating how they should be achieved. “You want to focus on the results, not the mechanism.”

China threat misconception

Supply chain cooperation between the U.S. and Taiwan is vital for the economic security of both, and collaboration has only strengthened with the increased attention to the importance of ICT products and semiconductor chips. The commitment of both sides to cooperate on related issues was reasserted in late 2021 when Taiwan and the U.S. established the Technology Trade and Investment Collaboration (TTIC), a new bilateral cooperation framework meant to develop commercial programs and strengthen critical technology supply chains.

TTIC is the latest addition to the two parties’ already established communication channels on economic issues, which also consist of the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) and the U.S.-Taiwan Economic Prosperity Partnership Dialogue. It is seen as a way for the U.S. to strengthen its role in the semiconductor industry and reiterate the importance of the bilateral U.S.-Taiwan commercial and investment relationship.

Such collaborative activity might not be enough, however. Convincing more American companies to include Taiwan in their supply chains will require creating greater confidence in Taiwan’s production stability and its government’s capability in data management and protection, says Nelson. Companies will also need assurance that they will not be affected by geopolitical maneuvering.

“If companies worry that their supply chain is going to be disrupted for geopolitical reasons, then they’re less inclined to work with companies in those countries.”

Recognizing these concerns, Minister Deng emphasized Taiwan’s trustworthiness and reliability during his opening statement at the U.S.-Taiwan supply chain seminar. Deng declared to the audience that Taiwan is a safe and reliable partner, and that it “actively maintains supply chain security” and has “never coerced any other countries with economic means.”

But to assure businesses that Taiwan will remain a stable partner, the island will need to assuage fears of potential military conflict. Hammond-Chambers notes that although many experts agree that China is unlikely to launch a military attack on Taiwan in the near future, media and think tank preoccupation with possible future scenarios could trickle into boardrooms and influence business decisions.

“They see what’s happening in Ukraine, and it’s easy for people to jump to conclusions about Taiwan,” he says. “Future global supply chains are likely to evolve into a red [Chinese] supply chain and alternate supply chains that include Southeast Asia on a grander scale. Whether companies’ attempts to ‘China-proof’ their businesses will result in an exclusion of Taiwan remains to be seen.”

(Source: https://topics.amcham.com.tw/2022/04/opportunity-and-risk-for-taiwans-supply-chains/

2022-04-12

Shanghai and Kunshan Pandemic Lockdowns Clog Supply Chain Logistics, Exacerbates Component Mismatch in ODMs, Says TrendForce

Due to the explosion of the COVID-19 pandemic in China, Shanghai has adopted a rolling lockdown policy since March and Kunshan City, a major production hub for the electronics industry near Shanghai, has also felt the impact. According to TrendForce, limited manpower and logistics and suspended transportation options mean neighboring OEMs and ODMs can only rely on onsite inventory to barely meet the needs of production lines, further exacerbating component mismatches. Concurrently, a short-term surge in finished product shipments and demand for material replenishment after the various lockdowns are lifted may gridlock customs authorities, with delivery delays potentially lasting until the end of April before there is any chance for improvement.

TrendForce further indicates, starting from 4Q21, demand for consumer specification products, which account for the bulk of products sold by MLCC suppliers in Taiwan, Korea and China, weakened as customers continue to adjust their inventories. Although ODMs currently predict the demand for consumer specification MLCC will recover month by month in 2Q22, emergency lockdowns caused by the pandemic are bound to impose delays on logistics. Likewise, OEMs’ supply of key direct buy components will also be interrupted due to the Shanghai lockdown.  Shortages of CPU, battery module, and panel materials will impact production lines because materials cannot be delivered to relevant factory warehouses, exacerbating ODM component mismatch issues. On the other hand, the focus of downstream branded customers remains on low visibility and weak demand in the 2Q22 end market.

MCLL supplier production centers in China including those located in Tianjin, Suzhou, Wuxi, and Guangdong, have yet to be locked down but inter-provincial logistics and transportation have clearly felt the escalation of inspection and supervision since the end of March, resulting in prolonged transportation timetables. However, the biggest problem for MLCC suppliers at this stage is they cannot deliver materials to Shanghai and Kunshan. There are a number of large ODM plants at these two locations, such as Quanta Shanghai Manufacture City in the Songjiang District of Shanghai and the Compal, Wistron, and Pegatron campuses in Kunshan. At present, ODMs’ average inventory level for consumer specification products sits at 3 to 4 weeks, which is sufficient to meet the needs of short-term production. However, stocks of certain high-voltage automotive MLCC of 250V or higher specifications and high-end server MLCC size 0805/1206/1210 items may be in danger of depletion.

Looking to 2Q22, the lockdowns of Shenzhen, Dongguan, and Shanghai that began in March have hobbled China’s manufacturing industry and sent it into a period of contraction. In addition, the Russian-Ukrainian war and rising inflation continue to slow demand growth for mainstream consumer electronics, potentially risking recession. With so many unfavorable factors, ODMs must still observe an easing of component mismatching before further considering MLCC stocking momentum after restrictions are lifted. If the pandemic in China cannot be effectively brought under control in the short term, overall ODM inventories will continue to be maintained at a high level for approximately 1 to 1.5 months to prevent similar sudden lockdowns disrupting operations. However, TrendForce believes that it will be difficult for MLCC suppliers to surmise the visibility of customers’ real demand. Once the purchase order situation reverses, they will be unable to respond quickly with capacity adjustments, thus becoming a primary focus of MLCC manufacturers’ risk management in 2Q22.

2022-04-11

Demand for Consumer Electronics Weak, Supply Chain Shortages Ease in 1H22, Says TrendForce

According to TrendForce, the consumer electronics market will feel the brunt of the weakening stay-at-home economy, the pandemic in China, international tensions, and rising inflation in 1H22. Coupled with the traditional off-season, demand for relevant applications such as PCs, laptops, TVs, and smartphones has cooled significantly and downstream customers have successively downgraded their shipment targets for the year, while demand for automotive, Internet of Things, communications, and servers products remain good. At the same time, the supply chain will build higher inventories in general to mitigate the risk of material shortages due to transportation impediments induced by the spread of the pandemic and the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine.

1. Foundries

Due to the prolonged lead-time of semiconductor equipment and limited new capacity in 1Q22, the overall foundry capacity utilization rate remains fully loaded, in particular, component mismatch issues continue for parts produced at mature nodes (1Xnm~180nm). Looking forward to the second quarter, although growth in global wafer production capacity remains limited, due to weak demand for end products, continuing international tension, and China’s forced lockdowns and supervision due to the recent spread of the pandemic, there is an opportunity for the supply chain to obtain a more adequate supply of wafers that were previously squeezed by production capacity.

2. Servers

The overall supply of key server materials improved slightly in 1Q22. In addition, due to increasing orders from ultra-large data centers, the general supply cycle of NetCom chips such as LAN IC/chip remains as long as approximately 40 weeks but the demand gap can be bridged by instituting urgent order fees, mitigating actual impact. As the aforementioned situation eases, additional orders for ODM motherboard production are moving briskly, prompting continued stocking of FPGAs and PMICs materials. NetCom chips are also overstocked and the overall market has a reached a “rich get richer” mindset. Material shortages at second-tier ODMs still stifle the production of motherboards for a small number of customers but does not affect the overall server market supply. With improvements in material supply, server shipments will increase significantly in 2Q22, growing an estimated 15.8% QoQ to 3.6 million units.

3. Smartphones

Affected by sluggish seasonal demand, the Russian-Ukrainian war, and rising inflation, market demand has cooled. Thus, material delivery issues in the supply chain have eased compared to 2H21. Although there is still a shortage of certain components, most of these shortages are concentrated in mid/low-end smartphone products. The lead time for 4G and low-end 5G SoCs is approximately 30 to 40 weeks, which is limited by production capacity planning. Since last year, the demand of the mid/low-end mobile phone market has not been met. This is followed by A+G sensors with a lead time of approximately 32~36 weeks and OLED DDIC and Touch IC with a lead time of 20~22 weeks. The production volume of smartphones in 2Q22 will be affected by the interaction of the aforementioned factors with a forecast production volume of 323 million units, or only 6% QoQ, which is lower than the performance of previous years.

4. Notebooks

Also affected by weakening end market demand, discounting client SSDs that are no longer oversupplied, Type C IC, WiFi, and PMIC all currently boast long lead times, with Type C IC the lengthiest at 20~25 weeks. However, compared with TrendForce’s assessment at the beginning of this year, the delivery cycle has not grown longer, so the lead time of these three types of products is expected to improve by the end of 2Q22. As supply chain backlog continues to improve, shipments of notebook computers (including Chromebooks) is expected to reach approximately 55.1 million units in 2Q22, down 0.7% QoQ.

5. MLCC Passive Components

From the perspective of other key components, taking MLCC as an example, demand for major consumer electronic products such as mobile phones, laptops, tablets, and TVs declined significantly in 1Q22, resulting in high consumer product specification MLCC inventory levels held by original suppliers and channel agents and this situation may continue into 2Q22. At present, the stocking momentum for automotive and industrial MLCCs has steadily increased, while consumer specification products have yet to escape the pattern of oversupply. In 2Q22, the MLCC market has the opportunity to alleviate its component mismatch issues through gradually increased production capacity and automotive and server ICs supplied by semiconductor IDM companies, driving stocking momentum at automotive power, server, fast charging, and charging/energy storage equipment OEMs. Vehicle and industrial MLCCs have the opportunity to become primary growth drivers in 2Q22 with Murata, TDK, Taiyu and Yageo as the primary beneficiaries. Consumer specification products, which account for the bulk of MLCC production from suppliers in Taiwan, South Korea, and China, may face continued market demand weakness in 2Q22 due to a slowdown in demand for mobile phones and laptops and continuing inventory adjustment by branded companies and ODMs.

Looking forward to 2Q22, not including servers, demand for end products related to the consumer category remains weak. Components that were originally oversupplied will face more severe price tests due to the imbalance between supply and demand. In terms of materials in serious short supply, more output will be transferred to products with strong demand through the deployment of internal production capacity. TrendForce believes that from the changes in PC market conditions, it can be seen in rapid changes in demand, purchasing behavior has quickly switched from the former over-ordering strategy to actively cutting orders, inducing supply chains to buck the seasonal trends of previous years. Due to the accelerated recent spread of Omicron in China and under the country’s dynamic zero-COVID policy, mandatory and sudden lockdown and control measures may cause local manufacturers to face multiple and complex supply chain problems, which will be detrimental to market performance.

2022-03-30

NAND Flash Pricing to Gain 5~10% in 2Q22 on the Heels of Material Contamination at Kioxia and WDC, Says TrendForce

According to TrendForce research, demand continues to weaken due to modestly high inventories maintained by buyers and sellers, coupled with the recent impact of the Russian-Ukrainian war and rising inflation on PCs, laptops, and smartphones. However, overall NAND Flash supply has been significantly downgraded in the wake of raw material contamination at Kioxia and WDC in early February, becoming the key factor in a 5~10%  NAND Flash price appreciation in 2Q22.

In terms of Client SSD, the Russian-Ukrainian war has compelled PC OEMs to adopt a conservative stocking strategy for orders in 2Q22, which may continue affecting orders during peak season in 2H22, and revising 2022 shipment targets downwards. This year, SSD output has officially stepped out from the shadow of the semiconductor shortage. As Kioxia’s production capacity gradually recovered to supply SSD products in May and production capacity continues to roughly meet customer demand, suppliers have adopted a more aggressive pricing strategy. Price growth in 2Q22 is forecast to moderate to 3~8% compared with original expectations.

In terms of Enterprise SSD, as procurement capacity and orders for servers and hyperscale data centers grow and lead times on Enterprise SSD products balloon due to material contamination at Kioxia and WDC, clients immediately turned to Samsung and Solidigm looking for supply. Since the supply of PCIe 4.0 products is limited, suppliers have adopted a tough price negotiation policy which will drive the price of enterprise SSD up by 5~10% in 2Q22.

In terms of eMMC, demand for consumer products such as TVs, Chromebooks, and tablets continue to weaken, limiting demand for low- and medium-capacity eMMC products to a marginal level. Although the primary supply of low-capacity 2D NAND output has yet to be affected by raw material contamination, the overall deal-making atmosphere of the market remains transformed by the contamination incident. In addition, the plan of suppliers to gradually reduce 2D production capacity has not changed. Therefore, suppliers are eager to maintain profits by increasing the price of relatively low capacity eMMC products. eMMC contract pricing in 2Q22 is forecast to rise by 3-8%.

In terms of UFS, the Russian-Ukrainian war, high inflation, and other factors have weakened demand for the most important UFS applications such as smart phones. Likewise affected by the contamination of raw materials, the total output of 3D NAND has been significantly reduced. For UFS products with larger capacity and higher layer counts, the downgrade in supply far outstrips movement on the demand side. UFS pricing in the 2Q22 is forecast to increase approximately 3~8%. In terms of NAND Flash wafers, although demand for products such as flash drives and memory cards is weak, these are low priority products in the supply chain. Since raw material contamination has seriously affected the supply of NAND Flash wafers. 3D NAND Prices are forecast to move upwards by 5%~10% in 2Q22.

2022-03-30

Top 10 Taiwanese IC Design Company Revenue Top NT$900B in 2021 with MediaTek Contributing Lion’s Share

According to TrendForce research, in general, revenue of Taiwanese IC design companies grew significantly in 2021 with many hitting record highs due to active procurement of various terminal applications and the effect of product price inflation. These companies also performed well in terms of gross profit margin and profitability. The top 10 Taiwanese IC design companies generated revenue of NT$906.16 billion, or 54.3% YoY. In recent years, MediaTek has contributed more than half of the output value of Taiwan’s top ten IC design companies and has become a primary factor in the growth of Taiwan’s IC design industry.

Looking at Taiwan’s top three IC design companies, MediaTek, Novatek, and Realtek, in 1Q22, MediaTek benefited from the increase in 5G penetration and successive shipments of Dimensity 9000. A mobile phone release in March 2022 produced revenue growth which can offset lower demand for certain consumer products due to seasonal factors while the proportion of high-margin products in each revenue category will increase. Thus, annual revenue growth is expected to exceed 20% this year.

As for Novatek, although DDI and TDDI stocking has entered the off-season for traditional industries and demand for consumer electronics has weakened, overall market demand is still greater than supply and Commercial Notebook and Automotive demand remain strong. New products such as OLED FoD, OLED TDDI, FTDDI, and Mini LED will drive continued revenue stability. This year, Novatek will integrate TCON, PMIC, etc. for package sales, so that there is a relative price support, but the company must still dynamically adjust its product mix according to market changes.

In terms of Realtek, positive demand in the enterprise, industrial, and automotive sectors in 2H21 will continue to 1H22. With the pandemic slowing down, purchasing of commercial laptops and equipment has ramped up, wired and wireless network infrastructure is being upgraded, the automotive market continues to grow, and relevant products such as Wi-Fi 6, Wi-Fi 6E, 5G Ethernet, and the new LE Audio Bluetooth IC are being launched successively, which will continue to improve Realtek’s performance. On the consumer market side, demand in the PC and consumer electronics markets will return to normal in 2022 and the TWS Bluetooth headset market will face a price war, which will lead to a suppression of Realtek’s shipments in relevant sectors. Regarding foundry price hikes, some customers have reported that they cannot afford further price inflation and are still in the process of negotiating terms of cooperation. In addition, Realtek has been destocking in 1Q22 due to the customer yearend inventory audits and component mismatching.

Taking a comprehensive look at 2022, TrendForce believes that the benefits of price inflation will gradually fade and demand for consumer electronics will moderate but not weaken significantly, while sustained strong demand for industrial, automotive, and high-speed computing will test the product portfolio optimization and cost pass-through ability of IC design companies.

(Image credit: iStock)

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