The panic buying of chips persisted in 2Q21 owing to factors such as post-pandemic demand, industry-wide shift to 5G telecom technology, geopolitical tensions, and chronic chip shortages, according to TrendForce’s latest investigations. Chip demand from ODMs/OEMs remained high, as they were unable to meet shipment targets for various end-products due to the shortage of foundry capacities. In addition, wafers inputted in 1Q21 underwent a price hike and were subsequently outputted in 2Q21. Foundry revenue for the quarter reached US$24.407 billion, representing a 6.2% QoQ increase and yet another record high for the eighth consecutive quarter since 3Q19.
Revenue growths of TSMC and Samsung were slightly hindered by power outages at their respective fabs
For 2Q21, TSMC once again comfortably dwarfed other foundries with a revenue of US$13.3 billion, a 3.1% QoQ increase. TSMC’s relatively muted growth can be attributed to several factors, the most prominent of which was a power outage that occurred in TSMC’s Fab14 P7, located in the Southern Taiwan Science Park, in April. The power outage subsequently caused some wafers at the 40nm and 16nm nodes to be discarded. TSMC’s fab in the Southern Taiwan Science Park suffered yet another disruption when Taipower’s Kaohsiung-based Hsinta Power Plant temporarily went offline in May. Although the fab immediately resumed operations via its emergency power generators so that no wafers in the production lines were discarded, certain wafers still needed to be reworked. Finally, TSMC maintained its longstanding strategy of giving consistent price quotes for its foundry services. Hence, although the foundry’s revenue for 2Q21 exceeded the upper end of its prior financial guidance, its revenue for the quarter underwent a slightly lower QoQ growth compared to other foundries, and it also lost some market share to competitors.
Samsung’s revenue for 2Q21 reached US$4.33 billion, a 5.5% QoQ increase. After recovering from the winter storm that swept Texas in February, Samsung’s Austin-based Line S2 fab fully resumed its manufacturing operations in April. The fab is now operating at fully loaded capacities by manufacturing for additional client orders in order to compensate for the 1.5-month loss in wafer input from idling as a result of the winter storm. Although the sharp drop in wafer input in 1Q21 somewhat constrained Samsung’s output and revenue growth for 2Q21, the foundry still managed to post a 5.5% QoQ revenue growth thanks to strong client demand for CIS, 5G RF transceivers, and OLED driver ICs. Owing to persistently high demand for PMIC, TDDI, Wi-Fi, and OLED driver IC products, UMC, ranked third on the top 10 list, operated at a capacity utilization rate surpassing 100%, and its output severely lagged behind client demand. In response, UMC continued to raise its quotes. In addition, newly installed production capacities at the 28/22nm nodes, which have a relatively high ASP, gradually became available for wafer input in 2Q21, resulting in a 5% QoQ increase in UMC’s blended ASP for 2Q21. The foundry saw its market share remaining relatively unchanged from the previous quarter at 7.2% and posted a revenue of US$1.82 billion, an 8.5% QoQ increase.
Fourth-ranked GlobalFoundries posted a revenue of US$1.52 billion for 2Q21, a 17.0% QoQ increase. After selling its US-based Fab10 and Singapore-based Fab3E to ON Semi and VIS, respectively, in 2019, GlobalFoundries has been gradually consolidating its existing product lines and focusing on the development of 14/12nm FinFET, 22/12nm FD-SOI, and 55/40nm HV and BCD technology platforms. At the same time, GlobalFoundries has also announced that it will expand its current production capacities by building new US-based and Singapore-based fabs, which are expected to contribute to GlobalFoundries’ earnings starting in the 2H22-2023 period. On the other hand, although GlobalFoundries has already sold its Fab10 to ON Semi, the former continues to manufacture products for the latter at Fab10 across the 2020-2021 period. ON Semi will not independently operate the fab until the transfer of ownership is finalized in 2022. SMIC likewise grew its revenue for 2Q21 by a remarkable 21.8% to US$1.34 billion and raised its market share to 5.3%. SMIC’s growth took place due to strong client demand for various technologies including 0.15/0.18µm PMIC, 55/40nm MCU, RF, HV, and CIS, as well as a continued increase in its ASP. Owing to better-than-expected adoption of its 14nm technology by new clients, SMIC is operating at a fully loaded capacity of 15K wspm at the moment.
While VIS leapfrogged Tower on the top 10 list, HuaHong Group, inclusive of subsidiaries HHGrace and HLMC, took sixth place
HuaHong Group subsidiaries HHGrace and HLMC have been operating Fab1/2/3/7 and Fab5/6, respectively and sharing certain manufacturing resources. Hence, TrendForce will from now on combine the two subsidiaries’ revenues into a single item, listed as HuaHong Group. In particular, capacity expansion at HH Fab7, operated by Hua Hong Wuxi, proceeded ahead of expectations, with client demand for NOR Flash, CIS, RF, and IGBT products remaining strong. Not only is HH Fab7’s production capacity of 48K wspm currently fully loaded, but HuaHong Group’s 8-inch fabs have all been operating at a capacity utilization rate of more than 100%. Thanks to a 3-5% QoQ increase in HuaHong Group’s blended ASP for 8-inch wafers, HuaHong Group’s revenue for 2Q21 reached US$658 million, a 9.7% QoQ increase, placing the foundry squarely in the number six spot.
After leapfrogging Tower in the revenue rankings in 1Q21 for the first time ever, PSMC maintained its strong growth in 2Q21 partially owing to continued wafer starts for specialty DRAM, DDI, CIS, and PMIC in its P1/2/3 fabs. At the same time, there was a massive hike in demand for automotive chips, such as IGBT, manufactured at PSMC’s Fab 8A and Fab 8B. In view of quarterly increases in PSMC’s overall ASP, the foundry posted US$459 million in revenue for 2Q21, an 18.3% QoQ increase, and took the seventh spot in the rankings. VIS benefitted from a host of factors in 2Q21, including persistent demand for DDI, PMIC, and power discretes; newly installed capacities in the Singapore-based Fab3E ready for production; adjustments in the foundry’s product mix; and an overall ASP hike. VIS’ revenue for 2Q21 reached US$363 million, which represented not only an 11.1% QoQ increase, but also the first time VIS overtook Tower in terms of revenue.
Although ninth-ranked Tower benefitted from stable demand for RF-SOI products, industrial PMIC, and automotive PMIC, the foundry’s newly installed capacities were not entirely ready for mass production, and its revenue therefore underwent a modest 4.3% QoQ increase for 2Q21 to US$362 million. On the other hand, DBHiTek had been operating at fully loaded capacities for more than 18 months. While client demand for PMIC, MEMS, and CIS products manufactured with 8-inch wafers made consistent contributions to the foundry’s earnings, most of DBHiTek’s revenue growth for 2Q21 took place due to the rise in its ASP. DBHiTek’s revenue for 2Q21 reached US245 million, a 12.0% QoQ increase.
As of 3Q21, the shortage of foundry capacities that began in 2H19 has persisted and intensified for nearly two years. Although newly installed capacities from certain foundries have become gradually available for production, the increase in production capacity has been relatively limited, and these additional capacities have been fully booked by clients, as indicated by TrendForce’s investigation into orders placed by foundry clients. All major foundries currently operate at fully loaded capacities, though their production still lags behind market demand. Furthermore, wafer inputs for automotive chips have been skyrocketing since 2Q21 due to major pushes by governments worldwide, in turn constraining the available production capacities for other chips. As a result, foundries are continuing to raise their blended ASPs and adjusting their product mixes in order to further optimize profits. TrendForce therefore believes that the combined revenues of the top 10 foundries will reach a record high in 3Q21 by undergoing a wider QoQ growth compared to 2Q21.
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TrendForce’s latest investigations indicate that China has recently announced two additional investments funded via phase two of the CICF (China Integrated Circuit Industry Investment Fund, better known as the “Big Fund”). The first of these investments was announced on June 8, 2021 and totaled CN¥1.65 billion, which has been used to establish a joint venture called Runxi Microelectronics, co-funded with CR Micro and the Xiyong Micro-Electronics Industrial Park.
Runxi will operate a semiconductor fab specializing in 12-inch wafer fabrication, with a production capacity of 30K/M (that is, 30,000 wafer starts per month). The second investment, announced on July 2, 2021, will total about CN¥2.5 billion and be put towards AMEC’s efforts to raise capital for establishing an industrial center, a headquarter located in the Shanghai Lin-Gang Special Area, and an R&D headquarter.
Now that the Big Fund Phase 2 has invested in semiconductor equipment for the first time, more equipment suppliers are expected to receive investment capital from Big Fund Phase 2 going forward
Established in October 2019, Phase 2 of the Big Fund consists of CN¥204.15 billion in capital, some of which was subsequently invested into 12 companies across the IC design, IC fabrication, package testing, and equipment sectors, as of July 5, 2021. In terms of funding allocation, IC fabrication take the lion’s share with 78.2% of the aforementioned investment, followed by IC design at 11.6%, equipment at 7.7%, and package testing at 2.6%. To date, about CN¥36.6 billion of the Big Fund Phase 2 has been invested.
Investment in AMEC marks the first time that the Big Fund Phase 2 has purchased shares in domestic suppliers of semiconductor fabrication equipment. As fabrication equipment is the key determinant of whether China can achieve its goal of semiconductor independence, suppliers that previously received Phase 1 funding (including Naura, ACM Research, Piotech, Sky Technology Development, and Shanghai Wanye Enterprises), as well as those that have yet to receive investment from the Big Fund (including SMEE and Hwatsing), are likely to receive Phase 2 funding for their expansion projects going forward.
China’s Big Fund provides the domestic semiconductor industry considerable leverage against US sanctions as AMEC receives financing unaffected by US blacklist
As a major supplier of semiconductor etching equipment in domestic China, AMEC specializes in substrate etching technologies. The company provides products which are used for 8-inch/12-inch wafer fabrication and are compatible with 65nm-5nm process technologies. In addition, AMEC has also been actively developing CVD (chemical vapor deposition) equipment, making it an indispensable part of the Chinese semiconductor supply chain.
AMEC effectively had its overseas financing sources cut off after being blacklisted by the US Department of Defense in January 2021. Now that the Big Fund Phase 2 has infused AMEC with CN¥8.207 billion of investment capital, the company is no longer threatened by its inclusion on the economic blacklist. Hence, the substantial Big Fund Phase 2 has also become an important instrument in China’s fight against US sanctions amidst a persistent trade war currently taking place between the two countries.
The inclusion of certain Chinese semiconductor companies on the US Commerce Department’s Entity List in the past few years has created repercussions throughout industries and markets, with the semiconductor industry coming under heavy scrutiny by both China and the US. After SMIC was hit with a string of sanctions last year, including the EAR and the NS-CCMC List, recent rumors of further US actions on China are now once again making the rounds on social media platforms.
In particular, there have been rumors saying that the US has prohibited TSMC and UMC from importing 28nm process technology equipment into China for their fabs there. Conversely, some industry insiders from China point out that, although the US did not impose such prohibition, the export approval process for the aforementioned equipment has been conspicuously lengthy.
In reality, the Department of Commerce has levied procurement restrictions on SMIC specifically, while foundries unspecified on the Entity List have not been explicitly barred from importing semiconductor equipment for use in their China-based fabs. Although some are noting that the approval processes for semiconductor equipment exported to fabs located in China have been unusually lengthy recently, these processes are not specifically aimed at equipment for the 28nm process technology.
Instead, they apply to all semiconductor equipment exported from the US to China. It should also be noted that the approval processes for some exported equipment are currently progressing well, and foundries have already taken the extended lead times into account, according to TrendForce’s latest investigations. Hence, the lengthy approval processes have not been observed to have any negative impact on the semiconductor industry at the moment.
The rise of such products as automotive, industrial, telecom, and networking chips in recent years has resulted in continued advancements in packaging and testing technologies, and the market revenue of these technologies has seen a corresponding rise as well. Demand for advanced packaging has been relatively strong thanks to high demand for 5G smartphones, consumer electronics, and high-performance processors.
In particular, the mainstream development of advanced packaging and testing is currently concentrated on three major fields: HPC chip packaging（2.5D/3D）, FOPLP（fan out panel level packaging）, and SiP（system in package）. Some of the other factors driving forward the technological development of advanced packaging also include improvements in end product functions, advancements in transistor gate sizes, reduction in advanced packaging L/S, and migration of chip interconnect technology from micro-bumping to hybrid bond.
According to TrendForce’s investigations, the advanced packaging market last year reached a revenue of US$31.037 billion in 2020（which was a 13% increase YoY）and accounted for 45.8% of the total packaging market. At the moment, most packaging and testing companies have successively entered the advanced packaging market, with Flip Chip applications accounting for the majority of applications across smartphone AP, WiFi chips, entry-level processors, and high-end PMICs. Flip Chip applications make up more than 80% of the total advanced packaging revenue.
In spite of continued growth, advanced packaging will unlikely overtake traditional packaging in terms of market share within 5-10 years
In spite of the multitude of companies that are eager to enter the advanced packaging industry, not all of them possess the technological competence to progress in R&D, thus making acquisition the fastest path to advanced packaging success. With regards to technological competence, foundries and IDMs are the likeliest candidates to enter the industry, as they already possess ample experience in chip development.
At the moment, TSMC, Intel, and Samsung are the most well-equipped to do so, respectively. With regards to outsourced operations, Taiwanese companies such as ASE, SPIL, and PTI lead the industry in terms of packaging technologies, while U.S.-based Amkor is able to compete for neck-and-neck with ASE. Although these aforementioned companies are not specialists in chip fabrication, they have an extremely strong grasp of the downstream assembly ecosystem, hence their superiority in advanced packaging.
On the other hand, thanks to China’s Big Fund, the trinity of Chinese packaging and testing operators（JCET, TFME, and Hua Tian）were able to acquire major global players, including STATS ChipPac, AMD-SUZ, and Malaysia-based Unisem, respectively, during the 2014-2019 period.
Hence, not only have the Chinese trio been able to raise their market shares and rankings in the global packaging and testing market, but they have also been able to acquire certain competencies in advanced packaging technologies.
The current market would seem to suggest that advanced packaging has been gradually cannibalizing the market share of traditional packaging. However, as applications including home appliances and automotive electronics still require traditional packaging, TrendForce believes that only after 5-10 years will advanced packaging overtake traditional packaging in terms of market share.
As UMC and GlobalFoundries successively end their respective developments of advanced processes, the advanced process market has now become an oligopoly, with TSMC and Samsung as the only remaining suppliers （excluding SMIC, which is currently affected by geopolitical tensions between China and the US）. According to TrendForce’s latest investigations, TSMC holds a 70% market share in advanced processes below – and including – the 1Xnm node, while Samsung’s market share is about 30%.
As electronic products demand faster data transmission speeds and better performance in response to IoT and 5G applications, the chips contained in these products also need to shrink in size and consume less power. Hence, process technologies need to evolve in order to enable the production of increasingly advanced chips. In this light, suppliers of such chips as smartphone AP, CPU, and GPU primarily rely on Taiwan for its semiconductor industry’s advanced process technologies.
Why is Taiwan able to hold key manufacturing competencies, market shares, and unsurpassed technologies in the global foundry industry?
After TSMC pioneered its pure-play foundry services more than 30 years ago, UMC also subsequently transitioned to a foundry business model. However, the build-out and maintenance of wafer fabs require enormous human resources, capital expenditures, and environmental support, all of which have been skyrocketing since the industry progressed below the 40nm node into the EUV era. Factors including governmental support, human resource development, utility services, and long-term amortization and depreciation are all indispensable for foundries to keep up their fab operations. TrendForce’s findings indicate that Taiwan possesses about 50% of the global foundry capacity, and this figure will likely continue growing due to the persistent demand for advanced processes.
Taiwanese foundries led by TSMC and UMC operate based on a pure-play foundry model, which means they do not compete with their clients outside of foundry operations. Foundries are able to maximize the profitability of the semiconductor ecosystem in Taiwan thanks to Taiwan’s comprehensive PC, ICT, and consumer electronics industries.
In addition, not only are they able to deliver PPA（performance, power, and area） advantages to their clients through technology scaling and node shrinking, they are also unsurpassed in their comprehensive silicon IP cores and longstanding product development services. Other competing foundries are unlikely to make breakthroughs in these fields and catch up to Taiwanese foundries in the short run.
On the whole, the Taiwanese foundry industry is able to maintain its leadership thanks to competencies in human capital, client strategies, process technologies, capital intensify, economies of scale, and superior production capacities.
Furthermore, not only do advancements in semiconductor fabrication technology require developmental efforts from foundries, but they also need support throughout the entire supply chain, including upstream wafer suppliers and downstream client feedbacks, both of which can serve to eliminate yield detractors and raise yield rates. Therefore, the Taiwanese semiconductor industry derives its advantage from foundries（TSMC, UMC, PSMC, and VIS）, as well as from the cross-industrial support across silicon wafer suppliers（SAS and GlobalWafers）, fabless IC design clients, and packaging and testing operators（ASE, etc.）