Market conditions in 2022 are chaotic and demand for chips fluctuate according to application. However, the IC design industry is driven by major manufacturers and the sales performance of high-end product portfolios such as data center, server, networking, industrial computing, automotive, and high performance computing will remain stable The overall market will grow to $182.9 billion, an annual increase of 14.4%.
At present, the overall industry is being negatively affected by weak demand for consumer electronics. In addition, the tightening of financing and the expectation of a wider economic recession further strengthen pessimistic attitudes. There is no opportunity for chip demand to reinvigorate in the short term, not to mention that the supply chain is already dealing with full inventories. A return of the traditional industry peak season in 2H23 will stabilize purchasing power while flat to single-digit growth in the IC design industry would be a relatively good scenario.
R&D expenses positively correlated with manufacturer revenue, AMD posts best performance in 1H22
In 1H22, R&D expenses at major IC design houses were positively related to revenue in general. The use of advanced manufacturing processes requires strong R&D capabilities, accounting for 15-35% of revenue. AMD is the most active among U.S. companies. After acquiring Xilinx and Pensando, AMD has aggressively invested in the research and development of data center-related product portfolios. In 2Q22, R&D expenditures increased by 97.2% YoY. In terms of Asian manufacturers, the impact of the poor consumer electronics market is severe and revenue growth momentum has all but disappeared. Therefore, the synchronization of R&D expenditure with revenue is also more conservative. Novatek, Willsemi, and LX Semicon product portfolios are dominated by mature processes such as DDIC and CIS with R&D/ revenue ratios below 15%.
IC design industry inventory on red alert, inventory adjustment to become a challenge by 2Q23
The IC design industry has accumulated inventory since 3Q21 and the annual growth rate of inventory has climbed to more than 50% in 1H22. Compared with the annual growth rate of revenue, the difference among American manufacturers is 20% and the difference among Asian manufacturers is 46%, indicating that inventory issues among Asian manufacturers is more serious.
The inventory levels of consumer electronics-related industries such as Smartphone, TV, Tablet, PC/notebook, and Panel, are at a 6 month level. The supply chains of IC design houses and distributors/agents are also holding substantial inventory. The inventory-to-revenue ratio of IC design houses has reached a red alert threshold of over 50%. With no improvement in demand, expectations that inventory destocking will be completed by the end of 2022 may be dashed. At present, IC design houses are desperately reducing booked foundry production capacity for high-inventory mid-level AP, DDIC, and Consumer PMIC/GPU products. If the consumer electronics market outlook remains poor in 4Q22, IC design houses could also claim a greater amount of inventory depreciation as losses. In general by 2Q23, IC design houses will continue to test their strategies for new product development, production planning, and product sales during the process of destocking the overall supply chain.
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.
In view of the ongoing production capacity shortage in the semiconductor industry and the resultant price hike of chips, revenue of the top 10 IC design companies for 2Q21 reached US$29.8 billion, a 60.8% YoY increase, according to TrendForce‘s latest investigations. In particular, Taiwanese companies put up remarkable performances during this period, with both MediaTek and Novatek posting YoY growths of more than 95%. AMD, on the other hand, experienced a nearly 100% YoY revenue growth, the highest among the top 10.
TrendForce indicates that the ranking of the top five companies for 2Q21 remained unchanged from the previous quarter, although there were major changes in the 6th to 10th spots. More specifically, after finalizing its acquisition of Inphi, Marvell experienced a major revenue growth and leapfrogged Xilinx and Realtek in the rankings from 9th place in 1Q21 to 7th place in 2Q21.
Thanks to strong demand for major smartphone brands’ flagship and high-end 5G handsets, revenue leader Qualcomm’s processor and RF front-end businesses underwent remarkable growths, while its IoT business also benefitted from WFH and distance learning demands generated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Qualcomm’s revenue from its IoT business reached nearly US$1.4 billion, making IoT one of the major growth drivers for the company. For 2Q21, Qualcomm’s revenue reached US$6.47 billion, a 70.0% YoY increase. On the other hand, Nvidia’s revenues from gaming graphics cards and data center solutions each grew by 91.1% YoY and 46% YoY, respectively, in 2Q21. Strong demand from cryptocurrency miners for Nvidia’s high-end gaming graphics cards, along with the data center segment’s demand for Nvidia’s HPC products, propelled the company’s revenue for 2Q21 to US$5.84 billion, a 68.8% YoY growth, and secured the second place for Nvidia on the top 10 list.
Broadcom, which took third place on the top 10, attributed most of its revenue to wired connectivity and wireless products. Regarding wired connectivity products, the continued build-out of 5G base stations worldwide resulted in increasing demand for Broadcom’s high-speed Ethernet controller ICs, whereas for wireless products, the release of certain high-end 5G smartphones also created high demand for Broadcom’s Wi-Fi 6E chips. Similarly, Broadcom’s broadband and industrial solutions businesses both underwent double-digit growths in 2Q21, thereby driving the company’s revenue for 2Q21 to US$4.95 billion, a 19.2% YoY growth. Turning to AMD, the company’s revenue for 2Q21 reached US$3.85 billion, a staggering 99.3% YoY increase, owing to the following: first, the bullish gaming console market; second, massive earnings growths from enterprise, embedded, and semi-custom solutions; third, increased client adoption of AMD’s server CPUs (it should be noted that AMD’s server processor business grew by 183% YoY in 2Q21). AMD took fifth place in the top 10 list for 2Q21.
Regarding Taiwanese companies, MediaTek was able to sustain the momentum it gained in 1Q21 throughout 2Q21. MediaTek’s smartphone chip business, which generated the bulk of the company’s revenue, registered a 143% growth in 2Q21. At the same time, its revenues from other businesses also saw an overall double-digit growth. Hence, MediaTek posted a revenue of US$4.49 billion for 2Q21, a 98.8% YoY growth, and reached fourth place on the list. Finally, Novatek’s SoCs and display driver ICs both performed well in the market primarily due to its close partnerships with major foundries, including TSMC, UMC, and VIS. Revenue from display driver ICs, which had traditionally been Novatek’s primary revenue source, grew by 81% YoY in 2Q21.
Certain rumors in the end-devices markets indicate that demand will likely undergo a slowdown in 3Q21 and lead to decreased orders for certain components. However, given that foundries’ newly installed wafer capacities have yet to kick off mass production, the ongoing chip shortage is expected to persist for now. In addition, as some IC design companies’ client orders still remain unfulfilled, these companies’ revenues will likely experience further growths in 2H21, albeit to a relatively limited extent. It should also be pointed out that Marvell is expected to benefit from Inphi’s earnings for the next two quarters and increase its own revenue by more than 50% YoY in 2H21. Even so, Novatek’s sixth-place ranking is unlikely to be threatened by Marvell in the short run since Novatek will continue to benefit from the ongoing chip shortage and price hikes for the time being.
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As infections among employees from semiconductor backend testing leader KYEC make news headlines, the company suspended operations for two days and undertook facility-wide disinfections starting on June 4, although at the moment KYEC’s facility has yet to resume operations at full capacity. In the vicinity of KYEC are packaging and testing operator Greatek and networking device manufacturer Accton, both of which have since been affected by the spread of the disease.
Not only have the confirmed cases in KYEC generated worries about possible disruptions to the semiconductor supply chain, but the semiconductor industry is also anxious about whether continued infections will spread to other semiconductor companies.
As a leading chip tester (as well as the 8th largest IC package and testing companies globally), if KYEC were to halt its operations altogether due to the continued spread of COVID-19 infections, the semiconductor supply chain would be considerably impaired as a result. Not only would upstream clients (including fabless companies, IDMs, and foundries) have their schedules disrupted, but lead times of downstream end-products will be prolonged as well, causing far-reaching impacts throughout the entire semiconductor industry.
According to KYEC’s publicly disclosed information, the distribution of its clientele is as follows: fabless companies (76%), IDMs (22%), and foundries (2%). In particular, of the 50 largest semiconductor companies globally, more than 30 currently make use of KYEC’s testing services.
According to TrendForce’s latest investigations, the packaging and testing industry has been impacted in the short run by KYEC’s two-day suspension and low-capacity operation resumptions successively. As such, MediaTek, Novatek, and STMicroelectronics, which are major clients of KYEC, are all notably experiencing impacts from the spread of the pandemic within KYEC’s ranks.
Although the above companies have already transferred some of their orders to ASE, Sigurd, and ChipMOS to make up for disruptions in KYEC’s operations, these orders are too numerous to be fulfilled completely at the present. Therefore, the tight capacity of chip testing services is expected to intensify going forward.
As various TV manufacturers such as Samsung, LG, and TCL announced their new models equipped with Mini LED backlights at CES 2021, TrendForce’s 2021 Mini LED New Backlight Display Trend Analysis report shows that total Mini LED chip revenue from Mini LED backlight TVs to potentially reach US$270 million in 2021, as manufacturers gradually overcome technological bottlenecks and lower their overall manufacturing costs, according to TrendForce’s latest investigations.
Mini LED backlight TVs possess a highly cost-effective competitive advantage, as Mini LED backlight costs for the entry-level segment are only 50% higher than traditional LCD equivalents
TrendForce further indicates that, with regards to TV backlight technologies, the cost of Mini LED solutions is about two to three times lower than that of white OLED and entry-level, direct-lit LCD solutions. This cost difference therefore serves as Mini LED technology’s competitive advantage over its competitors in display backlight adoption. At the moment, high-end TVs contain about 16,000 Mini LED chips per TV, divided into 2,000 local dimming zones.
In this market segment, PM (passive matrix) Mini LED TV panels with BLU (backlight unit) still cost about 15% less than OLED TV panels and therefore hold a cost advantage. On the other hand, in the mid-range TV segment, each TV contains about 10,000-12,000 Mini LED chips and 500 local dimming zones, meaning the cost of Mini LED backlight integration in this market segment is about a mere 50% more than entry-level, direct-lit LCD backlight units, making Mini LED a viable alternative to traditional LCD solutions in this segment too. Given the high cost-effectiveness of Mini LED backlight units, TV manufacturers are therefore likely to adopt them as a viable technology and initiate an industry-wide competition over Mini LED TV specs this year.
HDR and 8K resolution will be the two mainstream features of high-end TVs this year. With regards to Korean brands, Samsung’s Neo QLED Mini LED TV and LG’s QNED Mini LED TV, both unveiled at CES this year, are equipped with Mini LED backlights as a performance-enhancing technical feature. These TVs feature not only 8K resolution, but also Mini LED backlight units, which require more than 20,000 Mini LED chips (divided across more than 1,000 local dimming zones, with more than 1,000 nits in peak brightness), in addition to passive matrix FALD technology, which allows for contrast ratios of 1,000,000:1, a significant improvement that puts these TVs on almost equal footing with OLED TVs in terms of image quality. At the same time, China-based TCL is also set to release its OD Zero Mini LED TV, which has comparable specs with Korean offerings and is also equipped with Mini LED backlight units. Going forward, more and more TV manufacturers, such as Hisense and Xiaomi, are expected to participate in the burgeoning Mini LED backlight TV market.
The pace of optimizing Mini LED chips, backplanes, and driver ICs will be key to the Mini LED industry’s rapid expansion
As various manufacturers successively release their Mini LED backlight TVs this year, related companies in the supply chain are expected to benefit as a result. Currently, there are multiple major suppliers of Mini LED components on the market: Chip suppliers include Taiwanese (Epistar and Lextar), Chinese (San’an and HC SemiTek), and Korean (Seoul Semiconductor) companies. Testing and sorting companies include FitTech, Saultech, and YTEC. SMT companies include Taiwan-based Lextar and China-based Hongli Zhihui. Driver IC suppliers include Taiwanese (Macroblock, Elan, Parade, Himax, and Novatek) and Chinese (Chipone) companies. Backplane suppliers include Tawanese (Apex and Zhen Ding Tech) and Korean (Young Poong Group) companies. Panel suppliers include SDC, LGD, AUO, Innolux, BOE, and CSOT.
TrendForce believes that Mini LED backlight displays currently possess a competitive advantage over OLED displays due to the former’s 15% comparatively lower cost. Ultimately, the future development and profitability of the Mini LED backlight market in the long run will depend on the continued optimization of components that account for a relatively higher allocation of backlight costs, including Mini LED chips, Mini LED backplanes, and driver ICs.
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