The U.S. Department of Commerce announced new semiconductor restrictions on October 7 in the United States. In addition to existing restrictions on the logic IC sector, this new update extends to the memory category. In addition to Chinese-funded enterprises, the extent of these restrictions stipulate foreign-owned production centers located in China will also need to apply for approval on a case-by-case basis in order to continue to obtain manufacturing-related equipment. In addition, the new restrictions increase the difficulty for China to obtain any chips that may be used for military purposes through imports.
According to TrendForce research, the scope of this update is primarily limited to 16nm, 14nm, or more advanced proceses for logic ICs (such as FinFET or GAAFET), 18nm or more advanced processes for DRAM, and 128-layer or higher products for NAND Flash chips.
Analysis of impact on foundry industry
In terms of foundry equipment supply, after SMIC was included on the Entity List in 2020, according to TrendForce investigations, the US Department of Commerce targeted US equipment manufacturers who wished to export equipment used for processes below 16nm (inclusive) to Chinese fabs not included on the Entity List including HuaHong Group, etc., and even foreign-owned production centers located in China, instituting a review before export can be implemented. Therefore, most Chinese fabs are currently focusing their production expansions on processes 28nm and above. As for non-Chinese wafer foundries, only TSMC Nanjing is focused on 28nm expansion and has no plan for advanced processes.
TrendForce indicates, although Chinese fabs are actively partnering with domestic Chinese, European, and Japanese equipment manufacturers in an attempt to develop non-US centric production lines and have turned to the development of 28nm and above processes, the ban is completely stifling the possibility for China to develop and expand advanced processes 16nm and below and the expansion of processes 28nm and above is also subject to a protracted review process.
In addition, the US ban will expand the scope of its restrictions following the inclusion of high-end GPUs such as NVIDIA’s A100/H100 and AMD’s MI250 in the HPC sector into the range of sanctions at the end of August. In the future, it will target US manufacturers, including HPC sector CPUs, GPUs, and AI accelerators used in datacenter, AI, and supercomputer applications, requiring review before such items can be exported to China. In addition, foundries may no longer be able to manufacture any of the above-mentioned HPC-related chips for any Chinese IC design houses. TrendForce believes, regardless of whether the client is a Chinese or American IC design house, most HPC-related chips are currently manufactured by TSMC with mainstream processes at the 7nm, 5nm, or certain 12nm nodes. In the future, whether the situation is American factories no longer being able to export to the Chinese market or Chinese factories being unable to initiate projects and mass produce wafer starts, it will all have a negative impact on the future purchase order status of TSMC’s 7nm and 5nm processes.
Analysis of impact on memory industry
TrendForce indicates, according to the new specifications announced by the U.S. Department of Commerce, the DRAM portion of sanctions will be limited to the 18nm process (inclusive) and equipment must be reviewed by the Department before import. This move will greatly restrict or delay the sustainable development of China’s DRAM sector. CXMT possesses the largest memory market share for a Chinese company in the domestic Chinese market. Since 2Q22, the company has been committed to moving from the 19nm process into the 17nm process. Although the purchase of machinery to fulfill future needs had been accelerated before the ban, volume is still insufficient. CXMT continues to build new plants, including Phase 2 in Hefei and SMBC (SMIC Jingcheng), which is in discussion with SMIC. All of these projects will face difficulties in obtaining equipment in the future.
In addition to CXMT, the C2 plant of SK hynix’s DRAM production center in Wuxi is also affected by the restriction order. The factory accounts for approximately 13% of the world’s total DRAM production capacity and its process has evolved to 1Ynm and more advanced nodes, which means that subsequent continuous addition of equipment required for production requires approval on a case-by-case basis.
TrendForce has also observed, considering geopolitics, although current market demand is sluggish and supply and demand are seriously imbalanced, the three major manufacturers in the DRAM market still plan to increase production capacity in their home countries in the next 10 years and continue to reduce the proportion of production in China.
In terms of NAND Flash, TrendForce indicates that the import of NAND production equipment into China will be further restricted in the future, especially for equipment used in the manufacture of product of 128 layers and above (inclusive), requiring prior approval before import. It is estimated that this ban will significantly impact the long-term plans of China’s YMTC to upgrade its factory campuses as well as Samsung’s Xi’an plant and Solidigm’s process migration plan in Dalian.
TrendForce indicates that this ban will restrict YMTC from further expanding its customer base. At this stage, YMTC has been aggressively sending SSD products out for verification, hoping to successfully infiltrate the supply chain of non-Chinese customers in 2023. In the future, as the impact of the ban materializes, the US government will impose stricter restrictions on the development of China’s memory industry which will greatly limit non-Chinese customers’ adoption and consideration of YMTC.
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According to TrendForce, as the United States continues to expand the content of various lists, successively pass anti-China bills, and explicitly prohibit the export of certain products to China, the two countries have gradually drifted apart and this antagonistic relationship will continue if no drastic changes occur between the two parties in the next 6-8 years.
In the face of U.S. encroachment, all sectors in China must continue to look for escape routes if the country wishes to tear down the many walls built by the U.S. and move towards industrial autonomy. China’s top priority is to make breakthroughs in the semiconductor field. As far as current development is concerned, there are still many companies in China’s domestic IC design industry moving towards advanced manufacturing processes even after leading manufacturers such as Huawei, Changsha Jingjia Microelectronics, and Goke Microelectronics were placed on the entity list. At the same time, semiconductor manufacturers such as SMIC, CXMT, and Yangtze Memory Technologies have repeatedly developed advanced process technologies while Hua Hong Group has gradually expanded in the field of mature processes. If this trend continues, it will not be difficult for China to realize semiconductor autonomy in processes above 10nm.
If U.S. effectively enforces EDA ban and does not expand controls, impact on China will emerge in 2025
The U.S. Department of Commerce’s export restrictions on Chinese manufacturers are escalating but the autonomy of China’s domestic semiconductor industry is also gradually increasing. As the confrontation between the United States and China intensifies, the United States has launched a new wave of export control measures. On August 12, 2022, the U.S. Department of Commerce announced that it will restrict the export to China of EDA software required to design integrated circuits with GAAFET structure. Since GAAFET is a structure that is used in processes below 3nm, this move is equivalent to setting an advanced threshold for China’s semiconductor development.
Domestic Chinese IC designers who are committed to the development of SoCs, cloud computing chips, and GPUs are destined to move to more advanced manufacturing processes in order to meet the iterative needs of product upgrades and are expected to move toward the 4nm manufacturing process in the next 2 to 4 years. If the U.S. effectively implements the EDA software ban and does not expand the scope of EDA software restrictions, the impact of the ban on China’s semiconductor industry is expected to gradually emerge in 2025, not only delaying the development schedule of some domestic Chinese IC designers but even causing developmental stagnation.
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In recent years, China’s IC sales have been increasing year over year. Although sales have been suppressed by the United States and the impact of the pandemic, China’s IC sales still increased by 17% in 2020. Benefiting from the development of terminal applications such as 5G, online office, and smart cars, China’s IC sales grew by 18.2% in 2021 and it is expected to rise by 11.21% in 2022.
Currently, China’s 12-inch foundries are primarily owned by SMIC and Hua Hong Semiconductor. SMIC’s 12-inch fabs are located in Beijing and Shanghai while Hua Hong’s 12-inch fab is located in Wuxi. SMIC’s annual sales revenue in 2021 was US$5.44 billion, growing 39% YoY, and it posted net profit of US$1.775 billion, growing 147.76% YoY. From the perspective of revenue structure, 12-inch products contributed approximately 60% of SMIC’s revenue in the past year.
From the perspective of production capacity, SMIC’s capacity utilization rate has hovered around 100% in the past year. In 1Q22, SMIC’s capacity utilization rate was 100.4%, with a monthly production capacity of 613,400 units of 8-inch equivalent. . In 2021, new production capacity was 100,000 units/month (converted to 8 inches), of which 45,000 units/month was added as 8-inch wafers. At present, SMIC is still accelerating production expansion. Its project in Lingang, Shanghai has broken ground and its two projects in Beijing and Shenzhen are progressing steadily. Production is expected at these fabs by the end of 2022, mainly as 12-inch capacity.
Hua Hong Semiconductor posted operating income of US$1.631 billion in 2021, a YoY increase of 69.64%. From the perspective of revenue structure, Hua Hong Group primarily focused on 8-inch production capacity before 2020. As production commenced at Hua Hong Wuxi’s 12-inch project, Hua Hong completed the leap from 8 inches to 12 inch wafers. In the past year, Hua Hong’s average monthly production capacity of 8-inch wafers was 194,000 units and revenue was US$1.15 billion, accounting for 70.55% of total revenue. The average monthly production capacity of 12-inch wafers was 56,000 wafers and revenue was US$480 million, accounting for 29.45% of revenue, and the proportion of 12-inch revenue is increasing. In 1Q22, Hua Hong Semiconductor’s 12-inch revenue accounted for 44.1% of total revenue, an increase of 5 percentage points from the previous quarter. With the completion of the second phase of the Wuxi project, 12-inch revenue is expected to, once again, achieve substantial growth.
It is worth noting that since the Sino-US trade war, China’s substitution of domestic products has become mainstream, especially in the foundry and packaging and testing portions of the manufacturing process. In addition, the tense relationship between supply and demand and hobbled logistics caused by the pandemic has also catalyzed an increase in the proportion of fab revenue coming from China. From the perspective of wafer foundries, Hua Hong Semiconductor’s China revenue will account for 76% of total revenue in 1Q22. In terms of SMIC, although 4Q20 was categorized by an inability to manufacture Huawei orders and the proportion of revenue from China and Hong Kong fell from 69.7% in 3Q20 to 56.1% in 4Q20, as tension rose between supply and demand, lost Huawei orders have been taken up by other Chinese IC designers. In 1Q22, SMIC’s revenue from China and Hong Kong accounted for 68.4% of total revenue, a return to its peak level in 3Q20.
Behind record high sales of semiconductors is an unrelenting spike in demand. In order to alleviate the imbalance between supply and demand, the world’s major fabs are accelerating new production capacity and China’s fabs represented by SMIC and Hua Hong are also stepping up production expansion. From the perspective of the expansion structure, the current focus of fabs is still on the expansion of 12-inch wafers. The primary reason for this is that 12-inch wafers are characterized by higher production efficiency and lower unit consumables, with a comprehensive equipment supply chain. In the past two years, China has built a total of 11 projects involving 12-inch wafers. However, due to factors such as the pandemic, tide of production expansion, and lack of chips for equipment, the lead time of semiconductor equipment has been continuously drawn out, resulting in a slowdown in fab expansion. In addition, 8-inch capacity expansion is relatively slow due to equipment constraints. From the perspective of China’s foundry market, among new wafer production capacity (8 inch equivalent) from 2020 to 2021, 12 inch capacity accounted for 58.17%, 8 inch capacity accounted for 22%, and 6 inch capacity accounted for 19.83%.
Undaunted by deadlocked US-Sino relations, the great pandemic of 2020, and the US Department of Commerce’s ban on Huawei’s use of software and equipment produced by US manufacturers in the same year, China’s packaging and testing industry has, instead, used these factors as stimulus get back on track. Faced with these three major challenges, the Chinese government has responded with policies such as domestically producing both equipment and semiconductors, allowing China’s packaging and testing industry to buck the trends set in 2020. According to TrendForce statistics, industry revenue in 2020 reached US$7.02 billion and approximately US$9.53 billion in 2021.
A brief summary of China’s packaging and testing industry in recent years is as follows: the US-Sino trade war has been raging since 2018 and, due to tariff issues and the gradual rise in personnel salaries, terminal manufacturers whom had already established plants or subsidiaries in China were forced to gradually relocate relevant factories to SE Asia and India in order to avoid growing overhead costs, moreover impacting the revenue performance of China’s packaging and testing industry. As of June 2019, the tariff issue remained unresolved due to dubious US.-Sino relations but this issue could no longer impede the revenue recovery momentum of China’s packaging and testing industry.
Packaging and testing and localized equipment skirts bans and a moderate threshold for technology research and development attracts overseas manufacturers
After the U.S. Department of Commerce imposed export control bans on Huawei, HiSilicon, and SMIC, the market mostly predicted that China’s packaging and testing industry would be hit next but this did not happen. According to TrendForce, the primary reason for this is that the nature of current back-end packaging and testing technology is relatively crude compared to front-end wafer manufacturing and, considering Chinese government’s recent policy of localizing equipment and the degree of substitutability of non-US equipment manufacturers, even if the U.S. Department of Commerce proposes further bans against the industry, its effects will be limited.
In response to the US-Sino trade conflict, the Chinese government has proposed relevant measures such as semiconductor autonomy which has driven a gradual mainstreaming of domestic equipment production plans. In addition, national funds have been continuously injected into semiconductor equipment manufacturers, even though the level of technological development at this stage remains inferior to major manufacturers in Europe, the United States, and Japan. However, for those with modest requirements for back-end process conditions, testing, and testing equipment, China’s domestic packaging and testing equipment does have a certain proportion and scale.
For example, relevant companies such as Hangzhou Changchuan and Shanghai Raintree have invested in the automatic optical inspection instruments (AOI) and testing equipment that are required in the latter stage of packaging and testing. On the other hand, due to the relatively low threshold for research and development of back-end packaging and testing equipment, many international companies such as Japan’s Advantest and Singapore’s Besi have also set up shops in China. Chinese packaging and testing and their equipment manufacturers are essentially unaffected by relevant export bans, so the industry can still anticipate technological and revenue performance in the next few years.
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Although the demand for end products related to the stay-at-home economy slowed down as many countries saw rising vaccination rates and were partially lifting social distancing restrictions, the decline in foundry orders from this source was more than offset by the traditional peak season for smartphones, according to TrendForce’s latest investigations. At the same time, OEMs for notebook (laptop) computers, networking devices, automotive electronics, and IoT devices kept vigorously building up their inventories because the earlier capacity crunch in the foundry market was constraining them from reaching their shipment targets. Because of these developments, demand continued to outstrip supply in the foundry market during 3Q21. As for foundries, they have been gradually taking on new production capacity in the recent period and gaining from the ongoing rise in the ASP. Thanks to robust demand, new production capacity, and rising wafer prices, the quarterly total foundry revenue rose by 11.8% QoQ to reach a new record high of US$27.28 billion for 3Q21. This result indicated nine consecutive quarters of revenue growth.
Top four foundries posted double-digit revenue growth for 3Q21 due to peak season for smartphones; SMIC’s revenue growth was slightly limited by restrictions imposed on its capacity expansions
TSMC raised its quarterly revenue by 11.9% QoQ to US$14.88 billion as it benefited from the release of new iPhone models. The foundry remained firmly at the top of the ranking in 3Q21. Regarding TSMC’s revenue generation by node, the combined revenue share of the 7nm and 5nm nodes has already surpassed 50% and is still expanding thanks to continued demand for smartphone chips and HPC chips. Samsung raised its revenue by 11% QoQ to US$4.81 billion for 3Q21 and sat firmly in second place. The revenue growth was attributed to several factors. First, the releases of new smartphone models during the second half of the year has spurred the demand for SoCs and DDIs. Second, fab Line S2 in Austin has returned to its normal level of revenue contribution following the recovery from the winter storm that struck Texas in the earlier part of this year. Third, fab Line S5 in Pyeongtaek has activated its newly added production capacity. And finally, the revenue result for 2Q21 was a low base for comparison and thus led to a rather impressive performance for 3Q21.
UMC made significant gains in 3Q21 because the activation of new production capacity for its 28/22nm nodes led to an increase in wafer input for OLED driver ICs and other components. This also caused a rise in its blended ASP. UMC’s revenue went up by 12.2% QoQ to US$2.04 billion for 3Q21. With a growth rate that surpassed the top two ranking leaders, UMC retained third place by overtaking GlobalFoundries in the ranking for the first time in 1Q20, and its lead has been gradually widening since then. GlobalFoundries posted a QoQ increase of 12% in revenue to US$1.71 billion for 3Q21 and kept fourth place in the ranking. To address the worldwide chip shortage, GlobalFoundries has announced a series of capacity expansions and greenfield projects this year. Existing plants including Fab1 in Dresden and Fab8 in Malta (which is a town in the state of New York) will take on new production capacity. New plants will also be built in Singapore and Malta. It is worth noting that the capacity expansions and greenfield projects that GlobalFoundries has revealed so far for this year will be financed via a public-private partnership model. GlobalFoundries will be leveraging funding from governments and advance payments from its clients to reduce the pressure of rising capital expenditure and ensure that the new production capacity will operate at a high utilization rate in the future.
SMIC increased its revenue by 5.3% QoQ to US$1.42 billion for 3Q21 and was ranked fifth. Two reasons were behind the revenue growth. First, there is a stable level of demand for its PMICs, Wi-Fi chips, MCUs, and RFICs. Second, SMIC has been steadily raising wafer prices. It is also worth pointing out that SMIC has been adjusting its product mix and client base due to geopolitical factors. Growing consistently over the quarters, the share of Chinese clients in SMIC’s client base came to almost 70% in 3Q21. Under the impetus of the semiconductor policies of the Chinese government, SMIC will continue to give priority to the demand from domestic clients. Hence, the portion of foreign clients in its incoming orders will gradually shrink relative to that of domestic clients.
Second- and third-tier foundries posted higher revenue growth rates compared with first-tier counterparts because of strong demand for mature nodes
HuaHong Group posted a QoQ increase of 21.4% in revenue to US$799 million for 3Q21, thereby taking sixth place in the ranking. HuaHong continues to raise its ASP as it production capacity is expected to be fully loaded through the whole 2021. This development, together with the successful capacity expansion undertaken at its Fab7 in Wuxi, contributed to the above-expected revenue result for the foundry. PSMC’s revenue growth continued to pick up pace in 3Q21 thanks to the general rise in wafer prices and the robust demand for the main categories of chip products (e.g., DDIs, PMICs, CIS, and power discretes such as MOSFETs and IGBTs). PSMC raised its quarterly revenue by 14.4% QoQ to US$525 million and was ranked seventh.
After surpassing Tower Semiconductor in the ranking for the first time in 2Q21, VIS maintained its strong growth momentum by posting a QoQ increase of 17.5% in revenue to US$426 million in 3Q21 on account of several factors. First, VIS increased its products shipments through capacity expansion. Furthermore, VIS was able to optimize its product mix and raise its ASP. It secured eighth place in the ranking. Occupying ninth place in the ranking, Tower Semiconductor’s performance exceeded expectations for 3Q21 with its revenue climbing 6.9% QoQ to US$387 million. Tower’s revenue generation mainly benefited from the stable demand related to RF-SOI chips, industrial sensor chips, and PMICs.
Taking the tenth place in the ranking, DB HiTek registered a 15.6% QoQ increase in revenue to a record high of US$283 million for 3Q21 because of the rising ASP. In the past year, DB HiTek kept its capacity utilization rate at almost 100%. To raise its overall output, the foundry has decided to focus its expansion efforts on its existing wafer production lines. As a result, its production capacity has been increasing slightly since 2Q21. The additional production capacity will effectively contribute to its revenue generation in 4Q21.
Moving into 4Q21, although foundries have undertaken various capacity expansions and greenfield projects, their new production capacity that has been activated this year is already completely booked. The new fabs that foundries have announced will need some time to get built and fully set up, so the chip shortage on the whole will unlikely ease off anytime soon. On the demand side, sales have weakened a bit for TVs and other end products associated with the stay-at-home economy. However, the hardware and infrastructure demand related to 5G, Wi-Fi 6, and IoT continues to gain momentum. Moreover, OEMs for consumer electronics are still stocking up on components in preparation for the year-end holiday sales. Based on the latest examination of incoming foundry orders, TrendForce finds that foundries will continue to operate at fully-loaded capacity. Due to the undersupply situation, the overall ASP of the foundry market has also been climbing. Meanwhile, foundries have been optimizing their product mixes to boost their financial performances. Taking account of this and other aforementioned developments, TrendForce believes that revenue growth will continue for the top 10 foundries in 4Q21. However, 4Q21 will also see more moderate growth compared with the previous quarter because there is a shortage of peripheral ICs made using mature process nodes. Additionally, demand has slacked a bit for some SoC products.
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