[News] SMIC’s Net Profit Halved Last Year, Faces Further Reductions This Year

China’s leading semiconductor foundry, SMIC International, announced its fourth-quarter financial results on February 6th. While the quarter’s revenue exceeded expectations, a significant drop in gross margin led to a sharp decrease in net profit by less than 50% to below USD 1 billion last year.

SMIC issued a warning, further revising down the gross margin for the first quarter of this year to around 10%, with single-digit figures at the lower end.

During the fourth quarter, SMIC International saw a revenue increase of over 3.5% to more than USD 1.678 billion, marking the only quarter of revenue growth last year. Net profit plummeted by 54.7% to nearly USD 175 million.

The gross margin of 16.4% was almost halved compared to the same period in 2022 and experienced a significant decline from the previous three quarters, reaching its lowest point of the year.

In the full year of 2023, SMIC International experienced a revenue decline of over 13% to USD 6.3 billion, with a net profit decrease of 50.4% to USD 900 million. The gross margin was approximately halved to 19.3%.

Regarding the decline in net profit, SMIC cited various factors including the industry downturn, weak market demand, high industry inventory, and fierce competition among peers, all contributing to reduced capacity utilization and decreased wafer shipment for the group.

Additionally, the group experienced a period of high investment during the financial reporting period, leading to increased depreciation compared to the previous year.

Looking ahead to the first quarter of this year, SMIC estimates a quarter-on-quarter revenue growth of up to 2%. For the first-quarter gross margin guidance, SMIC has provided a range of 9% to 11%, indicating a decrease of approximately 33% to 45% from the low point of 16.4% in the fourth quarter of last year.

SMIC also anticipates that, under the assumption of no significant changes, this year’s revenue growth will not be lower than the average of comparable peers, showing a mid-single-digit increase compared to last year. The capital expenditure scale is expected to remain roughly flat compared to last year.

The significant downward revision in gross margin guidance has drawn attention to SMIC’s strategic moves. According to a report by the Financial Times, SMIC is intensifying its collaboration with Huawei by establishing a new production line in Shanghai dedicated to producing chips for Huawei’s future flagship smartphones, focusing on the 5-nanometer process.

However, industry sources cited by the report have also indicated that SMIC’s prices for 5-nanometer and 7-nanometer processes are 40% to 50% higher than TSMC’s, and the yield less than one-third of TSMC’s.

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(Photo credit: SMIC)

Please note that this article cites information from Financial Times.


[News] Huawei Shifts Focus, Prioritizing Production of AI Chips over Mate 60 Series

Industry sources cited by Reuters have revealed that Huawei, the Chinese telecommunications giant, is slowing down the production of its high-end Mate 60 series smartphone due to surging demand in the AI chip market and production constraints. Instead, the company has decided to prioritize the production of AI chips from its Ascend series, diverging from the Kirin chips used in the Mate 60 series.

According to a report by Reuters on January 5th, Huawei is utilizing a plant to simultaneously produce chips from the Ascend series and the Kirin series. The current plan is to prioritize the production of Ascend chips over Kirin chips, although the exact starting date for this arrangement has not been disclosed.

On the other hand, the production volume of Huawei’s Mate 60 series, launched in August last year, has been hampered by low chip yields. Reportedly, Huawei is actively working to improve chip yields, and it is hoped that the mentioned production adjustment will be a short-term measure.

It’s worth noting that many Huawei products have recently been affected by production bottlenecks. The computation components for Huawei’s assisted driving system have encountered production issues due to shortages of components.

This has led to delays in the delivery of flagship models from Changan Automobile, Chery Automobile, and Seres. Changan Automobile and Chery Automobile have already filed complaints and are currently in negotiations with Huawei.

Reports have indicated that since 2019, the U.S. government has imposed sanctions on Huawei, citing national security concerns, thereby cutting off Huawei’s access to advanced chip manufacturing equipment and technology and weakening its smartphone division. In response, Huawei denies posing any security risks and is actively working to rebuild its business.

In addition, Bloomberg previously reported that the Chinese government has also been directly investing to assist Huawei in building its chip supply chain since 2019, creating an exclusive supply chain for Huawei in response to the tighten restrictions.

In October 2023, the U.S. further strengthened restrictions on the export of advanced chips and chip manufacturing equipment to China, building upon previous limitations. This move forced Chinese customers to turn to domestic alternatives. Huawei’s Ascend 910B chip is considered the most competitive non-NVIDIA chip available in the Chinese market.

Huawei has maintained a low profile regarding its chip manufacturing capabilities and objectives. There is limited public information about its progress or how it successfully produces advanced chips.

In August 2023, during U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo’s visit to China, Huawei launched the Mate 60 series, garnering significant market attention.

(Photo credit: Huawei)

Please note that this article cites information from Reuters.


[News] NVIDIA’s Exclusive Chips for China Now Reported to be Available for Pre-Order, Priced Similar to Huawei Products

NVIDIA has begun accepting pre-orders for its customized artificial intelligence (AI) chips tailored for the Chinese market, as per a report from Reuters. The prices of the chips are said to be comparable to those of its competitor Huawei’s products.

The H20 graphics card, exclusively designed by NVIDIA for the Chinese market, is the most powerful among the three chips developed, although its computing power is lower than its own flagship AI chips, the H100 and H800. The H800, also tailored for China, was banned in October last year.

According to industry sources cited in the report, the specifications of the H20 are inferior to Huawei’s Ascend 910B in some critical areas. Additionally, NVIDIA has priced orders from Chinese H20 distributors between $12,000 and $15,000 per unit in recent weeks.

It is noteworthy that servers provided by distributors with 8 pre-configured AI chips are priced at CNY 1.4 million. In comparison, servers equipped with 8 H800 chips were priced at around CNY 2 million when they were launched a year ago.

Furthermore, it’s added in the report that distributors have informed customers that they will be able to begin small-scale deliveries of H20 products in the first quarter of 2024, with bulk deliveries starting in the second quarter.

In terms of specifications, the H20 appears to lag behind the 910B in FP32 performance, a critical metric that measures the speed at which chips process common tasks, with the H20’s performance being less than half of its competitor’s.

However, according to the source cited in the report, the H20 seems to have an advantage over the 910B in terms of interconnect speed, which measures the speed of data transfer between chips.

The source further indicates that in applications requiring numerous chips to be interconnected and function as a system, the H20 still possesses competitive capabilities compared to the 910B.

NVIDIA reportedly plans to commence mass production of the H20 in the second quarter of this year. Additionally, the company intends to introduce two other chips targeted at the Chinese market, namely the L20 and L2. However, the status of these two chips cannot be confirmed at the moment, as neither the H20, L20, nor L2 are currently listed on NVIDIA’s official website.

TrendForce believes Chinese companies will continue to buy existing AI chips in the short term. NVIDIA’s GPU AI accelerator chips remain a top priority—including H20, L20, and L2—designed specifically for the Chinese market following the ban.

At the same time, major Chinese AI firms like Huawei, will continue to develop general-purpose AI chips to provide AI solutions for local businesses. Beyond developing AI chips, these companies aim to establish a domestic AI server ecosystem in China.

TrendForce recognizes that a key factor in achieving success will come from the support of the Chinese government through localized projects, such as those involving Chinese telecom operators, which encourage the adoption of domestic AI chips.

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(Photo credit: NVIDIA)

Please note that this article cites information from Reuters.


[News] Pentagon Updates List of “Chinese Military Companies,” Including YMTC and Others

US officials have announced that the Pentagon has added over a dozen Chinese companies to a list established by the US Department of Defense. This list identifies entities accused of collaborating with the Chinese military.

According to the Pentagon’s website, the Department of Defense updated the list of “Chinese military companies” operating directly or indirectly in the United States, in accordance with Section 1260H of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for the fiscal year 2021.

As per a report from Reuters, the newly added companies to the list include Chinese memory manufacturer Yangtze Memory Technologies Corp (YMTC), artificial intelligence (AI) firm MEGVII, radar manufacturer Hesai Technology, and technology company NetPosa.

Reportedly, being listed on this roster doesn’t automatically impose bans, but it poses significant reputational risks for the designated companies and issues stern warnings to US entities, cautioning them about the risks associated with conducting business with these enterprises.

The list could also amplify pressure from the US Treasury Department to sanction these companies.

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(Photo credit: iStock)

Please note that this article cites information from Reuters.


[News] U.S. Department of Commerce Introduces New Regulations to Restrict China from Training AI Using U.S. Cloud Services

U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo stated on January 26th that the U.S. government will propose that American cloud computing companies determine whether foreign entities are accessing U.S. data centers to train artificial intelligence models.

The proposed “know your customer” regulation was made available for public inspection on January 26th and is scheduled for publication on January 29th.

According to a report from Reuters, Raimondo stated during her interview that, “We can’t have non-state actors or China or folks who we don’t want accessing our cloud to train their models.”

“We use export controls on chips,” she noted. “Those chips are in American cloud data centers so we also have to think about closing down that avenue for potential malicious activity.”

Raimondo further claimed that, the United States is “trying as hard as we can to deny China the compute power that they want to train their own (AI) models, but what good is that if they go around that to use our cloud to train their models?”

Since the U.S. government introduced chip export controls to China last year, NVIDIA initially designed downgraded AI chips A800 and H800 for Chinese companies. However, new regulations in October of 2023 by the U.S. Department of Commerce brought A800, H800, L40S, and other chips under control.

Raimondo stated that the Commerce Department would not permit NVIDIA to export its most advanced and powerful AI chips, which could facilitate China in developing cutting-edge models.

In addition to the limitations on NVIDIA’s AI chips, the U.S. government has also imposed further restrictions on specific equipment. For example, ASML, a leading provider of semiconductor advanced lithography equipment, announced on January 1st, 2024, that it was partially revoking export licenses for its DUV equipment in relation to the U.S. government.

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(Photo credit: iStock)

Please note that this article cites information from Reuters.

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