[News] Microchip’s Disappointing Financial Report Raises Caution in the Semiconductor Industry

On January 8th, leading U.S. microcontroller (MCU) and analog IC manufacturer Microchip raised concerns, stating that the revenue for the last quarter would experience a more significant decline than previously estimated, falling short of overall expectations.

The market perceives Microchip’s financial report as an alarm, revealing the continued sluggishness in sectors such as automotive and consumer electronics. These areas heavily rely on mature process production for related products, impacting mature process-focused foundries like UMC (United Microelectronics Corporation) and Vanguard International Semiconductor (VIS).

Industry sources analyze that Microchip’s warning of poor financial results indicates that, amid the unstable overall economic situation, further observation might be necessary for evaluating this year’s semiconductor market conditions.

Microchip is the global leader in the 8-bit microcontroller market, with a wide range of chip applications that virtually span across all industries. Its customer base exceeds 125,000 in industrial, automotive, consumer, defense, communication, and computer markets. Due to its diverse coverage and extensive customer base, Microchip is regarded as a crucial indicator for observing the semiconductor market.

Market expectations were initially optimistic that, after last year’s industry inventory adjustments, the overall semiconductor market conditions would gradually recover this year. Additionally, the anticipation of new trends such as AI smartphones and AI PCs was expected to drive mid-to-long-term demand in the industry.

However, Microchip’s concern seems to introduce more uncertainty into the market. According to Microchip’s latest projections, the revenue for the third quarter of the fiscal year ending in December is expected to decrease by approximately 22%, surpassing the earlier estimated range of 15% to 20% and significantly exceeding Wall Street’s forecast of 17%.

Microchip’s CEO, Ganesh Moorthy, mentioned in a press release: “The weakening economic environment that our customers and distributors faced during the December 2023 quarter resulted in many of them wanting to receive a lower level of shipments as they took actions to further de-risk their inventory positions.”

Moorthy pointed out that many customers, in their ongoing management of operational activities at the end of the last quarter, extended the closure time of facilities.

He stated, ” The impact of these and related factors was that certain backlog that we had planned to ship when we provided our guidance on November 2, 2023 did not ship to customers before the end of the December quarter. ”

Microchip will release its complete financial report for the last quarter on February 1st.

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(Photo credit: Microchip)

Please note that this article cites information from Economic Daily News


[News] UMC, VIS, PSMC Cut Prices for Mature Process Wafers to Boost Production

Mature process foundries are locked in a battle to uphold a 60% capacity utilization rate. Reports indicate that major players, including UMC, Vanguard International Semiconductor (VIS), and PSMC, are slashing prices significantly for the first quarter of the coming year to salvage their capacity utilization rates. This reduction, reaching double-digit percentages and up to 15% to 20% for project customers, stands out as the most extensive post-pandemic price cut, according to UDN News.

Post-Pandemic Price Challenges in Mature Process Foundries    

This pricing adjustment is pushing the prices of mature process foundries to a new low post-pandemic, affecting the profit margins and profitability trends of related companies. Industry sources disclose that only TSMC’s prices remain robust, with almost no exception for other foundries.

To rescue capacity utilization rates, companies are aggressively tweaking their quotes. A source from an IC design company privately reveals that foundries have notified them of slow-moving business in mature processes, resulting in a direct drop in capacity utilization rates. To ensure capacity utilization rates and market share, maintaining a certain level of production scale becomes imperative, prompting a substantial reduction in quotes.

Industry sources emphasize that despite recent indications of recovery in the PC and smartphone markets, clients remain cautious due to external factors such as inflation, especially given almost a year of inventory clearance. Companies, still on edge, fear slipping back into the challenges of inventory clearance and thus maintain a conservative approach to order placement.

Currently, the recovery in order placement strength is only about 30% to 40% of pre-pandemic levels, compelling wafer foundries to intensify their price cuts to prevent orders from being lost to competitors willing to lower prices, resulting in even lower capacity utilization.

It is evident that consumer IC demand for foundry services is low, and whom focusing on 8-inch mature process are the most affected. It is mainly due to excessive duplicate orders from integrated device manufacturers (IDMs) and IC design companies in the past, leading to inventory clearance for chips such as power management ICs, driver ICs, and microcontrollers (MCUs). Some products have even shifted to 12-inch wafers, keeping the capacity utilization rates of 8-inch foundries at a low level.

Navigate Semiconductor Shifts in TSMC, UMC, VIS, and PSMC

Industry sources note that TSMC is bolstered by advanced processes, enabling them to bundle them with mature processes for sale. Moreover, TSMC’s pricing strategy for mature processes has not surged as dramatically as that of other related companies, making it more acceptable to customers.

As for UMC, the company anticipates a drop in capacity utilization rates from 67% in the last quarter to 60% to 63% in this quarter, reaching a single-season low in recent years. Due to the continuous adjustment of capacity utilization rates, the gross profit margin will drop from 35.9% last quarter to 31% to 33%, reverting to levels seen at the beginning of the pandemic in 2021.

In response to pricing issues, UMC stated that, as mentioned in a recent earnings call, there will indeed be a significant decrease in the 8-inch, but there will be no adjustments for the 12-inch. Supply chain sources reveal that UMC has reportedly offered a 5% concession, aiming to consolidate order momentum with major clients this quarter. Considering the anticipated weak demand in the first quarter of next year and to attract more order placements, UMC plans to expand the price reduction to double-digit percentages.

According to the supply chain, VIS is expected to see a price reduction of up to 5% in the second half of the year. Large-volume clients may even secure a 10% discount, with a further decrease expected in the first quarter of next year, ranging from single to double-digit percentages. The company’s management previously mentioned at a conference call that, in response to intense price competition, short-term flexible adjustments are anticipated.

Similarly impacted by conservative customer order placements, PSMC reported losses in the third quarter, with capacity utilization rates hovering around 60%. It is reported that PSMC is also gearing up to implement price reduction measures to enhance capacity utilization rates.

(Image: VIS)

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[News] VIS Acquires AUO’s Singapore Plant for Advanced 12-inch Fab on Auto Chip  

According to Economic Daily News, industry insiders said that Vanguard International Semiconductor (VIS) is in talks to acquire land and facilities from AUO’s Singapore plant for its first 12-inch fab. The estimated investment for this project is a substantial US$2 billion. VIS is making a strategic move to specialize in producing advanced chips for the automotive industry.

AUO is scheduled to hold a conference on October 31st, and VIS will follow suit on November 7th. Both companies are currently in a pre-conference quite period and haven’t made any official comments on the recent rumors.

Per reports, AUO has been gradually relocating its equipment from its Singapore plant back to Taiwan. Following a model where AUO sold its L3B fab and related facilities in Hsinchu Science Park, Taiwan, they plan to sell this Singapore plant to VIS. Notably, this Singapore plant is conveniently located just an eight-minute drive away from TSMC’s Singapore plant (SSMC), and the transaction is estimated to be worth over a billion dollars.

The Singapore plant in question was acquired by AUO in 2010, and it specializes in the production of 4.5th generation low-temperature polycrystalline silicon (LTPS) display panels and also has some capacity for AMOLED displays. However, the land use contract for this plant expired during the pandemic. AUO then redirected the plant’s focus towards supporting display production. However, with a decrease in post-pandemic notebook demand, AUO’s strategy in Singapore shifted from manufacturing to establishing itself as a regional service center.

Recent developments show that AUO has begun a significant production line adjustment.  They’re transforming the Longtan Aspire Park in Northern Taiwan into a hub for mass-producing Micro LED technology and integrated automotive display modules. Insiders suggest that AUO’s LTPS production line in the Singapore plant has already started moving to Longtan Aspire Park, where they’re gearing up for Micro LED technology development and eventual mass production.

Regarding AUO’s Singapore plant, the company recently stated that they are conducting a thorough evaluation of the operational efficiency of their various plants worldwide. The production schedule for the Singapore plant extends until early 2024, and they’ll subsequently assess the equipment and assets. The company is in the process of discussing and evaluating the related strategies, and they haven’t made any final decisions yet. AUO’s Singapore plant employs approximately 500 people, and they are committed to following local regulations to safeguard their employees’ rights.

In an earning calls last year, Chairman of VIS, Leuh Fang, revealed that the company already operates five 8-inch fabs. Fab 5 still has the potential for increased wafer production, but due to the challenges of acquiring new 8-inch equipment, establishing a brand-new 12-inch fab in Singapore makes more sense if customer demand necessitates capacity expansion.

This development isn’t entirely surprising, as there’s a precedent for fab transactions between AUO and VIS. In late April 2021, AUO sold its L3B plant in the Hsinchu Science Park, along with its related equipment, to VIS for NT$905 million (pre-tax).
(Image: AUO)


China’s Share in Mature Processes will Speed up to 33% in 2027 under the Pressure of Geopolitics

TrendForce reports that from 2023 to 2027, the global ratio of mature (>28nm) to advanced (<16nm) processes is projected to hover around 7:3. Propelled by policies and incentives promoting local production and domestic IC development, China’s mature process capacity is anticipated to grow from 29% this year to 33% by 2027. Leading the charge are giants like SMIC, HuaHong Group, and Nexchip, while Taiwan’s share is estimated to consolidate from 49% down to 42%.

Expansion predominantly targets specialty processes such as Driver ICs, CIS/ISPs, and Power Discretes, with second and third-tier Taiwanese manufacturers at the forefront

Within the Driver IC sector, the spotlight is on high voltage (HV) specialty processes. As companies aggressively pursue the 40/28nm HV process, UMC currently dominates, trailed by GlobalFoundries. Yet, SMIC’s 28HV and Nexchip’s 40HV are gearing up for mass production in 4Q23 and 1H24, respectively—narrowing their technological gap with other foundries. Notably, competitors with similar process capabilities and capacities, such as PSMC, and those without twelve-inch factories like Vanguard and DBHitek, are poised to face challenges head-on in the short term. This trend may also have long-term implications for UMC and GlobalFoundries.

In the realm of CIS/ISP, 3D CIS structure comprises a logic layer ISP and CIS pixel layer. The primary demarcation for mainstream processes is around 45/40nm range for the logic layer ISP, which continues to progress toward more advanced nodes. Meanwhile, the CIS pixel layer, along with FSI/BSI CIS, predominantly uses 65/55nm and above processes. Currently, TSMC, UMC, and Samsung are the frontrunners in this technology. Yet, Chinese players like SMIC and Nexchip are hot on their heels, swiftly closing the gap. Their ascent is further fueled by Chinese smartphone titans OPPO, Vivo, and Xiaomi. Additionally, domestic shifts prompted by governmental policies are positioning Chinese CIS companies like OmniVision, Galaxycore, and SmartSens to rally behind local production.

Power Discretes mainly encompass products like MOSFETs and IGBTs. Vanguard and HHGrace have been deeply involved in Power Discrete processes for some time, boasting a more comprehensive process platform and vehicle certification than many competitors. However, a wave of Chinese contenders, backed by national policies favoring EVs and solar initiatives, are ready to stake their claim, intensifying global competition in this sector. This includes mainstream foundries like HHGrace, SMIC, Nexchip, and CanSemi. Additionally, smaller Chinese IDMs and foundries, such as GTA and CRMicro, are also entering the competitive landscape. If China massively ramps up its production capacity, it will intensify global competition in Power Discrete manufacturing. The impact will not only spark price wars among local Chinese businesses but could also erode the order books and clientele of Taiwanese companies.

In a nutshell, while China actively courts both global and domestic IC designers to bolster its local manufacturing presence, the ensuing massive expansion could flood the global market with mature processes, potentially igniting a price war. TrendForce notes that as China’s mature process capacities continue to emerge, the localization trends for Driver IC, CIS/ISP, and Power Discretes will become more pronounced. Second and third-tier foundries with similar process platforms and capacities might face risks of client attrition and pricing pressures. Taiwan’s industry leaders, renowned for their specialty processes—UMC, PSMC, Vanguard to name a few—will find themselves in the eye of the storm. The battle ahead will hinge on technological prowess and efficient production yields.


[News] Industry Buzz: Major Price Drop in 8-Inch Wafer Foundry Services

According to a report by Taiwan Economic Daily, industry sources have revealed that due to sluggish terminal demand and market competition, TSMC and Vanguard have recently been progressively lowering their prices for 8-inch wafer foundry services, with reductions as high as 30%.

While 8-inch wafer foundry services do not constitute a major portion of TSMC’s revenue, the company has historically maintained a relatively steadfast pricing strategy, refraining from frequent price hikes or reductions. The current reduction of up to 30% has raised significant attention.

The report states that the semiconductor industry is experiencing a downturn in prosperity, resulting in decreased capacity utilization at wafer foundries. Within this context, demand for 8-inch wafers is weaker compared to 12-inch wafers, leading some manufacturers to see their 8-inch wafer utilization rates drop to around 60%.

Regarding the price reduction, analysts at Nomura Securities suggest that this move is primarily aimed at countering Texas Instruments (TI), a global leader in analog ICs, which has significantly lowered prices for products such as power management ICs, triggering a worldwide semiconductor price war that has impacted related industries. In response, IC design companies are hoping for price reductions from foundries such as TSMC and to lower costs and compete against TI.

IC design firms have indicated that they have not received any official notification of price reductions for 8-inch wafer foundry services. They emphasized that TSMC has never implemented such a substantial reduction of up to 30% since its establishment, raising doubts about the authenticity of the news. TSMC has declined to comment on pricing matters.

(Photo credit: TSMC)

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