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Second Half Utilization Rate for 8-inch Production Capacity Expected to Drop to 50-60%; Chilly Demand Prospects Until 1Q24, Says TrendForce

TrendForce research indicates that in 1H23, the utilization rate of 8-inch production capacity primarily benefited from sporadic inventory restocking orders for Driver ICs in the second quarter. Additionally, wafer foundries initiated pricing strategies to encourage clients into early orders, offering solid backup. However, in 2H23, persistent macroeconomic and inventory challenges led to the evaporation of an anticipated demand surge.

Meanwhile, stockpiles in automotive and industrial control segments grew after meeting initial shortages, tempering demand. Under fierce price competition from PMIC leader Texas Instruments (TI), inventory reductions for Fabless and other IDMs were drastically inhibited. With IDMs ushering in output from their new plants and pulling back outsourced orders, this compounded reductions to wafer foundries. This dynamic saw 8-inch production capacity utilization dipping to 50–60% in the second half of the year. Both Tier 1 and Tier 2/3 8-inch wafer foundries saw a more lackluster capacity utilization performance compared to the first half of the year.

Heading into 2024, with the prevailing economic turbulence, the overall semiconductor foundry capacity utilization rate will face challenges in recovery. The 8-inch capacity utilization for 1Q24 is poised to mirror—or potentially dip below—4Q23 figures, revealing a glaring lack of recovery indicators.

However, starting from 2Q24, TrendForce posits that while clarity on end sales remains murky due to overarching economic risks, inventory levels are expected to wane, returning to a healthier equilibrium. The ensuing periodic restocking and the added momentum from orders shifted to Taiwanese foundries (owing to decoupling from China), should keep the 8-inch utilization rate from diving further. The average annual utilization rate for 8-inch wafers in 2024 is pegged around 60–70%. A swift return to yesteryear’s peak capacity seems difficult for now.

Taiwanese and Korean semiconductor foundries face the brunt of order curtailments

A closer look reveals Chinese foundries, such as SMIC and HuaHong Group (primarily HHGrace for 8-inch), exhibiting marginally superior 8-inch utilization rates than their Taiwanese and Korean peers. The proactive pricing approaches of Chinese foundries and China’s push for domestic IC substitution and production are key drivers. However, despite price reduction across foundries in 2H23, a predominantly conservative market outlook from clients, combined with the absence of urgent orders, meant these reductions rendered limited assistance to the 8-inch wafer utilization rate in the latter half of the year.

Panning to 2024, SMIC and HHGrace are forecast to outpace their Taiwanese and Korean counterparts in an 8-inch utilization rate resurgence. HHGrance could even see a stellar rebound, reaching 80–90%. On the Taiwanese front, TSMC grapples with PMIC order pullbacks, predicting an expected drop in 8-inch utilization to below 60% from 4Q23 to 1Q24. UMC and PSMC, in the same span, are gearing up to maintain levels above 50%.

Furthermore, even traditionally resilient Japanese and European IDMs commenced their inventory recalibration in 3Q23, potentially further stalling the recovery timeline for the 8-inch capacity utilization rate. TrendForce insights suggest that, with mounting inventory pressures, Infineon is curtailing orders to external foundries such as UMC and Vanguard. This strategy will likely suppress Vanguard’s 8-inch utilization rate into 1Q24, casting a gloomier shadow than earlier projections. 

Korean heavyweight, Samsung, has prioritized its 8-inch production for large-sized Driver ICs, CIS, and smartphone PMICs. However, the persistent softness in consumer demand has prompted their clientele toward a more guarded-order strategy. Furthermore, Chinese CIS patrons, aligning with local manufacturing inclinations, are transitioning toward native foundries. Consequently, Samsung’s 8-inch utilization rate has languished in 2H23, with expectations set at approximately 50% throughout 2024.

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