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Edited Transcript of 3711.TW earnings conference call or presentation 30-Oct-19 6:00am GMT

Q3 2019 ASE Technology Holding Co Ltd Earnings Call

Nov 1, 2019 (Thomson StreetEvents) -- Edited Transcript of ASE Technology Holding Co Ltd earnings conference call or presentation Wednesday, October 30, 2019 at 6:00:00am GMT

TEXT version of Transcript

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Corporate Participants

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* Joseph Tung

ASE Technology Holding Co., Ltd. - CFO & Director

* Kenneth Hsiang

ASE Technology Holding Co., Ltd. - Head of IR

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Conference Call Participants

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* Gokul Hariharan

JP Morgan Chase & Co, Research Division - Head of Taiwan Equity Research and Senior Tech Analyst

* Rick Hsu

Daiwa Securities Co. Ltd., Research Division - Head of Regional Technology & Head of Taiwan Research

* Robin Cheng

BofA Merrill Lynch, Research Division - Research Analyst

* Sebastian Hou

CLSA Limited, Research Division - Research Analyst

* William Lu

UBS Investment Bank, Research Division - MD and Asia Semiconductors Analyst

* Zheng Lu

Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Research Division - Research Analyst

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Presentation

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Kenneth Hsiang, ASE Technology Holding Co., Ltd. - Head of IR [1]

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Hello. I am Ken Hsiang, the Head of Investor Relations for ASE Technology Holdings. Welcome to our third quarter 2019 earnings release. Thank you for attending. Those of you physically here, we apologize for the temporary venue change. But it appears that our regular location had been booked over a year in advance. All participants consent to having their voices and questions broadcast via participation of this event.

Please refer to our safe harbor notice. I would like to remind everyone on this call that the presentation that follows may contain forward-looking statements. These forward-looking statements are subject to a high degree of risk, and our actual results may differ materially.

For the purposes of this presentation, our dollar figures are generally stated in New Taiwan dollars, unless otherwise indicated. As a Taiwan-based company, our financials are presented in accordance with Taiwan IFRS. Results presented using Taiwan IFRS may differ materially from other accounting standards.

For today's event, I will be going over the financial results, then we will have a Q&A session with Joseph Tung, our CFO. Eddie Chang, our VP in charge of financial aspects of public relations, will be available for questions in Mandarin Chinese, following.

So Page 3. First, let's have a quick update on our annual business goals. Both our Advanced Packaging and Test businesses are performing well. On a pro forma year-to-date basis, Advanced Packaging has grown 9%, while our Test business has also grown 6%. These amounts may appear somewhat modest, but this growth has primarily been accomplished in the midst of a downturn. SiP also grew by more than 32% during the first 9 months out of the year. We are also well on our way to achieving our USD 100 million of incremental new SiP business for the year.

Finally, we are continuing to make the appropriate investments in critical development areas across both ATM and EMS, such as the various types of fan-out, the next generation of bumping and SiP. During the first 9 months of this year, we have increased our R&D costs by 13% (sic) [15%] for ATM and 6% for EMS. We believe these expenses are strategically necessary to maintaining our lead in the industry.

A quick update on our SPIL combination. As you know, we have been limited in our ability to tap the full potential of our combination with SPIL during the restricted period imposed by the Chinese Anti-Monopoly Bureau. Thus far, during this restricted period, an assigned third-party regulatory auditor has performed semiannual audits to monitor our compliance. I am pleased to report that the final such regulatory compliance audit shall occur immediately following the expiration of the restricted period, November 24. We, of course, are eager to complete this process. Our Chinese legal and compliance advisers have recently provided further clarification of this process to us. The regulatory auditors are targeting to submit their audit results to the Chinese Anti-Monopoly Bureau within a month of the restriction period end date. After such submission, we expect to receive an official acknowledgment accepting that a satisfactory audit has been conducted and reconfirmation that the restriction period has been completed without incident. We expect to receive such an indication by the middle of the first quarter of 2020. It looks like we'll have a very busy 2020.

Prior to going through the financial information, I would like to congratulate our team on being awarded inclusion in the Dow Jones Sustainability Index for the fourth consecutive year. We believe this to be a significant accomplishment and a demonstration of our dedication towards ESG, environmental, social and corporate governance.

Next, I would like to give some context to the current business environment. From a macro perspective, the electronics industry is trying to adapt to shifting trade norms. Supply chains that were optimized after years and years of fine-tuning are now being reevaluated in light of the new norm of volatility. It's no secret that much of the semiconductor industry has been directly impacted by the trade war. Some of our customers have been forced to disengage certain businesses. Meanwhile, some device makers are left trying to understand what features will go into their next generation of devices and what chips will provide those features. Others are looking at a step-up in their cost of production due to trade tariffs. Needless to say, locking down a bill of materials in this environment becomes incredibly challenging. And as such, currently, there is a fairly broad range of estimates on how much the semiconductor industry will decline this year. However, what is expected is that the industry will decline. I would like everyone to keep this context in mind while going through our results.

During the third quarter, our ATM business experienced a meaningful pickup. We saw strength across most sectors, but in particular within our communications-related businesses, including smartphone and 5G infrastructure spending. And as good as our results are for the third quarter, we even missed some revenue because of product manufacturing constraints.

Our EMS business experienced an even steeper ramp. The EMS quarter-over-quarter ramp-up is perhaps one of the largest mobilizations of capacity we have ever experienced, growing 60% quarterly. And especially with our EMS business, we believe that we ramped up to full production a bit sooner than in previous years, thus, why we saw such a strong quarterly growth.

When you put the ATM and EMS story together, there are some speculation that our customers may be accelerating products to get ahead of potential tariffs. But you wouldn't be able to determine that by looking at our forecasts exiting this year and entering next.

Please turn to Page 4. On this page, you'll find our third quarter consolidated results at the holding company level. For the third quarter, we recorded fully diluted EPS of $1.33 and basic EPS of $1.35. Consolidated net revenue was a record $117.6 billion. This represents a 30% increase quarter-over-quarter and a 9% improvement year-over-year.

ATM revenues of $67.9 billion increased 14% quarter-over-quarter and 2% year-over-year. Our ATM revenues came in slightly ahead of our own expectations as our customers' loading achievement rates were better than anticipated. EMS revenues of $50.6 billion increased 60% quarter-over-quarter and 20% year-over-year. Our EMS revenues came in significantly ahead of our expectations. This was driven by what appears to be an earlier peak to our seasonal EMS bill.

We had gross profit of $19.1 billion with a gross margin of 16.3%. Gross margin improved by 0.9 percentage points quarter-over-quarter while declining 0.8 percentage points year-over-year. The sequential increase in gross margin is primarily the result of stronger loading, while the year-over-year decline is primarily due to higher EMS product mix.

Our operating expenses increased by $0.9 billion during the third quarter to $10.7 billion, primarily the result of seasonally high NPI expenses during the quarter. Our operating expense percentage of 9.1% represents a decline of 1.7 percentage points. This decline was principally the result of higher revenues with stable operating expenses from our EMS business unit.

Operating profit was $8.4 billion. This amount is more than double the second quarter operating profit of $4.1 billion. Sequentially, operating margin improved 2.5 percentage points to 7.1% while being down 0.7 percentage points year-over-year. The year-over-year decline is again primarily because of higher EMS product mix.

During the quarter, we had a net nonoperating loss of $0.7 billion. This amount includes net interest expense of $0.9 billion, offset in part by other nonoperating income, including unconsolidated investments.

Tax expense for the quarter was $1.5 billion. The effective tax rate for the third quarter was 19.4%. We expect the effective tax rate for the full year to be near 24%.

Net income for the quarter was $5.7 billion, representing an improvement of $3 billion from the previous quarter and a decline of $0.5 billion from the same period in 2018.

On the bottom of the page, we have again provided here key P&L line items without the inclusion of PPA-related expenses. Consolidated gross profit, excluding PPA expenses, would be $20.3 billion with a 17.3% gross margin. Operating profit would be $9.8 billion with an operating margin of 8.4%. Net profit would be $7.3 billion with net margin of 6.2%. Basic EPS, excluding PPA expenses, would be $1.71.

On Page 5 is our ATM pro forma P&L. For the third quarter, revenues for our ATM business were up $67.9 billion, up $8.3 billion from the previous quarter and up $1.6 billion from the same period last year. This represents a 14% increase sequentially and a 2% increase year-over-year. We believe the sequential increase is the result of seasonally strong loading. The small year-over-year improvement indicates that the downturn has ended and loading levels are finally showing positive year-over-year comparisons.

Gross profits within ATM were up $3.6 billion quarter-over-quarter, $0.4 billion year-over-year to $14.7 billion. Both of these gross profit differences are primarily from incrementally higher loading. And again, from a year-over-year perspective, this improvement in gross profit may indicate an inflection point for better performance ahead.

Gross margin for our ATM business was 21.7%, up 3.1 percentage points sequentially and up 0.2 percentage points year-over-year. The sequential improvement is again due primarily to higher loading. The year-over-year improvement in gross margin is primarily due to NT dollar depreciation and a higher mix of more profitable Test revenue. We believe that our margin recovery is just starting and believe a small year-over-year increase of 0.2 percentage points during a downturn to be a significant achievement.

During the third quarter, operating expenses were $8.3 billion, up $0.9 billion from the second quarter and up $0.7 billion from the same period last year. The sequential increase in operating expenses primarily relates to the seasonal ramp of NPI expenses during the third quarter. We expect that as our product complexity gets more technologically advanced, we will see longer and more extensive R&D and NPI requirements. We will continue to work towards further monetizing these costs during the coming year. We believe this to be a significant opportunity for further improvement in which we can work with our SPIL subsidiary.

Our operating expense percentage was 12.2%, down 0.3 percentage points sequentially and up 0.8 percentage points year-over-year. As we mentioned during the previous quarter, we were targeting to keep our operating expense percentage roughly flat. However, we were able to keep -- we were able to make an impact earlier than anticipated. We still expect an additional decline in our operating expense percentage during the fourth quarter.

During the third quarter, operating income was $6.4 billion, representing improvement of $2.7 billion quarter-over-quarter and a decline of $0.3 billion year-over-year. The sequential improvement is the result of higher gross profit, while the year-over-year decline is the result of relatively higher R&D expenses.

Without the impact of PPA-related depreciation and amortization, ATM gross profit margin would be 23.4% and operating profit margin would be 11.6%.

Please turn to Page 6. As a legal entity, our SPIL subsidiary's results are only consolidated as of April 30, 2018 going forward. For the sake of comparability here, we have included a pro forma set of ATM results with SPIL retroactively combined during the first and second quarter of 2018. Here, you'll find a graphical presentation of our pro forma ATM P&L.

On Page 7 is our pro forma ATM revenue by market segment. Also, as you can see here, the communication segment appears to be awakening.

Page 8. You can see our pro forma ATM revenue by service type. During the third quarter, our revenue mix continues to shift away from wire bonding, with increasing amounts of test, bumping, flip-chip and SiP. We also continue to expect our Test business to outgrow our assembly as we continue to expand our turnkey business model.

On Page 9, you can see the results of our EMS business and its associated revenue by application. During the third quarter, we have revenues of $50.6 billion, representing an increase of $19.1 billion or 60% sequentially and an increase of 8.6% -- or 20% year-over-year. The sequential revenue ramp was originally expected to be softer during the third quarter. However, the ramp came sooner and steeper than originally anticipated. This was led by products within our communication and consumer segments. The year-over-year increase was driven primarily by higher loading sooner in the quarter.

The EMS gross profit of $4.5 billion grew by $1.6 billion sequentially and $0.3 billion year-over-year. Gross profit margin for the EMS business came in at 8.9%, representing 0.2 percentage point decline from the previous quarter and 1 percentage point decline year-over-year. These declines were primarily driven by product mix and bill of material changes through generational device differences.

During the quarter, our EMS business unit's operating expenses stayed flat at $2.4 billion both sequentially and year-over-year. Operating profit for the quarter was $2.1 billion, which is a $1.6 billion increase sequentially and a $0.4 billion increase year-over-year. Our operating margin came in at 4.1%, which is a 2.5 percentage point improvement sequentially and flat year-over-year. Operating margin was ahead of original expectations as a result of higher-than-expected revenue ramp.

Page 10. You will find key line items from our balance sheet. At the end of the quarter, we had cash and cash equivalents and current financial assets of $67.8 billion. Our interest-bearing debt increased to $227.6 billion. Total unused credit lines amounted to $197.0 billion. Our EBITDA for the quarter was $21.2 billion.

On Page 11, you will find our pro forma equipment capital expenditures. Machinery and equipment capital expenditures for the third quarter totaled USD 436 million, of which USD 181 million were used in packaging operations, USD 229 million in testing operations, USD 23 million in EMS operations and USD 3 million in interconnect material operations and others.

As we stated in the previous earnings release, we expected our capital expenditures for the year to step up in order to ready capacity for the uptick. We now expect our capital expenditures to be close to our equipment depreciation and amortization amount.

From our relative performance so far this year, we believe our customers continue to prefer our capability and predictability over that of our competition. We believe we outgrew the majority of our competition and gained share. We are unmatched in scale efficiency, geographical footprint and technology portfolio. During this past downturn, we leveraged each of these key advantages to take market share.

Looking out beyond this year, we are fairly optimistic about the health of the overall industry. We see more 5G-related products with increasing complexity. We see real reasons for consumers across multiple geographies to upgrade into new generations of various electronic devices. We also see the need for substantial infrastructure updates. And then, we see a newer generation of connected products that will build on top of these building blocks.

AI, the more a software phenomenon now, is becoming more hardware-demanding with its sensors and AI accelerators. With a proper set of applications, the ultimate needs of AI hardware can easily fill and drive the next generation of semiconductor manufacturing.

Autonomous transportation are always talked about, but that could just be the tip of the iceberg. The semiconductor industry's penetration into everyday products and everyday life will continue its march forward.

If we look out into the fourth quarter, the volume of business for the remainder of the year remains a bit tricky to evaluate. We do see the possibility of some order upsides, but the impact of trade war tariffs are especially difficult to quantify with any level of real accuracy. That, taken with an earlier manufacturing cycle which may have been driven by the desire to avoid these tariffs, leads to an even less conclusive outcome.

Then, of course, this begs the question of whether we are building product that would otherwise be built in the first quarter of 2020. We do have some information that gives us a bit of comfort on this point. And please understand that it's definitely an early statement, but we can tell you that we currently see a shallower trough period during Q1 of next year. And as our investments and cost control are beginning to take shape, we also see our first quarter 2020 margins to be materially stronger than seasonality. We're unprepared to give much more detail on this at this point, so we'll leave it there until Dr. Wu can comment on the full year of 2020.

Now back to the quarter immediately in front of us. In NT dollar terms, ATM fourth quarter business should be similar to third quarter 2019 levels. ATM fourth quarter 2019 gross margin should see slight sequential improvement. In NT dollar terms, EMS fourth quarter 2019 business should be slightly above the average of the second half of 2018. We do admit this outlook does appear to be a bit out of line with our traditional fourth quarter EMS outlook. However, I should remind you that our EMS business picked up a bit sooner than previous years, and our second half revenue still implies year-over-year revenue growth. EMS fourth quarter 2019 operating margin should be similar to first quarter 2018 levels.

I have to move to the Q&A podium. I'm not allowed to take Q&A here. Okay. Questions, please?

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Questions and Answers

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Unidentified Analyst, [1]

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Good details. I just wanted to follow up on one thing you mentioned about manufacturing constraints, maybe limiting it by the business. And maybe 2 follow-ups on that. Since you were constrained in third quarter, maybe the -- why fourth quarter you're guiding stable and not some improvement, if you can shape some of that. And if you could talk about the areas of constraint, where you're seeing it, and the implication for CapEx into next year, if you expect to stay at a higher level.

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Kenneth Hsiang, ASE Technology Holding Co., Ltd. - Head of IR [2]

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We're trying to be pretty politically correct in that statement. We probably don't want to expand on that.

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Unidentified Analyst, [3]

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On the constraints?

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Kenneth Hsiang, ASE Technology Holding Co., Ltd. - Head of IR [4]

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Yes. But we...

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Joseph Tung, ASE Technology Holding Co., Ltd. - CFO & Director [5]

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I think from our own end, I think some of these constraints came from some of the reallocating of our manufacturing services to other areas outside of China. And we were ramping up as fast as we can, but there are -- it does create some disturbances to start with, and then the ramp-up period does put a bit of a constraint on us. Aside from that, there is some external factors that also create some problems in that nature.

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Unidentified Analyst, [6]

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Okay. So was that ATM? Was that in the ATM segment, the move out of outside of China this quarter?

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Joseph Tung, ASE Technology Holding Co., Ltd. - CFO & Director [7]

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I think from an ATM standpoint, I don't think we have that much of a constraint.

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Unidentified Analyst, [8]

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It's on the EMS, yes. But the EMS, I guess you were constrained for where -- it looks like guidance is a little bit down sequentially, but you're clearing up the constraints. So even with that, it would actually would be even a bigger decline on the EMS?

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Joseph Tung, ASE Technology Holding Co., Ltd. - CFO & Director [9]

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On EMS?

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Unidentified Analyst, [10]

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Yes.

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Joseph Tung, ASE Technology Holding Co., Ltd. - CFO & Director [11]

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I think as Ken was mentioning, I think there seems to be some earlier shipment coming out of the third quarter. We suspect that, that's -- part of the reason is because of the people's efforts in avoidance of coming tariffs. But having said that, we have no intention to say or does not indicate that the coming quarters will see a significant softness from the order standpoint.

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Unidentified Analyst, [12]

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Okay. I think it's encouraging at least, what you're saying on the first quarter, I mean, being potentially shallower. Could you talk a bit more about areas, like if it's certain application or start of some of the 5G or inventory starting to restock? Or maybe a bit more color on...

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Joseph Tung, ASE Technology Holding Co., Ltd. - CFO & Director [13]

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Well, generally speaking, I think communication seems to be still going fairly strong. And just looking at our forecast, I think it's across the board. We're seeing a stronger-than-normal seasonality first quarter next year.

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Unidentified Analyst, [14]

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Okay. And if I could follow up on the gross margin. You mentioned kind of start of an improvement in margin. Maybe the confidence on the margin, what's improving the confidence? And as you start to look like -- maybe how that could resolve in the P&L. Because it's down a few points maybe from the peak 4, 5 years ago, but how you kind of see the recovery in margin or potential.

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Joseph Tung, ASE Technology Holding Co., Ltd. - CFO & Director [15]

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I think, to start with the works, we were saying that this year is really a year of investment both in terms of capacity and technology. So the R&D expenses and also a lot of the ramp-up costs has incurred during the first 3 quarters of this year. I think those investments will start to -- gradually start to pay off and in terms of revenue -- additional revenue generation as well as improving overall operating efficiency. And going into next year, on top of the better loading that we're expecting, some of the additional revenue that we'll be generating from our earlier investment this year. Also, I think the lifting of the restricted condition on us between our works with SPIL will certainly help the margin as well to help the overall operational efficiency.

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Kenneth Hsiang, ASE Technology Holding Co., Ltd. - Head of IR [16]

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Name and company, sir?

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Zheng Lu, Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Research Division - Research Analyst [17]

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Bruce Lu, Goldman Sachs. Can you talk -- we saw some like good progress for your SiP projects. Are you going to -- can you give us more outlook about the SiP outlook in 2020 onwards? Management has been guiding for like additional USD 100 million SiP revenue moving forward. Do we have more color on that? It seems we are close to a year-end. We should have more clear picture for the SiP outlook.

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Joseph Tung, ASE Technology Holding Co., Ltd. - CFO & Director [18]

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Well, I think the biggest progress we've made this year is that we're now having multiple projects and multiple customers. And we still have a very healthy engagement -- order engagement with a lot of projects and customers, and we are expecting to continue this momentum going into 2020. There will be new projects coming on-stream. And we feel very, very confident that we will continue to reach our goal in incremental revenue -- SiP revenue of USD 100 million a year or if not exceeding it.

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Zheng Lu, Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Research Division - Research Analyst [19]

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Do we have any revision for the target?

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Joseph Tung, ASE Technology Holding Co., Ltd. - CFO & Director [20]

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The what?

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Zheng Lu, Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Research Division - Research Analyst [21]

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The target, the USD 100 million, additional USD 100 million target?

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Joseph Tung, ASE Technology Holding Co., Ltd. - CFO & Director [22]

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We'll keep it for the time being yet. And if the momentum gets -- continue to get stronger and stronger, then we'll see if the adjustment is needed.

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Zheng Lu, Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Research Division - Research Analyst [23]

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Okay. Another question, just to try to be clear, that first quarter 2020, the revenue will be stronger than seasonality. So I want to clarify that, a, it's only for ATM business or for the overall business; b, is that right now, with ASE plus SPIL, what is the typical seasonality now?

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Joseph Tung, ASE Technology Holding Co., Ltd. - CFO & Director [24]

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I think first quarter, you wouldn't be surprised to see a 10%, 15% drop in our revenue, in the top line. That's the normal seasonality. And we're saying, as far as ATM, ASE and SPIL combined, we're seeing a stronger first quarter next year, stronger than the normal seasonality. And for EMS, I think it's going to be a typical quarter.

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Zheng Lu, Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Research Division - Research Analyst [25]

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So for the previous guidance for the first quarter, the suggestion for the first quarter is mainly for ATM only?

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Joseph Tung, ASE Technology Holding Co., Ltd. - CFO & Director [26]

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No. I think Ken mentioned both. I think for ATM, we're seeing a stronger quarter. For EMS, it's a typical seasonality quarter.

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Zheng Lu, Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Research Division - Research Analyst [27]

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I see. How about for the margin improvement? It's mainly for ATM or for EMS or for both?

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Joseph Tung, ASE Technology Holding Co., Ltd. - CFO & Director [28]

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I think in terms of margin as a whole, we -- you're referring to fourth quarter? Or...

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Zheng Lu, Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Research Division - Research Analyst [29]

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First quarter. First quarter of 2020.

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Joseph Tung, ASE Technology Holding Co., Ltd. - CFO & Director [30]

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First quarter. You mean Q-on-Q improvement? Or...

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Zheng Lu, Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Research Division - Research Analyst [31]

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Because the management just mentioned that for the first quarter of 2020, our gross margin is going to see materially better than seasonality, right?

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Joseph Tung, ASE Technology Holding Co., Ltd. - CFO & Director [32]

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Right.

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Zheng Lu, Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Research Division - Research Analyst [33]

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That's mainly for ATM or EMS? Or...

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Joseph Tung, ASE Technology Holding Co., Ltd. - CFO & Director [34]

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For ATM, yes.

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Zheng Lu, Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Research Division - Research Analyst [35]

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How about the EMS?

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Joseph Tung, ASE Technology Holding Co., Ltd. - CFO & Director [36]

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EMS will be steady.

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Rick Hsu, Daiwa Securities Co. Ltd., Research Division - Head of Regional Technology & Head of Taiwan Research [37]

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Rick Hsu from Daiwa Securities. So the first question, again, as a housekeeping, so what's your utilization rate across the board for wire bond, flip-chip and testing for Q3 and Q4?

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Joseph Tung, ASE Technology Holding Co., Ltd. - CFO & Director [38]

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I think across the board, it's 80% to 85%. And that should remain the same for fourth quarter as well.

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Rick Hsu, Daiwa Securities Co. Ltd., Research Division - Head of Regional Technology & Head of Taiwan Research [39]

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All right. And can you update your depreciation and amortization costs for this year?

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Joseph Tung, ASE Technology Holding Co., Ltd. - CFO & Director [40]

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If -- I can't remember the numbers right. I think it's $50 billion altogether, right, cost of goods sold plus operation.

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Rick Hsu, Daiwa Securities Co. Ltd., Research Division - Head of Regional Technology & Head of Taiwan Research [41]

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Okay. Now another question is I just want to follow up with the EMS. So I think you were talking about multiple customers, multiple projects. Can you give us more color about the percentage of the revenue contribution this year and next year from these new customers other than the key customer?

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Joseph Tung, ASE Technology Holding Co., Ltd. - CFO & Director [42]

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Well, it fluctuates quarter-to-quarter because it's really a product, right? So I don't think it's -- it's kind of difficult to make a prediction on that. But as far as third quarter is concerned, in terms of ATM, it's close to 5%. For EMS, it's close to 50%. On a group basis it's close to -- it's around 20%.

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Rick Hsu, Daiwa Securities Co. Ltd., Research Division - Head of Regional Technology & Head of Taiwan Research [43]

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Okay. The last question is -- I think Ken, during the presentation, was talking about your revenue year-on-year. Positive year-on-year growth signal that downturn has ended. And also you're talking about inflection point. Your margin is going to be better and better toward 2020. Can you give us a little preliminary guidance about your 2020 outlook?

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Kenneth Hsiang, ASE Technology Holding Co., Ltd. - Head of IR [44]

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I would actually really prefer to leave that to Dr. Tien Wu. He likes to make the larger pronouncements at this point.

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Rick Hsu, Daiwa Securities Co. Ltd., Research Division - Head of Regional Technology & Head of Taiwan Research [45]

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Okay. Just simple question, can you fairly assume 2020 will be a year of upturn (inaudible)?

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Kenneth Hsiang, ASE Technology Holding Co., Ltd. - Head of IR [46]

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We are fairly confident about 2020.

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Joseph Tung, ASE Technology Holding Co., Ltd. - CFO & Director [47]

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We normally only speak for ourselves, and whatever we said is based on our own forecast coming from our own specific sets of customers. So we try to refrain from commenting on the industry as a whole.

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William Lu, UBS Investment Bank, Research Division - MD and Asia Semiconductors Analyst [48]

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Bill Lu from UBS. Over the last several quarters, before, you talked about getting to more complex products. And associated with that, we've seen a higher R&D, slightly higher CapEx as well, right? So my question is, first of all, if you look at this new higher level of investment, is that short term? Or should we expect that step-up again next year?

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Joseph Tung, ASE Technology Holding Co., Ltd. - CFO & Director [49]

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Well, until we have our budgets made for next year, I think this is actually a difficult question to answer. But as a whole, I think we remain optimistic about next years. And I think the investment that we're going to make, particularly in CapEx, this year, we're saying that our overall CapEx will be very close to the total depreciation that we have. So obviously, it's higher than last year. And with the momentum that we're seeing, I think CapEx was -- although we're not allowed to make any announcement on the CapEx for next year, but I think it will be a similar kind of pace. But having said that, our CapEx is really -- is made on a very dynamic or a fluid pattern. It's not like we're building a fab, putting $6 billion for it. A lot of the CapEx is spent as required, and it's also spent on an incremental basis. So I think that's -- we will just make -- continue to make the right investment at the right time.

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William Lu, UBS Investment Bank, Research Division - MD and Asia Semiconductors Analyst [50]

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So just to be clear, you said similar, meaning similar pace of increase, right?

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Joseph Tung, ASE Technology Holding Co., Ltd. - CFO & Director [51]

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No. I'm just -- similar pattern. As I said, we'll see the business and then we will make the necessary investment as required.

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William Lu, UBS Investment Bank, Research Division - MD and Asia Semiconductors Analyst [52]

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Okay. Maybe I'll ask that slightly differently, right, because we know your traditional businesses pretty well in terms of how it's structured. But if you look at some of the new business, for example, AIP, what is the level of investment required, that versus the old businesses?

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Joseph Tung, ASE Technology Holding Co., Ltd. - CFO & Director [53]

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Well, I don't think we can talk about specific products or customers. But I think in general, the investments, I think most of the R&D dollars is put in fan-out and some of the advanced technologies and our SiP. And this year, and I'm suspecting same for next year as well, there will be more NPIs given the more -- new products coming out and due to the increased complexity of these whatever products that we'll be building. I think the NPI investment will continue as well.

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William Lu, UBS Investment Bank, Research Division - MD and Asia Semiconductors Analyst [54]

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So with the higher complexity products with hopefully higher loading, is there a road map to get back to the previous gross margin level?

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Joseph Tung, ASE Technology Holding Co., Ltd. - CFO & Director [55]

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Go back to when?

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William Lu, UBS Investment Bank, Research Division - MD and Asia Semiconductors Analyst [56]

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The previous peak.

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Joseph Tung, ASE Technology Holding Co., Ltd. - CFO & Director [57]

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Well, that's always something that we will be hoping for. And I think there's certainly room for us to continuously improve our margins as the overall business situation continue to improve with better loading, with the somewhat newer technology start to be applied. Yes. As we move along, hopefully, we can get back to what we achieved before.

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Kenneth Hsiang, ASE Technology Holding Co., Ltd. - Head of IR [58]

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Any more questions on the floor?

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Robin Cheng, BofA Merrill Lynch, Research Division - Research Analyst [59]

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Robin Cheng from Bank of America. Just want a refresh. Last time, I think you guys mentioned that the OpEx for the fourth quarter will be materially lower. Is that still the case?

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Kenneth Hsiang, ASE Technology Holding Co., Ltd. - Head of IR [60]

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Yes. We mentioned previously that we would a step down on the OpEx percentage. We still believe that there will be room for drop on OpEx, although we got some of that this quarter. So...

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Robin Cheng, BofA Merrill Lynch, Research Division - Research Analyst [61]

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Okay. So maybe the level of decline would not be as big because some of the savings has taken place already?

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Kenneth Hsiang, ASE Technology Holding Co., Ltd. - Head of IR [62]

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Yes, during the third quarter. Originally, we thought second and third were going to be the same.

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Robin Cheng, BofA Merrill Lynch, Research Division - Research Analyst [63]

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Okay. And still the same outlook for 2020 in terms of some of the upfront R&D expenses have been already spent in...

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Kenneth Hsiang, ASE Technology Holding Co., Ltd. - Head of IR [64]

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We're definitely targeting to lower OpEx, OpEx percentage next year.

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Joseph Tung, ASE Technology Holding Co., Ltd. - CFO & Director [65]

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I think we came out to say this year because of the additional investment that we're making, OpEx ratio will be 30 basis points higher than previous year. And next year, we're looking to bring it down to 2018 level. I think that's the target.

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Kenneth Hsiang, ASE Technology Holding Co., Ltd. - Head of IR [66]

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We actually have a caller online. So we have Mr. Gokul. Gokul, are you there? No. It didn't work. He left? Yes, he lost his connection. That was our only caller online.

Would you -- are there any more questions on the floor? Any more questions on the floor? No? Oh, we do have one.

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Sebastian Hou, CLSA Limited, Research Division - Research Analyst [67]

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Sebastian from CLSA. First question is, I can't remember the last time the company talked like about 2 quarters beyond the outlook, I mean, the next following quarter. So what drive the better visibility this time? It seems like not just ASE. I think even like some of the other companies, like your peers like PowerTech, they also talk about this. So it seems to me like something different happening this time, that the industry seems to have a better and longer visibility in more than 1 quarter, and you guys are also willing to talk about that ahead.

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Joseph Tung, ASE Technology Holding Co., Ltd. - CFO & Director [68]

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That's a question we never anticipated. But I think this year, we have gone through a lot. There's a lot of changes, a lot of uncertainties. And we think it's -- maybe we should give some more color what's ahead of us and after going through the many changes or challenges this year. And I think the point we want to make is really, that despite a very challenging year, I think ASE as a whole came out fairly strong if we -- compared to our competitors. And we believe that given our scale, given the technology leadership that we have, with the changing environment, we are more -- we have more resources or flexibilities to adapt ourselves to face these challenges. And that gives us better view on the next -- in the near future, and we'd like to share this with everybody here.

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Sebastian Hou, CLSA Limited, Research Division - Research Analyst [69]

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Great. I'm just curious about like what's driving the strength for Q1. And certainly, you see customers giving you firmer forecast. So in terms of application or geography perspective, where do you see the strengths coming from?

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Joseph Tung, ASE Technology Holding Co., Ltd. - CFO & Director [70]

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I think, like I said, we're looking at the forecast and we're seeing stronger momentum in the communication sector, and I think 5G is certainly one of the driving force behind it. And there will be more new products coming out earlier than previous years. And so I think the -- in a more dynamic environment, the positioning of the company, we're seeing starting to pay off. I think that's the message we're starting to -- try to convey.

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Sebastian Hou, CLSA Limited, Research Division - Research Analyst [71]

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Just a follow-up. When you say communication, it is more on the infrastructure side or on the (inaudible) side?

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Joseph Tung, ASE Technology Holding Co., Ltd. - CFO & Director [72]

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I think both.

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Sebastian Hou, CLSA Limited, Research Division - Research Analyst [73]

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Okay. So you see both strengths in Q1 -- into Q1 next year. Okay.

The second question is on the fourth quarter guidance. I think the revenue for ATM, you guided revenue to be roughly similar from previous quarter. The margin, you see the improvement. So -- but you talk about utilization rate was similar from 3Q to 4Q, so what's driving the incremental margin improvement in Q4? Is it product mix? Or...

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Joseph Tung, ASE Technology Holding Co., Ltd. - CFO & Director [74]

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Product mix and both and -- basically product mix, and also the higher percentage of Test revenue that were coming in. Actually, I think, starting from last year, we started to talk about more investments in our Test business. We're seeing -- producing fairly good results. On a quarterly basis, we're seeing from first quarter last year the Test revenue percentage has increased from about 15% to 17% now. So we are seeing quite a bit of progress on that.

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Sebastian Hou, CLSA Limited, Research Division - Research Analyst [75]

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Got it. The third question is regarding the OpEx saving into next year. So with, like, you can finally do the real merger thing or synergy after November this year with SPIL, so would you expect even more OpEx saving into next year, not just lower to 2018 level or a bit maybe even lower than that?

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Joseph Tung, ASE Technology Holding Co., Ltd. - CFO & Director [76]

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Well, I think it's -- things don't happen overnight. I think whatever integration or cooperation, we'll do it as we go. We'll do the right thing at the right time. We're not in a haste to try to make something happen. Whatever we do may or may not have an impact on our customers as well. So we need to be very cautious when we decide to do whatever that we are going to do. So we're going to take one step at a time, and we'll set our first goal at coming back to more normal OpEx ratio. And then we'll go -- we'll see from there.

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Kenneth Hsiang, ASE Technology Holding Co., Ltd. - Head of IR [77]

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Our caller has returned. Gokul, are you online?

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Gokul Hariharan, JP Morgan Chase & Co, Research Division - Head of Taiwan Equity Research and Senior Tech Analyst [78]

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Hello, can you hear me?

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Kenneth Hsiang, ASE Technology Holding Co., Ltd. - Head of IR [79]

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Yes. Gokul, go ahead. Name and company, please.

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Gokul Hariharan, JP Morgan Chase & Co, Research Division - Head of Taiwan Equity Research and Senior Tech Analyst [80]

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Yes. Gokul Hariharan, JP Morgan. First of all, given that you're planning to keep CapEx similar or higher, it looks like, for next year, can you talk a little bit about the CapEx priority for next year? I think this year, testing was clearly one of the big priorities. As we look into 2020, could you talk a little about what are the key priorities? Do we see more investment in fan-out and SiP? Can you give us some color on that?

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Joseph Tung, ASE Technology Holding Co., Ltd. - CFO & Director [81]

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For this year, I think the overall percentage breakdown, the assembly, around 50%; and Test actually went up again from last year's 35% to 43%. EMS, we are also checking up our CapEx. I think for EMS, for the year, it should stand at around 6%, with material taking the rest. For next year, I think it's still a bit early, I think. But as far as assembly is concerned, I think most -- a large chunk of the CapEx will still be in bumping as well.

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Gokul Hariharan, JP Morgan Chase & Co, Research Division - Head of Taiwan Equity Research and Senior Tech Analyst [82]

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Would you say that you already have enough testing capacity right now? Or do you think that there's further expansion that you need to do in testing given the turnkey business mix growth?

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Joseph Tung, ASE Technology Holding Co., Ltd. - CFO & Director [83]

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You mean bumping or fan-out?

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Gokul Hariharan, JP Morgan Chase & Co, Research Division - Head of Taiwan Equity Research and Senior Tech Analyst [84]

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Sorry. Testing, testing.

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Joseph Tung, ASE Technology Holding Co., Ltd. - CFO & Director [85]

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Oh, testing. Testing is a moving target. I think we are looking at higher turnkey ratio. We're looking at lengthening test time. So the test requirement, we'll see how our business combination becomes going forward. Right now, I think we're having adequate capacity to meet the demand.

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Gokul Hariharan, JP Morgan Chase & Co, Research Division - Head of Taiwan Equity Research and Senior Tech Analyst [86]

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Okay. Secondly, I just wanted to elaborate on a previous question, gross margins. It looks like utilization has already gotten back to about 80%, 85% levels. As we think about gross margins moving higher, where is the key area of upside that you're expecting? Is there more flex on utilizations from current levels? Or it's purely going to come in from product mix? And with the product mix, could you also give us some details on what are the higher-margin products that you're expecting to grow faster?

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Joseph Tung, ASE Technology Holding Co., Ltd. - CFO & Director [87]

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I think in general, it's really the improving -- well, it's a combination of loading and as well as product mix shifts, especially on the -- if we are talking about at a holding level, especially on the EMS, the product mix does make a lot of difference on the gross margin level.

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Gokul Hariharan, JP Morgan Chase & Co, Research Division - Head of Taiwan Equity Research and Senior Tech Analyst [88]

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Okay. Pardon, ATM, you -- do you think it is more of a question of increase in loading? Or is there any meaningful product mix shift that we should be anticipating?

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Joseph Tung, ASE Technology Holding Co., Ltd. - CFO & Director [89]

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It's loading as well as the overall efficiency. Hopefully, we can achieve better margin going forward.

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Kenneth Hsiang, ASE Technology Holding Co., Ltd. - Head of IR [90]

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And we're definitely also looking to keep our gas pedal depressed on Test turnkey business. So we're definitely looking for a little bit more Test product mix.

Do we have any more questions? A follow-up.

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Zheng Lu, Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Research Division - Research Analyst [91]

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So mainly you are optimistic about 2020, right? For your ATM business, can you give us the growth rate in terms of different applications like communication, computer? Which one is getting stronger in 2020 in terms of their growth rate?

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Joseph Tung, ASE Technology Holding Co., Ltd. - CFO & Director [92]

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Huh?

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Zheng Lu, Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Research Division - Research Analyst [93]

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In terms of their year-on-year growth, which one would be the strongest?

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Joseph Tung, ASE Technology Holding Co., Ltd. - CFO & Director [94]

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I think that we'll have a better answer in next conference.

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Kenneth Hsiang, ASE Technology Holding Co., Ltd. - Head of IR [95]

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There's definitely a little bit to do with 5G, too. So...

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Zheng Lu, Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Research Division - Research Analyst [96]

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So you suggest that the communication would still be stronger than the computer?

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Kenneth Hsiang, ASE Technology Holding Co., Ltd. - Head of IR [97]

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We don't have a relative performance right now. Yes.

Any other questions? No? Well, thank you very much for attending the earnings release. We will be headed back to our regular location next quarter. And hopefully, Dr. Tien Wu will be here to enlighten us all. Thank you.