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Micron Resumes Some Huawei Shipments Despite Trump Blacklist

Ian King

(Bloomberg) -- Micron Technology Inc., the largest U.S. maker of computer memory chips, said it resumed some shipments to China’s Huawei Technologies Co., appearing to find a way around an export ban that threatens growth for the semiconductor industry.

Micron, which explained the decision Tuesday as it reported earnings, studied the export restrictions and determined “a subset” of products it sells to Huawei are not subject to the rules, Chief Executive Officer Sanjay Mehrotra said on a conference call. That sent stock surging as much as 11% in extended trading.

Micron was forced to halt shipments to one of its largest customers after the Trump administration banned Huawei from buying American technology. Micron makes chips used as the main memory in computers and as storage in mobile devices. Sales to the Chinese telecommunications company generate about 13% of Micron’s annual revenue, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

“We began those shipments in the last two weeks,” Mehrotra said. The company completed its own review of the various and complex restrictions on supplying the Chinese company and made its own decision, he said, without providing further specifics.

Micron’s announcement helped other chip shares gain. The Boise, Idaho-based company’s stock had been among the most hardest hit this year by concern that a trade war between would cut U.S. companies off from their largest market, China. Mehrotra also said there are signs that demand is increasing as his customers work through their stockpiles of unused parts.

Micron may be the first company to go public about continuing some level of business with Huawei after looking closely at the rules, according to Cross Research analyst Steven Fox. Even when companies have headquarters in the U.S., they may be able, through ownership of overseas subsidiaries and operations, to classify their technology as foreign, he said.

“It’s one of those things that’s very hard to calculate,” Fox said. “There’s a partial amount of shipments that you should think about, not just with Micron, but with other companies in the supply chain too, as continuing.”

Micron and others may be taking advantage of a loophole, according to Kevin Cassidy, an analyst at Stifel Nicolaus & Co. If less than 25% of the technology in a chip originates in the U.S., then it’s not covered by the ban, he said. That could lead to the transfer of patents to overseas entities, something the U.S. government would oppose, he said.

Cassidy said he’s concerned that President Donald Trump’s administration might see the resumption of shipments to Huawei as undermining its goal of putting pressure on the Chinese in trade negotiations and take other actions.

The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed a resolution Tuesday designating Huawei and fellow Chinese equipment maker ZTE Corp. as threats to national security.

Mehrotra has been telling investors that a much broader set of customers will help insulate the industry from the brutal downturns that have wiped out profitability in the past. He said that data-center owners, such as Alphabet Inc.’s Google and Amazon.com Inc.’s AWS, who had cut orders as they worked through stockpiles of unused components, are now starting to order again.

Earlier, Micron Chief Financial Officer David Zinsner said the company’s revenue will be $4.5 billion, plus or minus $200 million, in the period ending in August. Analysts, on average, projected $4.56 billion. Micron reported sales fell 39% to $4.79 billion in the fiscal third quarter, topping analysts’ estimates of $4.68 billion.

Profit, excluding certain items, was $1.05 a share in the period ended May 30. Analysts, on average, estimated 78 cents a share. The company projected adjusted profit of 45 cents a share, plus or minus 7 cents, in the current quarter. Analysts estimated 63 cents a share.

Last quarter, the company said it would idle 5% of production for DRAM and NAND memory chips because of weaker demand and reduce its planned capital expenses in the fiscal year to about $9 billion. Micron said Tuesday it intends to “meaningfully” reduce its spending on new plants and equipment in its fiscal year 2020, in order to align increases in supply with demand levels.

(Updates with comments from analyst in the sixth paragraph.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Ian King in San Francisco at ianking@bloomberg.net

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