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TSMC Lifts Targets After Warning Chip Crunch May Hit 2022

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Debby Wu
·5 min read
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(Bloomberg) -- Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. warned that a global shortage of semiconductors across industries from automaking to consumer electronics may extend into 2022, prompting the linchpin chipmaker to lift targets on spending and growth for this year.

The world’s largest contract chipmaker said Thursday that its auto industry clients can expect chip shortages to begin easing next quarter, alleviating some of the supply disruptions that have forced the likes of General Motors Co. and Ford Motor Co. to curtail production. But overall deficits of critical semiconductors will last throughout 2021 and potentially into next year, Chief Executive Officer C.C. Wei told analysts on a conference call.

TSMC now expects investments of about $30 billion on capacity expansions and upgrades this year, up from a previous forecast for as much as $28 billion, Chief Financial Officer Wendell Huang said. It foresees sales in the June quarter at a better-than-projected $12.9 billion to $13.2 billion, driving full-year revenue growth of 20% in dollar terms -- ahead of the “mid-teens” growth predicted in January.

But the increased spending means its target for gross margins this quarter came in below expectations at 49.5% to 51.5%, spurring concerns about the longer-term impact on profitability. TSMC’s shares slipped 1.8% in Taipei on Friday, their biggest intraday loss in about three weeks.

“The capex boost is a mixed bag with better long-term growth but lower margins,” Morgan Stanley analysts wrote.

What Bloomberg Intelligence Says

Large depreciation costs from new 5-nm production equipment may lower gross margin by 2%, while slower-than-expected production efficiency improvement implies that gross margin will continue to contract, possibly to under 50% in 2Q.

- Charles Shum and Simon Chan, analysts

Click here for the research.

TSMC joins a growing number of industry giants from Continental AG to Renesas Electronics Corp. and Foxconn Technology Group that warned of longer-than-anticipated deficits thanks to unprecedented demand for everything from cars to game consoles and mobile devices. While Taiwan’s largest chipmaker has kept its fabs running at “over 100% utilization,” the firm doesn’t have enough capacity to satisfy all its customers and it has pledged to invest $100 billion over the next three years to expand.

“We see the demand continue to be high,” Wei said. “In 2023, I hope we can offer more capacity to support our customers. At that time, we’ll start to see the supply chain tightness release a little bit.”

Read more: See How a Chip Shortage Snarled Everything From Phones to Cars

Semiconductor shortages are cascading through the global economy. Automakers like Ford, Nissan Motor Co.and Volkswagen AG have already scaled back production, leading to estimates for more than $60 billion in lost revenue for the industry this year. The situation is likely get worse before it gets better: a rare winter storm in Texas knocked out swaths of U.S. production, while a fire at a key Japan factory will shut the facility for a month. Rival chipmaker Samsung Electronics Co. warned of a “serious imbalance” in the industry.

With major American carmakers and other gadget suppliers facing a prolonged shortage of chips, U.S. President Joe Biden has proposed $50 billion to bolster semiconductor research and manufacturing at home. The initiative could aid TSMC’s plan to build a cutting-edge fab in Arizona this year that could cost $12 billion.

TSMC is “happy” to support chip manufacturing in the U.S., though research and development and the majority of production will continue to remain in Taiwan, executives said on Thursday. They reiterated that construction of their plant in Arizona will begin this year.

Read more: Why Shortages of a $1 Chip Sparked Crisis in Global Economy

Net income for the January-March period climbed 19% to NT$139.7 billion ($4.9 billion), beating the average analyst estimate, buoyed by demand for high-performance computing (HPC) equipment and a milder seasonal effect on smartphone demand. Gross margin for the quarter eased to 52.4% from 54% in the three months prior, due in part to relatively lower levels of utilization and exchange-rate fluctuations. First-quarter revenue rose 17% to NT$362.4 billion, according to a company statement last week.

The company said Thursday it now expects to be able to achieve the higher end of its compound annual growth rate target of 10% to 15% for the five years to 2025, citing its investment spending plans.

“TSMC’s statement that the chip crunch may spill into 2022 will smooth over concerns that chip demand may fall on overbooking later this year and further boost investors’ confidence in the overall semiconductor demand in the long run,” said Elsa Cheng, an analyst at GF Securities.

Shares of TSMC have more than doubled over the past year.

TSMC’s most-advanced technologies continued to account for nearly half of revenue in the March quarter, with 5-nanometer and 7-nanometer processes contributing 14% and 35% of sales, respectively. By business segment, its smartphone business amounted for about 45% of revenue, while HPC increased to more than a third, reflecting sustained demand for devices and internet servers even as economies start to emerge from the pandemic.

“We are seeing stronger engagement with more customers on 5-nm and 3-nm, in fact the engagement is so strong that we have to really prepare the capacity for it,” Wei said. Smartphones and HPC will be the main drivers for demand of 5-nm, which will contribute around 20% of wafer revenue this year.

TSMC Is On Fire. Just Beware of the Flames: Tim Culpan

(Updates with share action from the fourth paragraph)

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