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TSMC’s $28 Billion Spending Blitz Ignites a Global Chip Rally

·6 min read

(Bloomberg) -- Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. triggered a global chip stock rally after outlining plans to pour as much as $28 billion into capital spending this year, a staggering sum aimed at expanding its technological lead and constructing a plant in Arizona to serve key American customers.

The envisioned spending spree sent chipmaking gear manufacturers surging from New York to Tokyo. Capital spending for 2021 is targeted at $25 billion to $28 billion, compared with $17.2 billion the previous year. About 80% of the outlay will be devoted to advanced processor technologies, suggesting TSMC anticipates a surge in business for cutting-edge chipmaking. Analysts expect Intel Corp., the world’s best-known chipmaker, to outsource manufacture to the likes of TSMC after a series of inhouse technology slip-ups.

The sheer scale of TSMC’s envisioned budget -- more than half its projected revenue for the year -- underscores TSMC’s determination to maintain its dominance and supply its biggest American clients from Apple Inc. to Qualcomm Inc. At 52% of projected 2021 revenue, the chipmaker’s planned spending would be the sixth-highest among all companies with a value of more than $10 billion, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The outlay may also ramp up pressure on Intel, whose budget for 2020 was roughly $14.5 billion.

“The high capex guide is indicative of TSMC’s confidence in Intel’s outsourcing business,” Bernstein analysts led by Mark Li wrote in a note. “TSMC’s track record also shows high capex always subsequently led to high growth.”

The world’s largest contract chipmaker expects revenue of $12.7 billion to $13 billion this quarter, ahead of the $12.4 billion average of analyst estimates. That will power mid-teens sales growth this year, though that’s roughly half the pace of the increase in 2020.

Net income in the quarter ended December climbed 23% to NT$142.8 billion ($5.1 billion), compared with the NT$137.2 billion average of analyst estimates, the chipmaker said Thursday. That contributed to a 50% increase in full-year profit, the speediest rate of expansion since 2010. Sales in the December quarter climbed 14% to a record NT$361.5 billion, according to previously disclosed monthly numbers, helped in part by robust demand for Apple’s new 5G iPhones.

Read more: As Chip Rivals Struggle, TSMC Goes In for the Kill: Tim Culpan

TSMC jumped as much as 5.6%, the most since July, to an all-time high in early Friday trade, extending a rally of more than 70% over the past year. Supplier Tokyo Electron Ltd. climbed more than 4%, while ASML Holding NV rose 5.9% on Thursday. Other semiconductor companies in the U.S. rallied on Thursday, with Applied Materials Inc. gaining almost 8% and Lam Research Corp up 6% in New York. Intel gained 4%.

The fourth-quarter results revealed increasing contributions from TSMC’s most-advanced 5-nanometer process technology -- used to make Apple’s A14 chips. That accounted for about 20% of total revenue during the quarter, more than doubling its share from the previous three months, while 7nm represented 29%. By business segment, TSMC’s smartphone business contributed about 51% to revenue, while high-performance computing (HPC) was at 31%.

As rivals like United Microelectronics Corp. fall behind and Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp. struggles with American sanctions, TSMC’s pivotal role is likely to expand in 2021. The company has been racing to meet demand from larger-volume electronics clients, exacerbating a severe shortage of automotive chips that’s forcing firms like Honda Motor Co. and Volkswagen AG to curtail production.

TSMC said the automotive industry had been “soft” since 2018 and demand only started to recover in the fourth quarter. The company is working with its automotive customers to address the capacity supply issues, Chief Executive Officer C.C. Wei said, though he didn’t elaborate when the bottlenecks that forced carmakers to cut production could be resolved.

Read more: Missing Chips Snarl Car Production at Factories Worldwide

Executives didn’t address reports about potential orders from Intel on Thursday, saying that they don’t discuss specific customers. The Santa Clara, California-based chipmaker held talks with TSMC about making some of its best chips, people familiar have said, though it’s unclear whether the company may pivot after the appointment of Pat Gelsinger as its new CEO.

“We believe Intel would not change its plans of CPU foundry outsourcing even with the CEO change,” Citigroup analysts wrote in a note, citing the time and costs associated with process qualification as well as the risk that U.S. chipmaker won’t get capacity from TSMC if it doesn’t book ahead. “In our view, Intel will be one of the major customers to first adopt 3nm for production. TSMC might start shipping 3nm wafers to Intel from early 3Q22.”

Read more: Intel Talks With TSMC, Samsung to Outsource Some Chip Production

Construction on a planned $12 billion plant in the southwestern U.S. state of Arizona will begin this year, executives reiterated, without specifying how much of the planned budget for this year will be allocated to the project. The factory will be completed by 2024, with initial target output of 20,000 wafers per month, though the company envisions having a “mega scale production site” over the long term, Chairman Mark Liu said.

Even as TSMC grows, foundries such as TSMC, UMC and Globalfoundries Inc. aren’t expanding fast enough to meet the pandemic-induced spike in demand for gadgets. Those bottlenecks snarled the flow of chips not just to cars, but also Xboxes and PlayStations and even certain iPhones. TSMC is by far the most advanced of the foundries responsible for making a significant portion of the world’s semiconductors, serving the likes of Qualcomm and NXP Semiconductors NV, which also supply the mobile and auto industries.

What Bloomberg Industries Says:

TSMC’s $28 billion capital investment target for 2021 is 50% more than investors expected, and amounts to management’s strong vote of confidence in demand for smartphones and high-performance computing (HPC) chips over the next three years. The capital outlay target implies 2021 sales could leap to $56 billion, 4% higher than the $54 billion consensus expects, assuming 50% capital spending intensity.

-- Charles Shum, analyst

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(Adds analyst comments in fifth and 12th paragraph, latest share performance in seventh paragraph)

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