Global supply chain restructuring that is being accelerated by the US-China trade war and the COVID-19 pandemic gears toward two directions in view of geopolitical factors: "China+1" - the business strategy to still tap the China market but diversify production to other countries to avoid punitive US tariffs on Chinese goods; and "China-free" - the initiative to drive self-sufficiency to counter China's dominance and protect national security.
Pure-play foundry houses are requiring fabless chip vendors to prepay for the capacity bookings or to co-fund their capacity expansion projects. One of such cases is Qualcomm striking a six-year deal UMC in order to secure foundry support. Supply in the semiconductor sector is expected to remain tight in the foreseeable future, with IC substrate supply unlikely to see major improvements until late 2021 or 2022.
Memory prices have been rising, and contract quotes for DRAM and NAND flash are expected to see double-digit increases in the third quarter of 2021. Backend service providers are also looking to raise fees in the third quarter to reflect rising material costs. In the handset market, sales in China and India may be weak, but the makers in the handset supply chain are still optimistic about the market in the second half of 2021.
Qualcomm has just launched its Snapdragon 778G made using TSMC's 6nm process. It is expected to be more popular among midrange smartphones because of its higher price-performance ratio than the 5nm-made 780G series. Taiwan-based backend houses are now gearing up for the latest Qualcomm mobile SoC. In the car industry, business opportunities for smat auto lights are rapidly emerging, and Taiwan has a good chance of playing a major role in the sector, according the CEO of Silicon Application Corp (SAC).
UMC has plans to invest vast sums to expand a 12-inch fab site in southern Taiwan, and eight of the foundry's major clients have already reserved parts of the additional capacity for a six-year period. Enterprise PC demand is likely to rise in second-half 2021 as more people are expected to return to work at their physical offices, thanks to the lifting of pandemic-induced lockdowns. In China, demand for 5G smartphones has been growing, and 5G phone shipments into the local maket reached more than 91 million units in th efirst months of 2021.
OwlTing, a Taiwan-based startup engaged in blockchain applications, aims to increase business by 50-100 times from the current level in 5-7 years, with new FinTech services to be the major driving force, according to company founder and CEO Darren Wang.
Taiwan-based server ODMs run substantial parts of their production locally, but they will be able to shift server production to manufacturing sites in other countries should COVID-19 result in lockdowns affecting their local operation. Chinese handset brands reportedly are mulling cutting chip orders because of fast weakning sales in China and India. But most other fabless firms are unlikely to cut back their wafer starts at foundry houses, as they are still eager to secure foundry capacity. Demand for MCUs remains strong, sending prices up.
The semiconductor and IT value chains in Taiwan have raised their alerts to the surging COVID cases locally, adopting work-from-home and other precautionary measures, though so far no major infections have been reported among the big companies. Barring COVID impacts, volume production for miniLED-backlit MacBook Pro devices will still have to be deferred because of issues with miniLED supply. Europe-based carmaker Stellantis is set to announce a strategic partnership with Foxconn.
As COVID-19 cases surge in Taiwan, concerns have been raised over the stability of chip supply from the local semiconductor value chain. No major infections have been reported among Taiwan's semiconductor and IT supply chains yet, but Pegatron has adopted work-from-home measures for its Taiwan offices after one of its employees was infected with coronavirus. But demand for PCs in Southeast Asia remains strong despite the resurging pandemic there, according to Acer's president for the region.
Foxconn has made another step towards developing more affordable electric vehicles. The EMS giant has just struck deals with California-based Fisker for the development of EVs with starting prices under US$30,000. Meanwhile, the global top-5 notebook brand vendors' combined shipment slipped in May due to component shortages, according to Digitimes esearch's latest figures. But ODM Quanta Computer expects its notebook shipments to stay robust in second-half 2021.
Components shortages have been troubling the notebook industry for months. ODM Pegatron's previous optimism that its second-quarter 2021 notebook shipments would grow 25-30% has now been reduced to a projection of only 5-10% increase due to worsening compoent shortfall. But brand vendor Asustek remains optimistic about its PC sales in second-quarter and second-half 2021, buoyed by strong order visibility. For smart manufacturing, Canadian startup ForceN has developed small, thin, flexible and customizable force sensors, according to its CEO Robert Brooks, whose ambition is to revolutionize robotics.
The advent of Internet of Things (IoT) and Industry 4.0 has increased the demands for robots and edge computing, and the tasks are becoming more and more complex. Force sensors are critical to preventing the machines from breaking. Toronto-based startup ForceN has developed customizable force sensors that are thin and flexible, and do not require design change on machines to accommodate them.
Device makers may be heading towards inventory correction next quarter, as they revisit their production plans amid weakenig demand in some major markets. Taiwan-based chipmakers have seen some clients slow down the pace of orders. But many still believe demand will remain robust and component and material shotages will persist - which provides motivation for Nan Ya PCB to expand production capacity. Cryptominers' demand for graphics cards has been extremely strong. But as they only need graphics cards to support their mining, they are expected to dump other PC peripherals and motherboards that have come with bundle purchases of the grahics cards.
The rampant pandemic in India has raised an alarm among ICT makers. Suppliers in the handset and PC sectors have seen orders dlowing down from the South Asian country. Taiwanese IC design houses are also bracing for disappointing sales in second-quarter 2021 because of the impacts from the surging COVID infections in India. But server ODMs still expect stgrong growth in shipments in the second quarter, driven by persistently strong stay-at-home demand.
Tight capacity and strong demand have been sending foundry service quotes rising. UMC has plans to raise its 28nm process quotes by almost 13% in July, and will adjust them upwards again in first-quarter 2022. MediaTek has received sufficient support from TSMC, and the chip vendor is also looking to employ the foundry house's advanced InFO_PoP packaging technology for new handset chips. Notebook panel prices have also been rising, and the upward pricing trend is expected to continue through the end of 2021.