Closing the China “Chip Gap” Creates Long-Term Opportunities for Equipment and Materials Suppliers


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Closing the China “Chip Gap” Creates Long-Term Opportunities for Equipment and Materials Suppliers

China’s commitment to narrow the gap between IC production and consumption will lead to growing equipment and material purchasing over the next decade. Given the size of the gap and the current policy actions by both national and provincial governments, China’s portion of the global equipment and materials market may double in ten years. In addition, new equipment purchasing by multinational chip companies with fabs or packaging & test plants in China will increasingly be made in-country by Chinese R&D and process engineering staffs.

Since China surpassed Japan and the US in 2007 to become the world’s largest consumer of ICs, China policy makers have increasingly voiced concerns about the “chip gap” between supply and demand. In 2008, China consumed approximately one-quarter of the world’s ICs, yet manufactured only $5.6 billion in chips, enough to support only 8% of their domestic requirements. By 2011, the China IC market will grow to $85 billion with domestic production expected to reach $8.2 billion, about 10% (iSupply, IC Insights, CSIA). By 2013, China’s share of the global chip market will reach 35%. In the past, in markets such as computers, mobile phones, and automobiles, such an imbalance between supply and demand has prompted increased investments in local production capacity.

While some observers expected China’s economy to slow following the Beijing Olympics—or become increasingly susceptible to global economic shocks—the Chinese economy continues to growth at robust rates. The International Monetary Fund projects China’s GDP to rise 8.5% in 2009, despite the global recession, and growing at 9% in 2010. China’s government unveiled a 4-trillion-yuan (US$586 billion) stimulus package in November 2008, with the funds to be distributed through 2010.

In addition to investments in the macro economy, the Chinese government also remains the biggest investor in the semiconductor industry in China. In the past five years, the China government influenced the investment of about $7 billion in new fabs. In the next five years, local government will likely continue to be the significant co-investor in strategic IC Fab projects throughout the country. Going forward, the central government may also invest up to $30 billion on semiconductor (semiconductor equipment and material are included), also software and high-end chip hardware industry by 2020.

The national government is investing in various VLSI equipment and materials research projects totaling $2.6 billion. In 2009, there were 54 projects involving process technology, equipment, materials, parts and other semiconductor manufacturing research funded by the government. Focus areas included 90nm production, 65nm pilot line manufacturing, and 45nm technology, as well as other front-end and back-end manufacturing research through 2012. The National Science and Development Plan 2008-2020 will continue to focus on core electronics research, including software and increasingly high-end chip hardware.

The commitment to closing the chip gap will make the China equipment and materials market increasingly more important for global suppliers. According to the SEMI World Fab Forecast, total spending on front end fabs (construction + equipping) in China will grow by about 67% in 2010 to over $2 billion. This includes new, used equipment and any self-made equipment purchased at over 20 fabs. Installed capacity is expected to grow by about 10% to over 1.5 Million wafers per month, about 10% of all worldwide capacity in 2010. In 2011, the equipment is expected to reach $2.56 billion, according to SEMI 2009 Consensus Forecast. In materials, China is projected to spend $3.75 billion in 2010, up 15% from 2009, surpassing Europe and nearly approaching the levels of US spending (SEMI 2009 Consensus Forecast).

Top three spenders in 2010 are expected to be SMIC and SMIC managed fabs including Wuhan XinXin , Intel in Dalian and Hynix/Numonyx in Wuxi. Top 3 companies with most installed capacity by end of 2010 are expected to be Hynix/Numonyx, SMIC and SMIC managed fabs including Wuhan XinXin, and CR Micro (China Resources Microelectronics Limited).

Packaging and Test

Packaging, assembly and test are key segments of the semiconductor supply chain in China with over 200 companies competing, though many are smaller companies manufacturing low-pin count devices. Given pressures to reduce cost and to be close to end product manufacturers, worldwide leading Integrated Device Manufacturers (IDMs) and packaging/test subcontractors have shifted back-end operations to China from the U.S., Europe, Japan, Singapore, and Taiwan since the 1990s.

Some important recent developments in the China back-end market include:

  • Hynix Semiconductor Inc. and Wuxi Industrial Development Group Co. Ltd. announced plans to establish a back-end joint venture in China. The total investment of the new back-end joint venture will be $350 million
  • Infineon Technologies signed an agreement with Wuxi New District, increasing investment to $150 million in the district for back-end production
  • ASE plans to build an IC packaging line in JinQiao Pudong, Shanghai. Packaging ability includes Plastic Ball Grid Array (PBGA), Fine Ball Grid Array (FBGA), Small Outline Integrated Circuit (SOIC), and Quad Flat Package (QFP)
  • Tianshui HuaTian’s Xi’an Project- an integrated circuit production project invested in Xi’an by Tianshui Huatian Microelectronics spent 600 million Yuan ($90 million) is expected to produce 5 billion integrated circuits per year
  • STATS ChipPAC spent $40 million to modify its bumping line. The line was converted to a solder bump line from a gold bump line

As multinational chip manufacturers succeed in advanced fab technology such as Intel’s Dalian facility, and TSMC continues to take advantage of growing trade relations with the mainland and their investment relationship with SMIC, these projections could be significantly expanded. With continued government support, and China’s growing semiconductor infrastructure, China’s share of the world semiconductor manufacturing market may significantly increase beyond 2011, growing in share throughout the coming decade.

For more information, on the China semiconductor market see the SEMI World Fab Forecast at: http://www.semi.org/en/MarketInfo/FabDatabase/index.htm.

The entire semiconductor, solar and FPD supply chain will converge on Shanghai, China, on March 16-18, 2010 for SEMICON China, SOLARCON Chinaand FPD China. This will be the first year that all three industry events will be held concurrently.