US fab part of TSMC capex surge to $28 billion
The company said that about 80 percent of that money would be spent on advanced manufacturing at the 3, 5 and 7nm processing nodes, while 10 percent would be on packaging and masks and 10 percent on other specialty technologies.
TSMC gave the information in an analyst conference call held to discuss the company’s 4Q20 financial results. In the quarter the company made a net profit of NT$142.77 billion (about US$5.10 billion) on revenues of NT$361.53 billion (about US$12.91 billion). TSMC forecast 1Q21 sales revenue of between US$12.7 billion and US$13 billion suggesting a strong quarter.
However, the eye-opening news was TSMC’s capital expenditure, a near-doubling of what it had planned to spend in 2020. A year ago the company budgeted between $15 billion and $16 billion for capital expenditure but ended up spending $17.2 billion.
One reason for the increase is TSMC’s bullish view of the semiconductor market after having enjoyed a strong 2020 despite, or perhaps because of, the Covid-19 pandemic. Its annual sales increased 25.2 percent Taiwanese dollars and 31.4 percent in US$.
As a result, TSMC has increased its long-term outlook saying it now expects the company to achieve a compound annual revenue growth of 10 to 15 percent from 2020 to 2025, up from the 5 to 10 percent it had previously used.
Rival Samsung Foundry is vertically integrated within the South Korea consumer electronics giant and therefore has the means to try and keep up with TSMC capital expenditure if it chooses. Intel is the world’s largest chip company with an expected revenue of $70 billion – compared to TSMC’s $47.8 billion – could also spend heavily. But almost all other chip companies, whether integrated device manufacturer (IDM) or foundry could not compete.
Next: Hey big spender
TSMC’s big spending comes at a time when it and many other chipmakers are running at full manufacturing capacity and there are shortages in supply chains, particularly for automobile makers (see Volkswagen faces massive chip shortages) who are having to slow down production.
But TSMC provided little comfort for those customers who often rely on more mature manufacturing processes for chips made on 200mm-diameter wafers, which is not where TSMC is spending. CC Wei, TSMC’s CEO, said: “We are working with customers closely and moving some of their mature node to more advanced node where we have better capacity to support them. In addition to that, we also try to manage this shortage condition, try to mitigate the impact from this shortage.”
TSMC’s focus on support the smartphone and high-performance computing (HPC) markets and their need for advanced processes is clear. In 4Q20 shipments of 5nm wafers accounted for 20 percent of revenue and 7nm and 16nm accounted for 29 and 13 percent respectively. TSMC has phased out 10nm production. But the advanced manufacturing processes accounted for 62 percent of revenue. In terms of applications in 4Q20 smartphones and HPC were responsible for 51 percent and 31 percent of revenue, respectively. Automotive was down at 3 percent.
Wei also gave analysts TSMC’s traditional outlook for the semiconductor industry. He said TSMC expects the semiconductor sector excluding memory to grow by 8 percent in 2021. The foundry sector would grow by 10 percent and TSMC would outperform the foundry sector with growth in the mid-teens of percent, he said.
Wei said that risk production of the 3nm FinFET manufacturing process was due to start in 2021 with volume production expected in 2H22. He also said that TSMC’s chiplet approach to 3D assembly would hit volume production in 2022.
“We observe chiplets are becoming an industry trend. We are working with several customers on 3DFabric to enable chiplet architecture,” said Wei. “SoIC’s full volume production is targeted in 2022. SoIC is expected to be first adopted by HPC applications, where bandwidth performance, power efficiency and form factor are aggressively pursued.”
One analyst asked whether the large jump in capex budget was partly due to the need to meet manufacturing requirements for Intel (see Report: TSMC to make Intel’s ‘next’ discrete graphics chip) or whether TSMC would consider licensing out its manufacturing process technologies. “We don’t comment on the specific topics or specific customers. But let me tell you that we are working with our customers continuously to expand the TSMC’s business and to support our customers’ demand,” answered Wei.
Wendell Huang, CFO at TSMC, confirmed that the capex for 2021 includes spending for the TSMC wafer fab that begins construction this year in Arizona (see TSMC picks Arizona for 5nm wafer fab).
The executives were also asked if TSMC would turn the Arizona wafer fab into a so-called mega-fab.
TSMC chairman Mark Liu answered: “We recently acquired a big piece of land in Phoenix, 1,100 acres. Definitely that was the long-term plan to have a mega-scale production sites. But currently our plan is only work on the phase one production, I’m talking 2024 with 20,000 wafers per month. Going forward we will see, according to the market condition and the cost economics provided by the government support to mend the cost differences to decide the next steps.”
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