FRENCH-Italian chipmaker STMicroelectronics NV is ramping up spending on new semiconductor capacity after a supply chain breakdown disrupted the automotive industry and piled pressure on the company to boost output.
The industry has been struggling to meet demand for chips powerful enough to run the latest generation of smartphones and manage an increasingly sophisticated array of functions in cars, after the pandemic and geopolitical tensions disrupted supply chains.
Chipmakers face the risk of investing in new production that could end up being underused if customers stop stockpiling. ST Chief Executive Officer Jean-Marc Chery said all of the company’s foundries are fully booked and it’s starting to see shortages of some materials.
"We are facing an unprecedented market situation, ” Chery said on a results call. He said the industry is in "emergency task force mode” to fix the supply chain issues.
STMicro will invest between $1.8 billion and $2 billion this year, most of which will go to boosting capacity. That’s more than the $1.47 billion consensus forecast of analysts surveyed by Bloomberg. Capital spending was $1.28 billion in 2020.
Chery said the supply tension is driven partly by carmakers increasing production and replenishing depleted inventory, along with bigger orders from consumer electronics and industrial customers.
The situation is offsetting a loss of business resulting from the U.S.-led boycott of China’s Huawei Technologies Co. and propelling ST faster toward its goal of $12 billion in annual revenue, he added.
Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co., the largest chip manufacturer, plans to pour as much as $28 billion into capital spending this year for projects including constructing a plant in Arizona to serve key American customers.
STMicro could be facing particular pressure to boost output for its automotive clients as many of those facing problems are based in Europe and the company is part-owned by the French and Italian states.
ST shares rose 2.4% by 10:14 a.m. in Paris. The shares are up 20% in the past 12 months, underperforming a 48% gain in the Bloomberg World Semiconductors index.
For now, the supply chain gyrations aren’t putting a dent in STMicro’s underlying profitability. The company expects a gross margin of about 38.5% in the first quarter, above an analyst consensus forecast of 37.7%. - Bloomberg