Seoul to top Beijing in chip machine spending

FILE PHOTO: Semiconductor chips are seen on a printed circuit board in this illustration picture taken February 17, 2023. REUTERS/Florence Lo/Illustration/File Photo

SEOUL: South Korea is forecast to overtake China in spending on advanced chipmaking equipment next year, a sign of US export controls reshaping global supply chains for semiconductors.

South Korea will likely increase its investment in fab equipment by 41.5% to US$21bil (RM93bil) in 2024, while China logs only a 2% increase to US$16.6bil (RM73.4bil), according to data from Semiconductor Equipment and Materials International (SEMI), a global semiconductor association based in the United States.

The shift underscores China’s struggle to secure crucial machines to improve its chips as US curbs make it harder to access equipment purchased from a handful of makers like ASML Holding NV of the Netherlands.

As the Dutch and Japanese governments join restrictions imposed by the United States on exports to China, the most advanced chips and equipment from the likes of Nvidia Corp and Tokyo Electron Ltd are being kept out of Chinese hands.

US chipmaking equipment suppliers, including Applied Materials Inc, Lam Research Corp and KLA Corp are expected to lose billions in sales this year due to US restrictions on China.

Chip foundries are particularly important in the race for economic and political dominance as they produce the cutting-edge chips needed for artificial intelligence, self-driving vehicles and other technologies essential to boosting national competitiveness.

OpenAI’s ChatGPT, for instance, was produced by putting together tens of thousands of Nvidia’s A100 chips, which are banned for sale in China, into a functional supercomputer.

With a large share of its memory chips produced in China and growing awareness of US unease, South Korea is now looking to its own soil to lay the groundwork for foundries as it sees contract chipmaking as one of its biggest growth engines for the economy.

President Yoon Suk Yeol earlier this month announced a plan to invest in a chipmaking cluster south of Seoul, drawing 300 trillion won (US$230bil or RM1 trillion) from Samsung Electronics Co over the next two decades. Samsung is also building a semiconductor plant in Texas to win more foundry business, particularly in the United States.

Taiwan, home to the world’s largest contract chipmaker, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co, is expected to retain its global lead in fab equipment spending with US$24.9bil (RM110bil) in 2024, a 4.2% increase from this year, SEMI said separately in its quarterly global forecast.

Fab equipment spending in Japan is expected to rise to US$7bil (RM31bil) in 2024, SEMI said. Japan recently ended its export curbs to South Korea after the leaders of the two US allies held a summit in Tokyo to restore diplomatic ties and tech supply chains.

Overall, global fab equipment spending is expected to increase 21% to US$92bil (RM407bil) in 2024.

That is after decreasing 22% this year on weaker chip demand and higher inventories, SEMI said. — Bloomberg

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