TSMC dragged to the altar of US manufacturing: Page 2 of 4

May 18, 2020 //By Peter Clarke
Opinion: TSMC dragged to the altar of US manufacturing
The double-whammy of enhanced restrictions on Huawei and HiSilicon from the US, plus the announcement of TSMC's plan to build a 5nm wafer fab in Arizona has the feel of stage management about it.

The Semiconductor Industry Association's CEO John Neuffer commented on the development saying: "We are concerned this rule may create uncertainty and disruption for the global semiconductor supply chain, but it seems to be less damaging to the US semiconductor industry than the very broad approaches previously considered."

Neuffer seems to be comparing some restriction that specifically mentions Huawei versus something more general but it feels like he is whistling in the dark. This will make for big changes in the whole of the semiconductor supply chain. Industry body SEMI, which also protested against enhanced restrictions (see Semiconductor industry pushes back against US export controls), has yet to comment.

But what of TSMC's willingness to drop $12 billion on a US wafer fab, and those contra-indicators?

First, there is the short engagement period and the apparent haste of the wedding announcement.

Only a few weeks ago – April 20 – TSMC's chairman Mark Liu stated: "We are now actively evaluating the US fab plan. But as I told the investors before, there is a cost gap, which is hard to accept at this point." (see TSMC is planning a US wafer fab . . . again). At the time Liu seemed to indicate that the lack of leading-edge ecosystem in the US would greatly increase costs for TSMC compared with other locations.

It certainly makes sense that while Intel may be petitioning the US Department of Defense to help it create a wafer fab, TSMC is the one being petitioned by the Department of Commerce (see US talks to Intel, TSMC about building local foundry fabs). The reason it makes sense if that Intel manufacturing is underperforming while TSMC has established itself as the clear technology leader.

Next: Carrot and stick

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