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Global Chip Shortage and $53B Subsidy Boosts US Manufacturing

por Rosalyn Mackersey (2022-10-03)

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When you can't buy that Sony PS5 or Ford F-150 pickup, blame the chip shortage. A worldwide problem triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic has metastasized into a years-long disruption of everything electronic and is prompting governments to spend lavishly on chipmaking subsidies.The shortage is leading the tech industry and politicians to try to reverse the United States' waning importance in the microprocessor business. President Joe Biden in August signed into law the CHIPS and Science Act, which provides US semiconductor makers with $52.7 billion over five years to ramp up processor manufacturing.
Robert Rodriguez/CNET
The chip shortage has shone a new spotlight on the and how much of it has moved out of the country. The US government isn't happy with how reliant the country's economy and military have become on Asian high-tech manufacturing, and China is spending big on its own chipmaking abilities.Intel, which has slipped to third place behind Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. (TSMC) and Samsung Foundry, hopes rising demand and the CHIPS Act subsidies will help it reclaim its leadership position. It's also launched an ambitious plan to make processors for other companies, not just itself, in what's called a chip foundry business."We don't want to create a situation where the United States, which created the semiconductor industry and Silicon Valley, would be completely dependent on other nations for that product," said Al Thompson, who leads Intel's US government relations.

In January, Intel said it'll spend $20 billion on two chip fabrication plants, or fabs, near Columbus, Ohio. The new "megafab" site eventually could house eight Intel fabs costing $100 billion in total.The idea of "technological sovereignty" is loosening government purse strings. Worries about falling behind China in yet another area of manufacturing helped build support for the CHIPS Act. Similar worries have advanced the European Union's Chips for Europe initiative, with 15 billion euros ($17.1 billion) in new funding.The chip industry's new course is part of what some call the decoupling, which at least to some degree is pulling the Chinese and US economies apart. No one expects supply chains without links overseas, but the chip shortage response definitely has a nationalist flavor.Asian manufacturers aren't standing idle as Intel invests in capacity increases. In January, while reporting record revenue for the fourth quarter of 2021, TSMC said it will invest between $40 billion and $44 billion in new chipmaking plants and equipment in 2022 — an enormous amount."Foundry capacity will be precious for the foreseeable future as demand for semiconductors only grows," said Creative Strategies analyst Ben Bajarin.Here's what's going on and what's at stake.What started the chip shortage?In short, the COVID-19 pandemic and a lot of shock waves that traversed the world's economy. Demand for work-from-home technology like PCs, tablets and webcams soared beyond the semiconductor manufacturing industry's ability to supply chips — not just the big CPU brains of a laptop but also the host of supporting chips required to produce things like dishwashers, baby monitors and LED light fixtures. The chip shortage soon extended beyond remote work and school needs to home entertainment products like tablets, game consoles, TVs and graphics cards for gaming PCs, all of which people stuck at home were buying in record numbers. Compounding the problem: a fire at Japanese chipmaker Renesas Electronics, and crippling winter weather in Texas that knocked more than 70 power plants offline and cut juice to a Samsung chip plant.

COVID lockdowns led automakers to put chip orders on hold. Those companies rely disproportionately on cheaper processors that don't require cutting-edge chipmaking technology. By the time they realized demand was picking up, chip plants had allocated their capacity to other customers.

has snarled delivery of not just finished goods but also their components and raw materials. Cars and computers require hundreds of electronic components, but just one missing component means a product can't be sold. For an advanced processor, there's likely only one company building it.How long will the chip shortage last?It probably won't get any worse, but it'll likely last for several more months. Chipmakers have worked to squeeze as much new capacity as they can out of their fabrication facilities, or "fabs," but it takes years to build new fabs and ramp up production.Intel Chief Executive Pat Gelsinger told CNET that he thinks we're almost through the worst of the chip shortage, which will last through the second half of 2021. He predicts it'll gradually ease through 2022 and fade in 2023.Mismatches in chip supply and demand have been common for decades, but not like this. "We've always gone through cycles. This time it's different," AMD CEO Lisa Su said in September at the Code conference. She, too, expects this chip shortage will ease in 2022. But IBM CEO Arvind Krishna thinks it's more likely the chip shortage will last through 2023 and even 2024.What's being affected by the chip shortage?It's easier to say what isn't being affected. Just about anything with a power cord these days uses chips, so the shortage has hit camerasmicrowave ovens, TVs, pacemakers, washing machines and more.Worst hit is the auto industry. Cars are now studded with computer chips that control everything from infotainment systems to antilock brakes, and the car-making industry has relied heavily on "just-in-time" purchasing that cuts costs but means there's no big inventory of parts to buffer against shortages. The situation has gutted their revenue by an estimated $210 billion in 2021, according to a study by AlixPartners, and The shortage forced carmakers to halt production, including Ford Motor, General Motors, Toyota, Nissan, Subaru and Stellantis (formerly Fiat Chrysler). Some carmakers have shipped autos without accessories that need chips, leaving customers without touchscreens in their new cars. Tesla got credit for weathering the storm better than most, but it's still suffering from chip constraints.

Gaming consoles also have been hit hard. The chip shortage meant fitful availability and poachers jacking up prices for the Sony PS5 and Microsoft Xbox Series X. The Nintendo Switch and Valve's Steam Deck arrived late, too.

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