Paul van Gerven
13 January

TSMC is considering construction of its first fab on European soil, CEO CC Wei said on an earnings call with analysts on Thursday. “In Europe, we are engaging with customers and partners to evaluate the possibility of building a specialty fab focusing on automotive-specific technologies based on the demand from customers and level of government support,” Wei said. Last summer, TSMC chairman Mark Liu confirmed that TSMC was “seriously” looking at opportunities in Germany, though the review process was still in “very early stages” at the time.

Until recently, it has been notoriously difficult to persuade TSMC to build a fab outside its home base Taiwan. At the moment, the only operational facilities abroad are located in China and, through the SSMC joint venture with NXP, in Singapore. However, a trailing-edge fab in Japan and a quasi-leading-edge facility in the US are under construction. Wei also hinted at the possibility of a second Japanese fab during the earnings call.

TSMC fab 16
Credit: TSMC

Though diversification of the foundry’s manufacturing operations hinges on government subsidies and incentives, those in and of themselves aren’t enough to seal the deal. “We only go to those countries because of our customers’ demand,” Weiexplained at an industry event last month. The US is home to TSMC’s biggest customers, including Apple and Nvidia, and in Japan it’s working with Sony. It stands to reason that, in light of the persistent chip shortage in the automotive sector, Germany’s car manufacturers are looking to secure future supply.

Slight growth year

TSMC’s fourth quarter revenue was up 26.7 percent year-over-year in US dollar terms, but down 1.5 percent sequentially as demand in end-market softened due to weak macroeconomic conditions across the globe. “Demand is softer than we thought three months ago,” Wei said. He predicted that the semiconductor cycle will bottom out sometime in first half 2023, followed by “a healthy recovery” in second half this year.

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He expects 2023 to be a slight growth year for TSMC, despite the semiconductor market (excluding memory) to decline 4 percent and the foundry industry to decline 3 percent. The company’s capex will be trimmed by up to 12 percent, with an allocated budget of 32-36 billion dollars for 2023, compared to 36.3 billion dollars last year.