Register For Our Mailing List

Register to receive our free weekly newsletter including editorials.

Home / 391

The pivotal fight between China and the US

Japan’s Kioxia Holdings, which in the early 1980s invented flash memory computer chips, was set for one of the country’s biggest initial public offers for 2020. In September, however, the semiconductor maker reduced the asking price of its offer by 25%. Days later, the company postponed indefinitely a float that was initially set to value the company at US$16 billion. Kioxia’s CEO blamed the IPO suspension on “market volatility”. Given that at the time the Nikkei 225 Index was close to its highest in three decades, that explanation didn’t wash.

Everyone knew why Kioxia halted its IPO. Anonymously-sourced media reports had warned Kioxia would abandon its float because China-US tensions were reducing the company’s profitability. Of note for Kioxia’s fortunes, the US in August decreed that non-US companies would need Washington’s permission to sell microchips made using US technology to Chinese telco Huawei Technologies and its affiliates. The talk was that Washington’s restrictions on Huawei would cost Kioxia sales and lead to a global glut and thus lower prices for flash-memory products.

The pivotal microchip battleground

The US restrictions on Huawei sting because China makes less-advanced microchips and relies on more-advanced US supplies. China is aware its inferior chipmakers make the country vulnerable amid the ‘decoupling’ between China and the US that is centred on technology. Beijing thus intends to become the best and self-sufficient in the pivotal microchip industry.

Microchips form the key battleground in the rivalry between Beijing and Washington because the integrated circuit – a piece of silicon that contains nanoscopic electronic circuits – ranks with the internal combustion engine and electricity as an invention of consequence for everyday life.

As Beijing and Washington see it, the country with the best ‘brains of computers’ will dominate biotech, business, cyberwarfare, economic, military and other fields. Both will mobilise vast financial and political resources to ensure their microelectronics industry is the world’s best – and China is behind in production facilities and technical know-how in this US-private-sector-dominated industry.

Risks on both sides, and for everyone else

A microchip industry split on Sino-US lines decades after the industry established global production networks, however, will come with costs and risks for both countries and the world. For US and allied companies, lost sales to China, reduced economies of scale and lower prices mean reduced profits, less research, and fewer advances in chip technology.

The risk for the US is that the country will lose its commercial and military edge in chips that are heading into their third generation of semiconductor materials.

China’s decision to elevate microchip self-sufficiency and excellence to a national priority means that billions of dollars are destined to be spent to ensure China has the best semiconductors. The cost of this, in theory at least, is that resources are being diverted from elsewhere.

Chinese businesses and consumers could face higher-priced chips than otherwise, and these might still be inferior to foreign peers. The overarching risk for China is that in pursuing self-sufficiency Beijing is turning towards protectionism and government direction as an economic development model.

For the world, the cost of the microchip wars could entail slowed advances in almost every field, which spells opportunities and wealth forgone. Increased tensions between the world’s biggest powers over this tiny technology could change the global balance of power and might turn their rivalry into hostility, perhaps over Taiwan, the world’s biggest source of made-to-order chips. China, the US and the world would be better off if the microchip war was toned down.

The competition over microchips could, of course, lead to advancements that help the world. The battle over chips has been simmering for a while with little harm done seemingly. The US is granting exceptions to its microchip bans to Huawei’s smartphone business, so maybe the chip wars will be a phony confrontation. Chinese companies are said to be sitting on vast stockpiles of US production inventories so the sting of the US actions might be delayed, and Sino-US rivalry might settle down.

If the chip war were protracted and heated, the costs of the contest could be mostly hidden for society at large. Few people would be able to quantify lost advancements, reduced capabilities, higher costs than otherwise, lower speeds than otherwise and unknown alternatives forgone.


Register here to receive the Firstlinks weekly newsletter for free

So why worry?

Because regions vying for self-sufficiency in semiconductors is a recipe for disrupting the global microchip industry at a time when ageing and depopulating western societies with debt-ridden economies need all the productivity boosts they can get. And, as the experience of Japan’s Kioxia shows, it could be a lesser world as China and the US fight to dominate a world defined in nanometres.

 

Michael Collins is an Investment Specialist at Magellan Asset Management, a sponsor of Firstlinks. This article is for general information purposes only, not investment advice. For the full version of this article and to view sources, go to: https://www.magellangroup.com.au/insights/.

For more articles and papers from Magellan, please click here.

 


 

Leave a Comment:

     

RELATED ARTICLES

China and US ‘decoupling’ likely to be mild

Three reasons China could become the world’s leading consumer

The Chinese consumer and rising political risks

banner

Most viewed in recent weeks

Super changes, the Budget and 2021 versus 2022

Josh Frydenberg's third budget contained changes to superannuation and other rules but their effective date is expected to be 1 July 2022. Take care not to confuse them with changes due on 1 July 2021.

Noel's share winners and loser plus budget reality check

Among the share success stories is a poor personal experience as Telstra's service needs improving. Plus why the new budget announcements on downsizing and buying a home don't deserve the super hype.

Grantham interview on the coming day of reckoning

Jeremy Grantham has seen it all before, with bubbles every 15 years or so. The higher you go, the longer and greater the fall. You can have a high-priced asset or a high-yielding asset, but not both at the same time.

Whoyagonnacall? 10 unspoken risks buying off-the-plan

All new apartment buildings have defects, and inexperienced owners assume someone else will fix them. But developers and builders will not volunteer to spend time and money unless someone fights them. Part 1

Buffett says stock picking is too hard for most investors

Warren Buffett explained why he believes most investors should not pick stocks but simply own an S&P 500 index fund. "There's a lot more to picking stocks than figuring out what’s going to be a wonderful industry."

Should investors brace for uncomfortably high inflation?

The global recession came quickly and deeply but it has given way to a strong rebound. What are the lessons for investors, how should a portfolio change and what role will inflation play?

Latest Updates

Exchange traded products

ETFs are the Marvel of listed galaxies, even with star WAR

Until 2018, LICs and LITs dominated ETFs, much like the Star Wars franchise was the most lucrative in the world until Marvel came along. Now ETFs are double their rivals, just as Marvel conquered Star Wars.

Shares

Four leading tech stocks now look cheap

There are few opportunities to buy tech heavyweights at attractive prices. In Morningstar’s view, four global leaders are trading at decent discounts to their fair values, indicating potential for upside.

Shares

Why copper prices are at all-time highs

Known as Dr Copper for the uncanny way its price anticipates future economic activity, copper has hit all-time highs. What are the forces at play and strategies to benefit from the electric metal’s strength?

Economy

Baby bust: will infertility shape Australia's future?

In 1961, Australian women had 3.5 children on average but by 2018, this figure stood at just 1.7. Falling fertility creates a shift in demographics and the ratio of retirees to working-age people.

SMSF strategies

The Ultimate SMSF EOFY Checklist 2021

The end of FY2021 means rules and regulations to check for members of public super funds and SMSFs. Take advantage of opportunities but also avoid a knock on the door. Here are 25 items to check.

Economy

How long will the bad inflation news last?

The answer to whether the US inflation increase will prove temporary or permanent depends on the rates of growth of the quantity of money. It needs to be brought down to about 0.3% a month, and that's a problem.

Economy

The ‘cosmic’ forces leading the US to Modern Monetary Theory

If the world’s largest economy adopted a true MMT framework, the investment implications would be enormous. Economic growth would be materially greater but inflation and interest rates would also be much higher.

Sponsors

Alliances

© 2021 Morningstar, Inc. All rights reserved.

Disclaimer
The data, research and opinions provided here are for information purposes; are not an offer to buy or sell a security; and are not warranted to be correct, complete or accurate. Morningstar, its affiliates, and third-party content providers are not responsible for any investment decisions, damages or losses resulting from, or related to, the data and analyses or their use. Any general advice or ‘regulated financial advice’ under New Zealand law has been prepared by Morningstar Australasia Pty Ltd (ABN: 95 090 665 544, AFSL: 240892) and/or Morningstar Research Ltd, subsidiaries of Morningstar, Inc, without reference to your objectives, financial situation or needs. For more information refer to our Financial Services Guide (AU) and Financial Advice Provider Disclosure Statement (NZ). You should consider the advice in light of these matters and if applicable, the relevant Product Disclosure Statement before making any decision to invest. Past performance does not necessarily indicate a financial product’s future performance. To obtain advice tailored to your situation, contact a professional financial adviser. Articles are current as at date of publication.
This website contains information and opinions provided by third parties. Inclusion of this information does not necessarily represent Morningstar’s positions, strategies or opinions and should not be considered an endorsement by Morningstar.

Website Development by Master Publisher.