Tag Archives: Scrutiny

China's ties with Taiwan chip firms under scrutiny as U.S. trade war heats up
November 7, 2018 12:03 am|Comments (0)

TAIPEI (Reuters) – Washington’s decision to cut off U.S. supplies to a Chinese chip-maker spotlights mounting tensions over China’s drive to be a global player in computer chips and the ways in which Taiwan companies are helping it get there.

FILE PHOTO: Men walk past a signboard of chipmaker United Microelectronics Corp (UMC) in Hsinchu, Taiwan January 10, 2006. REUTERS/Richard Chung/File Photo

Shut out of major global semiconductor deals in recent years, China has been quietly strengthening cooperation with Taiwan chip firms by encouraging the transfer of chip-making expertise into the mainland.

Taiwan chip giant United Microelectronics Corp (UMC) (2303.TW) last week halted research and development activities with its Chinese state-backed partner Fujian Jinhua Integrated Circuit Co Ltd, following the U.S. move.

Taiwan firms such as UMC have helped supply China with a steady pipeline of chip expertise in exchange for access to the fast-growing chip market there.   

China has faced a shortage of integrated circuit (IC) chips for years. In 2017, it imported $ 270 billion worth of semiconductors, more than its imports of crude oil.  

At least 10 joint ventures or technology partnerships have been set up in the last few years between Chinese and Taiwanese firms, according to industry experts, luring Taiwanese talent with hefty salaries and generous perks.

“Such companies will need to also take care to ensure no patent or IP infringement is involved as the U.S. has export control means to restrict support of critical technology,” said Randy Abrams, an analyst at Credit Suisse in Taipei.

Among the most valuable cross-strait partnerships for China would be ones that strengthen its foundry services and memory chip production. Those two sectors require much-needed help from overseas firms due to the complexity of the manufacturing technologies and intense capital requirements, analysts have said.

TRADE TENSIONS

But the technology transfer between China and self-ruled Taiwan has raised concerns amid the Sino-U.S. trade war and escalating tensions across the Taiwan Strait.

China has aggressively used “market-distorting subsidies” and “forced technology transfers” to capture traditional and emerging technology industries, Brent Christensen, the director of America’s de facto embassy in Taipei, told a business gathering in late September.

“These actions are harming the United States’ economy, Taiwan’s economy, and other economies.”

Taiwan is one of the largest exporters of IC globally and many worry the island could lose a key economic engine to its political foe.

Taiwan’s government views the island’s chipmakers’ cooperation with China cautiously and has implemented policies to ensure Taiwan’s most advanced technology is not transferred.

“When businesses go to the mainland to invest in wafer production, they must accept controls including one that requires the manufacturing technology to be a generation behind,” the economics ministry’s industrial development bureau said in a statement to Reuters.

INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY CONCERNS

Cooperation between UMC and Fujian Jinhua came under scrutiny last month, when the U.S. government put the Chinese company on a list of entities that cannot buy components, software and technology goods from U.S. firms amid allegations it stole intellectual property from U.S.-based Micron Technology. Fujian Jinhua denied the allegations.

Fujian Jinhua now faces big challenges to reach commercial high volume production as expected in 2020, industry observers say.

Last week, both UMC and Fujian Jinhua, which was only founded in 2016, were charged with conspiring to steal trade secrets from Micron in a U.S. Justice Department indictment.

“Taiwanese tech companies need to carefully re-evaluate their positions and supply chain arrangements as the tension between the two super powers escalates,” Bernstein analyst Mark Li said.

While China will need at least six years before it can catch up in chip manufacturing, according to some estimates, the scale of its chip-making abilities is already seen as a threat in other parts of the chip supply chain.

Barely 2-1/2 years after breaking ground on a 12-inch wafer plant in China, Nexchip, a joint venture between the Chinese city of Hefei and Taiwan DRAM maker Powerchip, started producing 8,000 wafers a month. Wafers are thin pieces of material, usually consisting of silicon, used to make semiconductor chips.

Nexchip’s main goal is to produce liquid crystal display driver ICs for flat-panel makers.

Using Powerchip’s resources and Taiwanese talent, which make up a quarter of its 1,200 employees, Nexchip is helping reduce China’s reliance on foreign chip suppliers.

With an aim to become “the world’s No.1 chipmaker for display drivers,” Nexchip plans to build three more 12-inch wafer plants and ramp up its monthly production to 20,000 wafers by 2019, according to a person with direct knowledge of the matter.

After visiting Nexchip late last year, researchers from Taiwan’s chip hub, Hsinchu Science Park, said progress at the Hefei plant was a “breakthrough”.

“This will likely increase Taiwan firms’ needs to invest in the China market, and it will be a test for the (Taiwan) government’s industrial policy.”

Reporting by Jess Macy Yu and Yimou Lee in Taipei

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SEC scrutiny of Tesla grows as Goldman hints at adviser role
August 16, 2018 12:00 am|Comments (0)

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has sent subpoenas to Tesla Inc (TSLA.O) regarding Chief Executive Elon Musk’s plan to take the company private and his statement that funding was “secured,” Fox Business Network reported on Wednesday, citing sources.

The electric carmaker’s shares fell as much as 4 percent but cut their losses after Goldman Sachs Group Inc (GS.N) said it was dropping equity coverage of Tesla because it is acting as a financial adviser on a matter related to the automaker.

Investors viewed the Goldman statement as confirming a tweet from Elon Musk on Monday about working with Goldman, even as the reported subpoenas indicated the SEC has opened a formal investigation into a matter.

The latest news extended the roller-coaster ride for Tesla investors in recent days, adding to uncertainty about the future course of the company and whether a deal can be done amid growing regulatory complications.

Tesla and the SEC declined to comment.

Musk stunned investors and sent Tesla’s shares soaring 11 percent when he tweeted early last week that he was considering taking Tesla private at $ 420 per share and that he had secured funding for the potential deal.

FILE PHOTO: A Tesla sales and service center is shown in Costa Mesa, California, U.S., June 28, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo

The shares fell 2.6 percent to $ 338.69 on Wednesday, below $ 341.99, their closing price the day before Musk tweeted his plan to take Tesla private.

The Tesla CEO provided no details of his funding until Monday, when he said in a blog on Tesla’s website that he was in discussions with Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund and other potential backers but that financing was not yet nailed down.

Musk also tweeted late Monday night he was working with Goldman Sachs and private equity firm Silver Lake as financial advisers. However, as of Tuesday, Goldman was still negotiating its terms of engagement with Musk, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The 47-year old billionaire’s tweet about secured funding may have violated U.S. securities law if he misled investors. On Monday, lawyers told Reuters Musk’s statement indicated he had good reason to believe he had funding but seemed to have overstated its status by saying it was secured.

The SEC has opened an inquiry into Musk’s tweets, according to one person with direct knowledge of the matter. Reuters was not immediately able to ascertain if this had escalated into a full-blown investigation on Wednesday.

This source said Tesla’s independent board members had hired law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP to help handle the SEC inquiry and other fiduciary duties with respect to a potential deal.

The Wall Street Journal said the SEC was seeking information from each Tesla director.

Reporting by Sonam Rai, Michelle Price and Supantha Mukherjee; Editing by Anil D’Silva, Nick Zieminski and Cynthia Osterman

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