South Korea-Japan trade feud engulfs tech giant Samsung

Japanese export curbs have left Samsung looking for new sources of essential chipmaking materials. (AP)
Updated 19 July 2019

South Korea-Japan trade feud engulfs tech giant Samsung

  • Company begins testing non-Japanese material for semiconductors as dispute deepens

SEOUL: Samsung has started testing non-Japanese materials used in producing state-of-the-art semiconductors amid a deepening trade dispute between Seoul and Tokyo.

According to company sources, the South Korean chipmaker has begun testing hydrogen fluoride etching gas from China, Taiwan and some local suppliers.

The etching gas — one of three materials that Japan has decided to restrict shipping to South Korea — is crucial for producing semiconductors since it is used in removing excess material around circuit patterns on silicon wafers.

“We’re testing hydrogen fluoride etching gas from companies outside Japan, such as Taiwan and China, in an effort to diversify supply sources,” a Samsung official told Arab News, asking not to be identified. “We’re also searching for local suppliers of the chemical.”

Testing from new suppliers, however, is to expect to take at least six months, and it remains to be seen if the quality of non-Japanese etching gas will be high enough to be used in the production of semiconductor, the official said, refusing to elaborate new supply sources.

SK Hynix and LG Display have also started testing of non-Japanese high-purity hydrogen fluoride to minimize the impact of Japan’s trade embargo, according to the company officials.

Binhua Group of China is known to be one of the Korean firms’ new suppliers for the etching gas. According to Shanghai Securities News, the chemical company based in Shandong has signed an agreement with South Korean chipmakers to supply etching gas.  

The gas needs to be 99.999 percent pure for it to be used in chipmaking. Companies in Japan maintain top technology levels in the field, taking up to 90 percent of the global market.

HIGHLIGHT

Samsung is the world’s largest chipmaker.

On July 1, Japan announced it would curb shipments to South Korea of three materials used for chip and display production — fluorinated polyimide, photoresists and hydrogen fluoride. The move is widely seen as punitive action for a recent court ruling here that orders two Japanese firms to compensate wartime forced laborers. 

With the Moon Jae-in administration rejecting Tokyo’s demand for third-party arbitration, Japan is expected to take the dispute to the International Court of Justice.

Japanese companies can still export high-tech materials to South Korea, but they are required to get a license from the government. The license could take 90 days to come through even if they are approved.

Samsung Electronics and SK Hynix, the world’s two biggest memory chipmakers, have been hit hardest by the tougher export controls by the Japanese government, as both semiconductor manufacturers rely on Japanese supplies for the materials.

According to the Korea International Trade Association, South Korea imported about 92 percent of photoresists and 43.9 percent of hydrogen fluoride from Japan.

Analysts believe the Japanese trade restrictions will compromise Samsung’s next-generation semi-conductor businesses, such as those based on 7-nanometer chip fabrication. The 7-nano chips are made with technology involving extreme ultraviolet lithography, which requires the use of photoresists.

“Samsung was scheduled to mass-produce 7-nano-chips from the latter half of this year with the supply of photoresists from Japan’s supplier, JSR,” said Lee Mi-hye, a researcher at the Export-Import Bank of Korea.

“JSR-made photoresists are produced in Belgium, so it’s not subject to the restrictions for now. But the foreign branches of Japanese firms would be vulnerable to regulations in the near future.”


Huawei's third-quarter revenue jumps 27% as smartphone sales surge

Updated 16 October 2019

Huawei's third-quarter revenue jumps 27% as smartphone sales surge

  • American companies, significantly disrupting its ability to source key parts
  • Huawei was all but banned by the United States in May from doing business with American companies

SHENZHEN, SHANGHAI: Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd’s third-quarter revenue jumped 27%, driven by a surge in shipments of smartphones launched before a trade blacklisting by the United States expected to hammer its business.
Huawei, the world’s biggest maker of telecom network equipment and the No. 2 manufacturer of smartphones, was all but banned by the United States in May from doing business with American companies, significantly disrupting its ability to source key parts.
The company has been granted a reprieve until November, meaning it will lose access to some technology next month. Huawei has so far mainly sold smartphones that were launched before the ban.
Its newest Mate 30 smartphone — which lacks access to a licensed version of Google’s Android operating system — started sales last month.
Huawei in August said the curbs would hurt less than initially feared, but could still push its smartphone unit’s revenue lower by about $10 billion this year.
The tech giant did not break down third-quarter figures but said on Wednesday revenue for the first three quarters of the year grew 24.4% to 610.8 billion yuan.
Revenue in the quarter ended Sept. 30 rose to 165.29 billion yuan ($23.28 billion) according to Reuters calculations based on previous statements from Huawei.
“Huawei’s overseas shipments bounced back quickly in the third quarter although they are yet to return to pre-US ban levels,” said Nicole Peng, vice president for mobility at consultancy Canalys.
“The Q3 result is truly impressive given the tremendous pressure the company is facing. But it is worth noting that strong shipments were driven by devices launched pre-US ban, and the long-term outlook is still dim,” she added.
The company said it has shipped 185 million smartphones so far this year. Based on the company’s previous statements and estimates from market research firm Strategy Analytics, that indicates a 29% surge in third-quarter smartphone shipments.
Still, growth in the third quarter slowed from the 39% increase the company reported in the first quarter. Huawei did not break out figures for the second quarter either, but has said revenue rose 23.2% in the first half of the year.
“Our continued strong performance in Q3 shows our customers’ trust in Huawei, our technology and services, despite the actions and unfounded allegations against us by some national governments,” Huawei spokesman Joe Kelly told Reuters.
The US government alleges Huawei is a national security risk as its equipment could be used by Beijing to spy. Huawei has repeatedly denied its products pose a security threat.
The company, which is now trying to reduce its reliance on foreign technology, said last month that it has started making 5G base stations without US components.
It is also developing its own mobile operating system as the curbs cut its access to Google’s Android operating system, though analysts are skeptical that Huawei’s Harmony system is yet a viable alternative.
Still, promotions and patriotic purchases have driven Huawei’s smartphone sales in China — surging by a nearly a third compared to a record high in the June quarter — helping it more than offset a shipments slump in the global market.