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Thursday, October 21, 2021

South Korea Commits $450 Billion to Dominate Semiconductor Market

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South Korea has announced it will spend $450 billion over the next nine years to take the lead in the global semiconductor market. This is an aggressive move by South Korea to boost its semiconductor businesses. For comparison, President Biden recently called on Congress to invest $50 billion over a decade in the National Science Foundation, focusing on advanced computing and semiconductor research.

Samsung and SK Hynix are two of the major beneficiaries of the new bill, but Bloomberg reports there are 153 companies named in total. These companies are expected to drive the semiconductor industry forward, securing South Korea’s relevance in the global market.

“Our government will unite with companies to form a semiconductor powerhouse,” said President Moon Jae-in of South Korea. “We will support companies concretely.” In the future, manufacturers will also be able to deduct more of their R&D expenses from their taxes, freeing up additional funds for investment.

Samsung has announced it’s increasing its foundry investments by 38 trillion won, or $33.7 billion through 2030, with the funds being split between ongoing process technology research and building new foundries. The company also said it has broken ground on a new manufacturing line in Pyeongtaek. The facility will have 2.1 million square feet of floor space and be capable of manufacturing both 14nm DRAM and 5nm logic with EUV. Samsung had originally announced a plan to invest $117 billion by 2030, so this represents a 1.29x increase over the company’s original plan.

“The entire semiconductor industry is facing a watershed moment and now is the time to chart out a plan for long-term strategy and investment,” Kim Ki-nam, Samsung vice chairman and head of the Device Solutions Division, said. “For the memory business, where Samsung has maintained its undisputed leadership position, the company will continue to make preemptive investments to lead the industry.”

SK Hynix already had plans to build four new plants in Yongin at an estimated cost of $106 billion, but the company announced today that it would pour an additional $97 billion into capacity expansions at existing facilities. Bloomberg has a really interesting graph on how chip-making is divided by country:

Image by Bloomberg

South Korea builds more memory than any other nation on Earth, but not much logic (CPUs, GPUs, other types of microprocessors). Taiwan holds the largest share of the logic market by far thanks to TSMC, while companies like Intel and Micron account for large shares of the US’ manufacturing capacity. It is not clear from Bloomberg’s data if a TSMC fab running in the United States would be counted as part of Taiwan’s memory and logic market share or the United States.

The South Korean government has pledged to incentivize semiconductor manufacturing with lower tax rates, better infrastructure, and a secure water supply. Chip manufacturing, particularly EUV manufacturing, is water-intensive.

Semiconductors have always been a part of national security discussions, but the silicon shortage of the past eight months has changed the tone and nature of the dialog. There’s tremendous concern about building resiliency into supply networks long term, and whether that can be reasonably accomplished. Foundries have raised their R&D and capital investments by tens of billions of dollars in 2021 alone. While much of that investment is going to leading-edge research, older nodes and 200mm fabs are adding capacity as well.

Semiconductor research is increasingly viewed as a matter of national security, and multi-national organizations like the EU have expressed greater interest in rejoining the leading edge. South Korea may not be the last country to announce a massive investment into chip manufacturing and R&D this year.

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