China's Semiconductor Spending Tops US With $142B Commitment: Global Chip Race Heats Up

Zinger Key Points
  • Global plans to subsidize domestic semiconductor industries are pegged at at least $380 billion for the coming years.
  • Major advanced economies and some emerging countries are looking at chips as a key geopolitical commodity.

Gaining control over the global supply of chips is becoming a central priority for Western governments trying to compete with China in the race to dominate the industry.

Pandemic-related disruptions showed how a lack of semiconductors can negatively impact a vast number of industries. Now more than ever, securing a steady flow of chips is being placed atop geopolitical strategies worldwide.

This is part of the reasoning behind a long list of sizable investments that governments are pouring on their domestic building capabilities. Subsidies are expected to reach hundreds of billions of dollars in the coming decade.

Biden Pushes Hard: In the U.S., incentives for the semiconductor industry already amount to $32.8 billion as part of President Joe Biden's far-reaching CHIPS Act in an effort to boost jobs, gain independence from Asian production and improve the administration's image ahead of the presidential election.

On Monday, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said it's "critically important for the United States to have a role in strategic industries," including semiconductors.

Micron Technology Inc MU and Intel Corp INTC are among U.S. companies poised to benefit from measures coming from the CHIPS Act.

Another $39 billion in subsidies have been promised by the government, along with $75 billion in loans and tax breaks for companies in the sector, according to Bloomberg.

The administration's strategy to bolster the chips industry also includes several export restrictions on China, along with international lobbying efforts with European partners aimed at limiting China's access to key technology needed to develop the most advanced semiconductors.

Earlier this year, ASML Holding NV ASML, a Dutch company producing machines that are vital in the development of advanced semiconductors, raised concerns over its place at the center of a broader geopolitical conflict between China and the U.S.

Export controls by the U.S. on China are affecting some of its largest players. Last week, China’s top chipmaker Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp reported its worst margin since the 2008 financial crisis.

The U.S. government has recently revoked export licenses that previously allowed Intel and Qualcomm Inc. QCOM, to supply essential chips to Shenzhen-based Huawei.

Read also: Samsung Secures $6.4B from US for Texas Chip Factory After Nvidia Supplier TSMC’s Breakthrough

China's $142B Response: For its part, China is also funneling billions into reaching semiconductor sovereignty. The exact figure is unclear since the Chinese government doesn't make those numbers public, yet an estimate from the Semiconductor Industry Association puts the figure at $142 billion between executed and planned financing.

According to Bloomberg, China now has more semiconductor fabs under construction than any other country. The country's massive efforts are born out of a need to compensate for restricted access to U.S. and European-made equipment, without which manufacturing the most complex semiconductors still remains impossible.

In her Monday interview, Yellen also warned against possible overflows in specific industries after "enormous subsidies in critical areas of advanced manufacturing has resulted in overcapacity," in China.

That's the main concern behind the recent wave of stimulus spreading across the Northern Hemisphere.

India, Japan and Europe Also Want In: In Europe, several plans have been unveiled to pour billions into the industry, including a wide-ranging initiative from the European Union as well as specific state-backed programs.

The European Chips Act will "mobilize more than €43 billion ($46 billion) of public and private investments and set measures to prepare, anticipate and swiftly respond to any future supply chain disruptions, together with Member States and international partners," according to an official press release.

Germany, France and The Netherlands have already spent a collective $24 billion in subsidies while several more billions have been proposed in Spain, Italy and the UK.

Over in Asia, the biggest state-backed investments so far come from Japan, where $16 billion of a total planned of $64 billion have been allocated, and India where $7 billion have been allocated from a $10 billion government fund.

The largest U.S.-listed ETFs following the semiconductor industry by total assets are VanEck Semiconductor ETF SMH, iShares Semiconductor ETF SOXX and Direxion Daily Semiconductor Bull 3X Shares SOXL

Now read: SoftBank’s Billion-Dollar Bet: Switching From Startups To Semiconductors, AI

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