But things started changing last year, coinciding with some important shifts in both the industry and the global political economy. Once neck-and-neck with Samsung Electronics Co., TSMC has now pulled ahead at the leading edge, while Intel Corp., formerly the world’s most-advanced chipmaker, has fallen further behind. The Hsinchu-based company now commands around 54% of the chip foundry market, according to researcher TrendForce.
At the same time, the rollout of 5G mobile technology and artificial intelligence ran smack into the tech Cold War (which includes the U.S. effectively banning TSMC from selling to China’s champion, Huawei Technologies Co.). This meant that the queue of companies wanting the best chip manufacturing in the world — such as Apple Inc., Qualcomm Inc. and Huawei — kept growing, while the supply of foundries able to meet their needs faces continued congestion.
This seems to have emboldened management to keep raising prices. Clients appear undeterred. Chips are generally the most important item in a device — be it a flashy new iPhone or high-end server — and the higher cost is far outweighed by the greater power and efficiency that superior components provide.
I’ve warned before that TSMC ought to be careful. Regulators, clients and governments may worry that the company is becoming too powerful. Signs that it’s leveraging its power to raise prices could add those to concerns.
Right now, though, everybody still needs TSMC. That’s a nice position to be in, while it lasts.
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