FILE PHOTO: Employees are seen working on the final assembly of ASML’s TWINSCAN NXE:3400B semiconductor lithography tool with its panels removed, in Veldhoven, Netherlands, in this picture taken April 4, 2019. Bart van Overbeeke Fotografie/ASML/Handout vi
By Stephen Nellis
(Reuters) – Two companies that make tools for manufacturing chips said that they expect sales to China to boom later this year despite U.S. export restrictions on equipment used to make cutting-edge semiconductors.
The comments by California-based Lam Research (NASDAQ:LRCX) and the Netherlands’ ASML Holdings NV are a sign that China may be a bigger customer for the industry than expected this year given its strong demand for less-advanced chips like those used in electric vehicles (EVs).
The companies reported quarterly earnings that beat analyst expectations, though Lam’s sales were lower than a year ago because of a downturn in the memory market.
Both also said they expect sales to Chinese companies to increase in the coming months despite the U.S. imposing sweeping restrictions on China’s semiconductor sector in October, arguing that Beijing was using American chipmaking technology to modernize its military.
Lam is subject to the U.S. export restrictions, and ASML will face new rules from the Dutch government on China sales later this year. But those rules so far have only affected equipment used in making the most advanced chips.
Lam and ASML said Chinese customers are buying tools for building less advanced chips that go into products like EVs, mobile phones and personal computers amid the country’s drive for more self-sufficient production.
In Lam’s case, it had originally estimated that the China restrictions would cost it between $2 billion and $2.5 billion of revenue in 2023. But the company said it had received a “clarification” of the rules from the U.S. government that Chief Financial Officer Doug Bettinger said during a conference call would allow Lam to sell “a few hundred million dollars” worth of tools that it initially thought were banned.
A Lam spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment on what the clarification from U.S. regulators entailed.
Lam also said that it had received around half a billion dollars in advanced cash payments, primarily from new customers.
“I will acknowledge it’s got a decent Chinese footprint to it,” Bettinger said of the group of new customers.
ASML said it has a backlog of about 39 billion euros, the equivalent of about two years of tool shipments. Chief Executive Peter Wennink told investors during a conference call that Chinese customers working to make less advanced chips make up about 30% of those orders. That’s a jump from November, when ASML said China made up 18% of its then 38 billion euro backlog.
Wennink said those Chinese chipmakers were focused on markets like electric vehicles, which require many more chips than their combustion-engine counterparts. Most of those chips do not require ASML’s most advanced tools.
“This is where … the mature semiconductor space is very important and needs to grow. And this is where China is very strong,” Wennink said.
Later this year, ASML will have to start applying for Dutch export licenses for what are called immersion deep ultraviolet lithography machines (DUV) for shipment to China after the U.S., Dutch and Japanese governments agreed to begin regulating the tools.
They are not ASML’s most advanced machines but are still close enough to its state-of-the-art machines to make powerful computing chips and were previously not restricted by export rules.
Wennink said ASML expects to sell about 93 immersion DUV machines this year, after several years of strong demand. They are cheaper than its most advanced systems but still cost tens of millions of euros each.