The world’s ten most valuable companies gained a new entrant early Tuesday after Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Corp’s stock surged 9.5%, knocking the likes of Johnson & Johnson out of the top tier. TSMC is now valued at $410 billion, bringing Taiwan’s Taiex benchmark index up to a 30-year high.
TSMC is the world’s largest and most advanced contract chip manufacturer, assembling semiconductors for Apple, Qualcomm, Nvidia and over 400 other companies. Roughly half of all the world’s outsourced chip manufacturing is processed by TSMC. The 30-year-old company first listed on the Taiwan stock exchange in 1994 and now constitutes roughly a third of the local benchmark index.
TSMC’s rally—rising by the daily limit of 10% Monday and a further 10% Tuesday—was precipitated by the decline of rival Intel, which has had a bruising couple of months. In June, Apple announced it would ditch Intel as semiconductor supplier for its Mac computers and switch to TSMC. In July, Nvidia surpassed Intel to become the most valuable U.S.-based semiconductor company for the first time. And last week, Intel revealed delays in the development of its latest chip.
But Intel’s slow decline began in 2018, when TSMC's manufacturing process first overtook its California-based rival’s. Semiconductors are chips of silicon roughly the size of a U.S. quarter that contain billions of transistors. The sophistication of a chip is often correlated to the width in between each transistor, measure in nanometers (nm). The tighter the gap, the more transistors can fit on each chip, thus the stronger its computing power is.
In 2018, TSMC was manufacturing 7nm chipsets while Intel was yet to output a 10nm process. Now manufacturing at 10nm, Intel is due to produce 7nm chips next year while TSMC has sped ahead to 4nm. Then, last Thursday, Intel CEO Bob Swan said the company’s 7nm process had fallen 6-months behind schedule.
Intel’s shares dropped 18% the next day. In response to production delays, Intel on Monday fired Chief Engineering Officer Murthy Renduchintala and split up his division to “accelerate product leadership.” Renduchintala joined Intel four years ago and will leave on August 3.
Meanwhile, TSMC’s stock climbed. The Taiwanese company appears to have gone from strength to strength this year as investors shrug off the impact of a U.S. embargo that forced TSMC to cut Huawei as a client in May. Analysts had estimated that Huawei accounted for 10% of TSMC's revenue, but Chairman Mark Liu has dismissed concerns about the loss, claiming other clients would “fill any gap” left by Huawei.
Liu might be right. A report on Monday claimed Intel would outsource more production to TSMC, to make up for delays in its own schedule.