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Huawei develops plan for chip plant to help beat US sanctions

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Huawei is working on plans for a dedicated chip plant in Shanghai that would not use American technology, enabling it to secure supplies for its core telecom infrastructure business despite US sanctions.

Two people briefed on the project said the plant would be run by a partner, Shanghai IC R&D Center, a chip research company backed by the Shanghai Municipal government.

Industry experts said the project could help Huawei, which has no experience in fabricating chips, chart a path to long-term survival.

US export controls imposed in May and tightened in August leverage American companies’ dominance of certain chip-manufacturing equipment and chip-design software to block semiconductor supplies to Huawei.

Industry experts said the planned local facility would be a potential new source for semiconductors after stocks of imported chips Huawei has been accumulating since last year ran out.

The fabrication plant will initially experiment with making low-end 45nm chips, a technology global leaders in chipmaking started using 15 years ago.

But Huawei wants to make more advanced 28nm chips by the end of next year, according to chip industry engineers and executives familiar with the project. Such a plan would allow Huawei to make smart TVs and other “internet of things” devices.

Huawei then aims to produce 20nm chips by late 2022, which could be used to make most of its 5G telecoms equipment and allow that business to continue even with the US sanctions.

“The planned new production line will not help with the smartphone business since chipsets needed for smartphones need to be produced at more advanced technology nodes,” said a semiconductor industry executive briefed on the plans.

“But if it succeeds, it can become a bridge to a sustainable future for their infrastructure business, in combination with the inventory they have built and which should last for two years or so,” he said.

“They possibly can do it, in maybe two years,” said Mark Li, a semiconductor analyst at Bernstein in Hong Kong.

He added that while the chips Huawei needed for making mobile network base stations would ideally be made on 14nm or more advanced process technology, using 28nm was possible.

“Huawei can make up for the shortcomings on the software and system side,” he said. Chinese producers could tolerate higher costs and operational inefficiencies than their offshore competitors.

The project, first reported by Chinese newspaper Caixin last month, could also jump-start China’s ambitions to shake off its dependency on foreign chip technology, particularly from the US, which wants to slow China’s development as a technology power.

Huawei has already been investing in the domestic semiconductor sector, especially among smaller operators, a chip industry executive said.

“Huawei has strong abilities in chip design, and we are very happy to help a trustworthy supply chain develop its capabilities in chip manufacturing, equipment and materials. Helping them is helping ourselves,” rotating chairman Guo Ping told journalists in September. 

According to chip engineers and industry executives, Huawei plans to eventually equip its domestic production exclusively with Chinese-made machinery. But analysts caution that such a goal is several years away.

“Such a facility would most likely run on a combination of equipment from different Chinese suppliers such as AMEC and Naura, plus some used foreign tools which they can find in the market,” Mr Li said.

He added that manufacturing chips in such an environment would be less efficient and more costly. But Huawei could afford this because the volume of the semiconductors needed for base stations was much lower than for a mass product like smartphones.

Huawei and ICRD declined to comment on the plans for the production facility. 

“You will not obtain any information from us here, we cannot give you anything,” said Huang Yin, an ICRD spokeswoman. “This is rather sensitive.”

A major shareholder of ICRD is state-owned Huahong Group, which also controls contract chipmakers Huahong Grace and HLMC.



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Emerging Markets

NYSE to suspend trading of China’s Cnooc next month

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The New York Stock Exchange is to start delisting proceedings against China National Offshore Oil Corporation to comply with an executive order from Donald Trump that bans Americans from investing in companies with ties to the Chinese military.

The NYSE on Friday said it would suspend trading in Cnooc’s American depository shares on March 9, after determining that the company was “no longer suitable for listing” following the order that the former US president signed in November.

The order banned investing in several dozen Chinese groups that were last year put on a Pentagon blacklist of companies that are accused of working with the People’s Liberation Army and threatening US security. Trump set a January 28 deadline for the ban to take effect, but President Joe Biden pushed the deadline back to May 27.

The NYSE move comes as Biden evaluates a number of assertive actions that Trump took against China during his last year in office. The commerce department last year put Cnooc on a separate blacklist — called the “entity list” — that makes it hard for US companies to sell products and technology to the Chinese oil group.

The Biden administration has not made clear whether it intends to keep Trump’s executive order in place. But the new president and his officials have so far adopted a tough stance towards China over everything from its economic “coercion” to concerns about its clampdown on the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong to the repression of more than 1m Uighur Muslims in the northwestern Chinese province of Xinjiang.

Earlier this month, Biden used his first conversation with Chinese president Xi Jinping since assuming office to raise concerns about Hong Kong and Xinjiang, and aggressive Chinese actions towards Taiwan. Antony Blinken, secretary of state, also described the detention of Uighurs in labour camps as “genocide”.

Jen Psaki, White House press secretary, has said the administration was conducting a number of “complex reviews” of the China actions that Trump took. The former president put dozens of other Chinese companies on the Pentagon and commerce department blacklists, including Huawei, the Chinese telecoms equipment group.



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Bond sell-off roils markets, ex-Petrobras chief hits back, Ghana’s first Covax vaccines

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The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury exceeded 1.5 per cent for the first time in a year and the outgoing head of Petrobras warns Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro against state controlled fuel prices. Plus, the FT’s Africa editor, David Pilling, discusses the Covax vaccine rollout in low-income countries. 

Wall Street stocks sell off as government bond rout accelerates

https://www.ft.com/content/ea46ee81-89a2-4f23-aeff-2a099c02432c

Ousted Petrobras chief hits back at Bolsonaro 

https://www.ft.com/content/1cd6c9fb-3201-4815-9f4f-61a4f0881856?

Africa will pay more for Russian Covid vaccine than ‘western’ jabs

https://www.ft.com/content/ffe40c7d-c418-4a93-a202-5ee996434de7


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Petrobras/Bolsonaro: bossa boots | Financial Times

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“Brazil is not for beginners.” Composer Tom Jobim’s remark about his homeland stands as a warning to gung-ho foreign investors. Shares in Petrobras have fallen almost a fifth since President Jair Bolsonaro said he would replace the widely respected chief executive of the oil giant.

Firebrand Bolsonaro campaigned on a free-market platform. Now he is reverting to the interventionism of leftist predecessors. It is the latest reminder that a country with huge potential has big political and social problems.

Bolsonaro reacted to fuel protests by pushing for a retired army general to supplant chief executive Roberto Castello Branco, who had refused to lower prices. This is politically advantageous but economically short-sighted.

Fourth-quarter ebitda beat expectations at R$60bn (US$11bn), announced late on Wednesday, a 47 per cent increase on the previous quarter. This partly reflected the reversal of a R$13bn charge for healthcare costs. Investors now have to factor the cost of possible fuel subsidies into forecasts. The last time Petrobras was leaned on, it set the company back about R$60bn (US$24bn at the time). That equates to 40 per cent of forecast ebitda for 2021.

At just over 8 times forward earnings, shares trade at a sharp discount to global peers. Forcing Petrobras to cut fuel prices will make sales of underperforming assets harder to pull off and debt reduction less certain. Bidders may fear the obligation to cap prices will apply to them too.

A booming local stock market, rock bottom interest rates and low levels of foreign debt are giving Bolsonaro scope to spend his way out of the Covid-19 crisis. But the economy remains precarious. Public debt stands at 90 per cent of gross domestic product. The real — at R$5.40 per US dollar — remains near record lows. Brazil’s credit is rated junk by big agencies.

Rising developed market yields will make financings costlier for developing nations such as Brazil. So will high-handed treatment of minority investors. It sends a dire signal when a government with an economic stake of just over a third uses its voting majority to deliver a boardroom coup.

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